BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Summer flounder is moving, and Dr. Holly Kindsvater wants to know why. Kindsvater is a Professor of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech. What she knows is that the primary biomass of summer flounder has moved north. She is leading a study into summer flounder migration and spawning that could have an impact on the future of the species and on the multi-million dollar Atlantic coast flounder fishery.
“They’ve either migrated or the center of their biomass has shifted northward,” said Kindsvater. “Whereas historically, most flounder were off of Virginia and North Carolina, now they’re up off of Long Island and New Jersey, and even moving north toward Nantucket and Massachusetts.”
While those fish appear to be moving north along the coast, the majority of recreational and commercial harvest allocation from state and federal fisheries managers still belongs to Virginia and North Carolina.
Warming water temperatures appear to be influencing the northward migration of summer flounder. That has had an impact on Virginia recreational guides and on commercial fishermen.
“Climate change is the big sort of unstoppable force that is dictating where the flounder are and where they are spawning,” said Kindsvater. “With this project we’re really trying to dig into their spawning biology and spawning behavior. We’ve noticed changes in how long they’re spawning and maybe just the timing of the migration offshore, which could affect the success of those eggs that they’re spawning as they move.”
Though the flounder biomass has shifted north, flounder numbers in the Atlantic appear stable, and there is still a quality population off the Virginia coast, though numbers are not what they used to be.
“The water is a good living, but it’s tough, you know,” said Captain Matt Mason of Marshland Charters in Chincoteague, Virginia.
Mason makes his living as a fishing guide. He targets flounder at various times of the year.
“You got to battle the weather, the elements, work around Mother Nature,” Mason said. “You know, it’s just something you got to do.”
Virginia Tech researchers spent much of the summer on the water, catching summer flounder and running various tests. While there is concern about the future of the species, the outlook remains positive.
“I always try to emphasize this is a productive stock; that the fish grows incredibly fast, it should be able to be fished sustainably,” Kindsvater said.”
Summer flounder is one of four Atlantic coast species with recreational and commercial value. The others are winter flounder, southern flounder, and gulf flounder.