About the Species
The summer flounder fishery in the U.S. operates from Maine to the North Carolina/South Carolina border. Summer flounder is one of the most sought after commercial and recreational fish along the Atlantic coast. Summer flounder is found in inshore and offshore waters from Nova Scotia, Canada, to the east coast of Florida. Summer flounder are mainly caught in bottom otter trawls, but are also taken by pound nets and gillnets in estuarine waters. The market for summer flounder is for human consumption and is primarily sold fresh. U.S. wild-caught summer flounder is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations. Implementing regulations are found at 50 CFR part 648 subpart G.
Below target levels and fishing rate promotes population growth.
At recommended levels.
Bottom trawls can impact bottom habitats. However, summer flounder live on sandy ocean bottom habitat, which is more resilient than other habitat types to the impacts of fishing gear.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
- According to the 2019 stock assessment, summer flounder are not overfished and are not subject to overfishing.
- Scientists at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center estimate the abundance of summer flounder using data collected during their annual bottom trawl surveys, along with data from state- and university-run surveys.
- The summer flounder stock declined to record lows in the late 1980s and early 1990s. With improved reproduction and survival rates and sustainable management, spawning stock biomass (a measure of the amount of summer flounder able to reproduce) has increased substantially.
- Summer flounder have flat bodies.
- They are white below and some shade of brown, gray, or drab above.
- They’re nicknamed “chameleons of the sea” because they’re able to change their coloring to blend in with the texture and color of the bottom where they live.
- They also have spots on their back and can be distinguished because at least five of these dark spots are arranged in an "X" pattern.
- Summer flounder is a left-eyed flatfish (both eyes are on the left side of its body when viewed from above with the dorsal fin facing up). When larvae develop into juveniles, their right eye moves across the top of the head to the left side.
- Summer flounder grow fast and have a relatively short life, about 12 to 14 years.
- Males grow to more than 2 feet in length and females grow up to 3 feet.
- They are able to reproduce when they reach age 2 or 3.
- Summer flounder spawn in the fall and early winter when they migrate offshore.
- They spawn several times throughout the spawning season.
- Spawning peaks in October and November when water temperatures change and autumn plankton is most productive. The combination of these elements improves the chance of survival for larval summer flounder.
- Depending on their size, females have between 460,000 and more than 4 million eggs. They release the eggs into the water column and the eggs hatch in waters of the continental shelf.
- Newly hatched larvae move with the currents toward coastal areas, where they develop into juveniles.
- Summer flounder eat a mixed diet of fish and invertebrates throughout their life.
- Larval and post-larval flounder feed on zooplankton (tiny floating animals) and small crustaceans.
- Juveniles eat crustaceans and fish.
- Adults are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever food is convenient at the time, and feed mostly on fish and crustaceans.
- Summer flounder lay on the ocean floor concealed, partly by sand and partly by their coloration, and wait for their prey to swim by. When suitable prey appears, flounder ambush them.
- Larval and juvenile summer flounder are preyed upon until they grow large enough to fend for themselves. Predators include spiny dogfish, monkfish, cod, hakes, sea raven, longhorn sculpin, and fourspot flounder. Large sharks, rays, and monkfish prey on adult summer flounder.
Where They Live
- Summer flounder are found in the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to the east coast of Florida.
- In U.S. waters, summer flounder are most common in the mid-Atlantic region from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cape Fear, North Carolina.
- NOAA Fisheries, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission cooperatively manage the summer flounder fishery because significant catch of these species comes from both state waters (0-3 miles offshore) and federal waters (3-200 miles offshore).
- Managed under the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan:
- Using scientific data on the summer flounder resource and fishery, managers determine how much summer flounder can be harvested the following year.
- They allocate 60 percent of the annual catch limit to the commercial fishery and 40 percent to the recreational fishery.
- The commercial catch limit is further distributed among the states based on their share of commercial landings during the 1980s.
- Fish and mesh size limits protect juvenile fish and help to maintain the part of the population that is able to reproduce.
- A permit is required to sell and purchase summer flounder.
- Monitoring of sea turtle catch occurs in the southern portion of the fishery.
- There is a moratorium on entry into the commercial fishery.
- There are reporting requirements.