Alabama set to increase plaice populations
Alabama and all other Gulf states have seen a rapid decline in southern plaice in recent years, largely as more anglers are discovering large females coming up from channel berries in November to meet the fish. males, most of whom live in the Gulf all year round. Put a live killifish at the bottom just outside the piers when the race is on and it’s instant flounder dinner, but unfortunately too many of us have taken advantage of the bounty and the numbers are dropping.
As a step towards the return of this fishery, the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) provided funding to University of Southern Alabama graduate student Dylan Kiene and Alabama Fisheries Ecology. Lab to capture and tag this popular table fish, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation. and Natural Resources reporter David Rainer.
In 2019, MRD, reacting to the drop in numbers, increased the minimum total length to 14 inches with a catch limit of five fish per person. The harvest of plaice for recreational and commercial fishermen is now prohibited for the entire month of November to protect fish that migrate to spawn.
“We are acoustically tagging southern plaice in the fall in Mobile Bay,” Kiene said. “We have an acoustic set of receivers. When the tagged fish is within range of the receiver, it is actually recording that fish’s information. We have the entire mobile bay encapsulated with the receivers. We tag these fish in the fall to see how many of these fish are actually migrating offshore. We also collect otoliths (ear bones) for age information, and we do reproductive work. “
Kiene said females of southern plaice grow considerably larger than males, which are no larger than 13 inches and spend most of their lives offshore.
“We went out in the fall to the upper parts of Mobile Bay, catching these fish on hook and line and putting in acoustic tags,” he said. “In 2019, we scored 67 plaice, including 55 in Mobile Bay. In 2020, we ended up with 70 tagged. This year we’re going to try to score 100. We don’t have all the data for 2020, but we have the data for 2019. About 30 percent of the plaice we have tagged are leaving Mobile Bay. And we also mark the big flounder. We had them six and seven pounds. We even got a 10 pound. It was an incredible fish. But we won’t know how many fish are going offshore until we have several years of data. “
An interesting aspect of the study of tagging plaice is that they seem to have a salmon-like instinct.
“The big fish leave the rivers in late fall and come back about six months later,” Kiene said. “These fish are returning to the exact same rivers that they were originally tagged with. It’s a characteristic that we call homing, much like salmon. This is another part of fishing that is not fully understood – how fish understand it, whether it is water chemistry or magnetism or whatever.
“We are bringing all of this together to research the decline in fishing and how we can bring it back to at least close to where it once was.”
MRD Director Scott Bannon said the tagging efforts of TAG Alabama and the Fisheries Ecology Lab go a long way in the management of these species.
“Coastal tagging programs provide valuable data regarding the movement of fish throughout the seasons in addition to providing data on catch effort,” said Bannon. “The data collected in tagging programs is valuable because it helps us in our management decisions. The more people who participate and the more fish are tagged, the better the flow of valuable data. “