Winter flounder on the fast track to recovery

DURHAM, N.H. Winter flounder sold in markets as flounder or lemon sole in the Gulf of Maine went into serious decline in the 1980s, taking with it a major commercial and recreational fishery. Despite stringent fishing regulations, it's estimated that it could take more than a decade for winter flounder to regain its once-robust place in New England coastal waters.

Now, researchers at the University of New Hampshire are setting the winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) fishery on the fast track to recovery. New research indicates that winter flounder is a good candidate for stock enhancement, in which juvenile fish hatched from wild brood stock are raised in captivity and released into the wild.

"We're studying winter flounder because we think they are an excellent local candidate for stock enhancement," says Elizabeth Fairchild, a post-doctoral researcher in zoology at the University of New Hampshire who has worked with professor of zoology W. Huntting Howell on winter flounder stock enhancement for a decade. "We know how to raise them, and we've learned how to release them in a way that maximizes their survival."

Raising the juvenile flounder is, in many ways, the easy part. The process begins in what Fairchild calls the "honeymoon tank" in UNH's Coastal Marine Laboratory in New Castle. Commercial fishermen provide the wild brood stock; Fairchild and colleagues expertly gauge their readiness for releasing sperm and eggs then give the males and females their privacy: "We let the fish spawn on their own," she says, noting that stock enhancement is most effective when the raised fish are as similar as possible to the wild fish they'll ultimately breed with.

The work gets tricky and makes for fascinating research -- when the juveniles reach the size of a potato chip and are ready to join their wild brethren in the shallow coastal waters where winter flounder naturally spawn. "Hatchery-bred fish are d

Contact: Beth Potier
University of New Hampshire

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