Summer Flounder

Summer Flounder

Paralichthys dentatus


    Flounder, Fluke, Northern fluke, Hirame


    U.S. wild-caught from Maine to North Carolina



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Summer Flounder

Summer flounder are called chameleons of the sea because of their ability to change color to match the bottom on which they are found.


Summer flounder is highly valued commercially for its lean, white meat and light, delicate flavor, and it’s also one of the most popular recreational fish on the Atlantic coast. The summer flounder population had been at low levels for decades before fishery managers approved the species’ first fishery management plan in 1982. The population continued to decline well into the 1990s as managers struggled to accurately assess the population status and identify appropriate catch levels. In 1993, managers established a rebuilding plan for the stock, limiting the amount of summer flounder commercial and recreational fishermen could catch along the East Coast. By 1996, the summer flounder catch was at an appropriate level for the first time in decades and the population began its gradual recovery. The summer flounder stock was declared rebuilt to its target population level in 2010. Managers now set a catch quota for the fishery every year and divide it between the commercial fishery and the recreational fishery. Commercial fishermen are allotted 60 percent of the annual catch and recreational fishermen are allotted 40 percent.

Regulations also require that summer flounder must be above a certain size to be harvested and that the mesh on fishing nets also must be above a certain size, protecting juvenile fish and helping to maintain the part of the population that is able to reproduce.

Managers still face challenges managing the summer flounder fishery. While states have adopted management measures to stay within their commercial and recreational quotas, harvests sometimes exceed these limits. Although harvest levels may have been exceeded, the stock hasn’t been subject to overfishing since 2008. Managers and scientists also continually strive to improve the data and science used to manage this species.

Looking Ahead

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is considering changing to regional management measures for summer flounder, which would allow for the sharing of additional recreational harvest limits. A working group is seeking long-term solutions that maximize recreational harvest opportunities.




Summer flounder are found in the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to the east coast of Florida. In U.S. waters, summer flounder is most common in the Mid-Atlantic region from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cape Fear, North Carolina.

Larval summer flounder live in estuaries and coastal lagoons. Juveniles bury in the sediment in marsh creeks, seagrass beds, mud flats, and open bays, notably Pamlico Sound and Chesapeake Bay. Since this important life stage takes place near heavily populated urban areas, maintaining good water quality is important for successful growth and survival of young summer flounder.

Adults spend most of their life on or near the sea floor burrowing in the sand. They’re also found in marsh creeks, seagrass beds, and sand flats. Adult summer flounder migrate inshore and offshore seasonally with changes in water temperature. In the winter and early spring, they’re found offshore along the outer edge of the continental shelf. In late spring and early summer, they move inshore into shallow coastal waters and estuaries. Summer flounder migrate back offshore in the fall.



Summer flounder grow fast and have a relatively short life, about 12 to 14 years. They’re 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.



Summer flounder have flat bodies. Males grow to more than 2 feet in length and females grow up to 3 feet. Summer flounder 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.



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 fishing pressure, spawning stock biomass (a measure of the amount of summer flounder able to reproduce) has increased substantially. Based on the latest stock assessment (2013) summer flounder are not overfished and the estimated spawning stock biomass is 51,238 metric tons, 82 percent of the target level of 62,394 metric tons.



Management allows a portion of the annual summer flounder catch quota to be set aside to fund cooperative research projects (conducted jointly by scientists and fishermen) to further our understanding of the summer flounder fishery.


Harvesting Summer Flounder

Commercial fishermen mainly use bottom trawls to harvest summer flounder, fishing offshore in the winter and inshore in the summer. Bottom trawls contact the bottom and can impact bottom habitats; however, summer flounder are most common on sandy bottoms, which are more resilient than other habitat types to the impacts of fishing gear. Bottom trawls can unintentionally catch sea turtles. Since 1992, all vessels fishing for summer flounder with bottom trawls off Virginia and North Carolina have been required to use NOAA Fisheries-approved Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in their nets. A TED is a sorting grid that is sewn into a trawl net to allow fish to pass through to the back of the net, but prevents larger animals, such as turtles and sharks, from passing through by allowing them to escape through flaps above or below the TED. Management measures also require the mesh on fishing nets to be a certain size to prevent bycatch of juvenile summer flounder and other species.



Who’s in charge? The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council cooperatively develop fishery regulations for summer flounder because significant catch of these species comes from both state waters (0-3 miles offshore) and federal waters (3-200 miles offshore). NOAA Fisheries implements and enforces these regulations in federal waters.

Current management: 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 then 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.
  • Summer flounder must be a certain size to be harvested and the mesh on fishing nets must be a certain size, protecting juvenile fish and helping 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 turtles catch in the southern portion of the fishery.
  • Moratorium on entry into the commercial fishery.
  • Reporting requirements.

Annual Harvest

In 2012, commercial fishermen harvested 5,664 metric tons of summer flounder.



The 2012 commercial harvest of summer flounder was valued at $30.35 million.



Summer flounder are one of the most popular recreational fish on the Atlantic coast. Anglers fish for summer flounder from the shore, piers, and boats with hook and line gear. The recreational harvest limits for each state are based on the recreational catch in 1998. Regulations for the recreational fishery are typically adjusted annually; they include an annual harvest limit, closed seasons, a minimum size for landed fish, and possession limits. Recreational landings varied widely over the years until harvest limits were put in place in 1993. Recreational landings were 2,955 metric tons in 2012, about 25 percent under the harvest limit.



Summer flounder is sold whole and in fillets, and is available fresh or frozen. Its skin is edible and its flaky white meat has a delicate flavor and fine texture.






Flounder is a good low-fat source of B vitamins and an excellent source of niacin.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 91
Protein 18.84 g
Fat, total 1.19 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.283 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 48 mg
Selenium 32.7 mcg
Sodium 81 mg

Summer Flounder Table of Nutrition