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The Gulf Flounder, Paralichthys albigutta. Illustration by Diana Rome Peebles 1998. Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Marine Fisheries.

Species Name: Paralichthys albigutta Jordan and Gilbert, 1882
Common Name: Gulf Flounder
Synonymy: None
  1. TAXONOMY

    Kingdom Phylum/Division Class: Order: Family: Genus:
    Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Pleuronectiformes Paralichthyidae Paralichthys

    Other Taxonomic Groupings

    Subphylum: Vertebrata
    Superclass: Osteichthyes
    Subclass: Neopterygii
    Infraclass: Teleostei
    Superorder: Acanthopterygii
    Suborder: Pleuronectoidei

    Species Description

    P. albigutta is one member of a large family of distinctive benthic flatfishes that inhabit continental shore waters in the tropical and temperate zones of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. Flatfishes such as flounders are unlike most other fishes in that they begin life as bilateral animals, swimming similarly to other fishes.

    However, toward the end of the larval period, flatfishes settle to the benthos and take up a cryptic, somewhat sedentary lifestyle, lying on one side of the body, and swimming laterally to the substratum. Metamorphosis to the juvenile stage involves complex modification of the skeletal structure of the head, and rearrangement of the nervous system and muscle tissues. Additionally, the eye on the side which faces the substratum (termed the blind-side eye) begins to migrate to the upper side of the body. P. albigutta is a left-eye flounder, thus it lies on its right side, and at metamorphosis, the right eye migrates to the left side of the head. Lefteye flounders sometimes exhibit sexual dimorphism, with females having eyes that are closer together than in males, and males having somewhat longer pectoral fins (Rogers and Van Den Avyle 1983).

    Body color in this species is brown overall, and can vary in shade depending on the color of the substratum. There are numerous splotches and spots on the upper surface of the body, with 3 ocellated (eye-like) spots prominent: 2 are posterior to the pectoral fin, and 1 is located inside the base of the tail. Together, these form a triangle on the body surface. Teeth are strong and canine-like. The blindside is white or dusky.

    Potentially Misidentified Species

    This species can be confused with the southern flounder, P. lethostigma. However, P. lethostigma is significantly larger in size and lacks P. albigutta's 3 distinct ocellated spots.

  2. HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION

    Regional Occurrence

    The summer flounder, Paralichthys albigutta, occurs from North Carolina south through Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. Its range is sympatric with that of the southern flounder, P. lethostigma.

    IRL Distribution

    P. albigutta is found inshore throughout the Indian River Lagoon. It is sometimes found in nearshore reef areas.

  3. LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY

    Age, Size, Lifespan

    P. albigutta typically grows to 15 inches (38 cm), and is common to 2 pounds.

    Embryology

    Eggs of P. albigutta are spherical and measure approximately 0.85 - 0.90 mm in diameter (Powell and Henley 1995), with a single oil globule. Yolk is homogeneous, and the chorion smooth. Pigmentation in eggs is most apparent in the caudal area. Young larvae have well developed melanophores around the dorsal and anal finfolds. During metamorphosis to the juvenile stage, pigmentation in P. albigutta becomes more intense. Data from Powell and Henley (1995) show that P. albigutta begins metamorphosis at a smaller size than do other flounders, especially its close relative P. lethostigma, the southern flounder. In P. albigutta, the migrating eye reaches the dorsal midline of the body when larvae attain approximately 7.8 mm SL. In P. lethostigma, the migrating eye does not settle in place until larvae are 8.7 mm SL.

    Powell and Henley (1995) examined egg and larval development in both P. albigutta and P. lethostigma. Results from their study show that fins begin to develop when larvae reach approximately 5.2 mm notochord length (NL). The dorsal fin is generally the first to begin development, followed by the caudal, anal, pelvic, and pectoral fins (Powell and Henley 1995). Dorsal fins begin to develop when larvae are approximately 5.5 mm NL, and are first observed in the head region. Development of this fin proceeds posteriorly, and is most rapid during the postflexion stage. By the time larvae reach 6.9 mm NL, the adult complement of caudal fin rays (10 upper, 8 lower) is reached. Following postflexion, when larvae reach approximately 6.1 mm standard length (SL), anal fin rays begin to develop, with the full adult complement of fin rays developed by the time larvae reach 7.7 mm SL. Pelvic fins are first observed on larvae at approximately 7.0 mm SL, and are fully developed by the time larvae attain 8.5 mm SL. Pectoral fins first begin formation when larvae are approximately 7.1 mm SL, and are fully formed when larvae reach 8.5 mm SL.

  4. PHYSICAL TOLERANCES

    No information is available at this time

  5. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY

    No information is available at this time

  6. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

    Special Status

    Fisheries.

    Fisheries Importance

    Commercial Fishery
    Sixty percent of Florida's commercial catch of flounders is harvested from Atlantic coast waters, both inland and coastal, with flounders of all species captured in and around the Indian River Lagoon. However, the commercial flounder fishery is not of particularly high value and accounts for only 30 - 35% of the annual catch, with the recreational fishery being of far more importance. For the years 1987 - 2001, 1.7 million pounds of mixed flounder species were harvested commercially, with a dollar value of over 3.1 million reported in the 5 county area encompassing the IRL (Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin Counties). This ranks flounders nineteenth in commercial value within the IRL, and twenty-ninth in pounds harvested.

    Figure 1 below shows the dollar value of the commercial flounder fishery to IRL counties by year. Note that all species of flounders were combined in the data presented. As shown, commercial catch ranged from a low of $77,149 in 1987 to a high of over $350,927 in 1999. Volusia County annually accounts for the largest percentage of the flounder catch with 83% in total (Figure 2), followed distantly by Brevard County, which accounts for 8% of the total. Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin Counties account for 3%, 4% and 2% of the total respectively. Note that the fishery's value brings in $125,000 - $300,000 annually to Volusia County businesses, while in all other IRL counties, the dollar value is typically less than $25,000.


    Figure 1. Annual dollar value of the commercial catch of flounders to the 5-county area of the Indian River Lagoon.

    Figure 2. Breakdown of total flounder dollar value by county for the years 1987 - 2001.


    Volusia Brevard Indian River St. Lucie Martin Total
    YEAR Value ($) Value ($) Value ($) Value ($) Value ($) Value to IRL
    1987 $52,332 $16,478 $462 $4,740 $3,137 $77,149
    1988 $125,679 $24,502 $773 $4,896 $6,499 $162,349
    1989 $159,271 $0 $0 $5,312 $0 $164,583
    1990 $135,210 $20,461 $1,113 $10,947 $5,396 $173,127
    1991 $168,724 $20,692 $2,446 $22,654 $6,410 $220,926
    1992 $117,085 $16,988 $2,813 $15,816 $4,620 $157,322
    1993 $182,403 $20,647 $1,574 $11,826 $7,469 $223,919
    1994 $202,828 $15,739 $6,091 $5,041 $5,984 $235,683
    1995 $238,435 $14,654 $6,773 $5,227 $4,412 $269,501
    1996 $137,805 $7,207 $7,347 $638 $2,625 $155,622
    1997 $194,655 $20,528 $19,640 $7,254 $2,787 $244,864
    1998 $145,311 $16,449 $13,133 $14,215 $5,855 $194,963
    1999 $306,281 $25,090 $9,182 $8,772 $1,602 $350,927
    2000 $265,389 $19,629 $3,097 $13,248 $3,244 $304,607
    2001 $148,233 $14,655 $9,103 $4,789 $1,256 $178,036
    Cumulative Totals: $2,579,641 $253,719 $83,547 $135,375 $61,296 $3,113,578
    Table 1. Total dollar value of flounders to IRL counties between 1987 -2001.


    Volusia Brevard Indian River St. Lucie Martin
    YEAR % Total % Total % Total % Total % Total
    1987 67.8% 21.4% 0.6% 6.1% 4.1%
    1988 77.4% 15.1% 0.5% 3.0% 4.0%
    1989 96.8% 0.0% 0.0% 3.2% 0.0%
    1990 78.1% 11.8% 0.6% 6.3% 3.1%
    1991 76.4% 9.4% 1.1% 10.3% 2.9%
    1992 74.4% 10.8% 1.8% 10.1% 2.9%
    1993 81.5% 9.2% 0.7% 5.3% 3.3%
    1994 86.1% 6.7% 2.6% 2.1% 2.5%
    1995 88.5% 5.4% 2.5% 1.9% 1.6%
    1996 88.6% 4.6% 4.7% 0.4% 1.7%
    1997 79.5% 8.4% 8.0% 3.0% 1.1%
    1998 74.5% 8.4% 6.7% 7.3% 3.0%
    1999 87.3% 7.1% 2.6% 2.5% 0.5%
    2000 87.1% 6.4% 1.0% 4.3% 1.1%
    2001 83.3% 8.2% 5.1% 2.7% 0.7%
    Table 2. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the flounder harvest for the years 1987-2001.


    Volusia Brevard Indian River St. Lucie Martin
    Dollars $2,579,641 $253,719 $83,547 $135,375 $61,296
    % 82.9% 8.1% 2.7% 4.3% 2.0%
    Table 3. By county cumulative dollar value and percentage of total for the IRL flounders harvested from 1987 - 2001.

    Recreational Fishery
    The recreational flounder fishery in Florida accounts for 65 - 70% of the annual state-wide harvest (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2004). Landings on the Gulf coast of Florida are somewhat lower than those on the East coast, averaging approximately 198,015 pounds per year. On the Atlantic coast, landings have averaged less than 300,000 pounds per year since 2001. However, catch rates on both coasts are apparently stable, and have remained so since the early 1990s. The recreational fishery was first regulated beginning in 1996, when a 10-fish bag limit and 12-inch minimum size limit was implemented.

    Based on survey data provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service, gulf flounder are an important recreational species within the IRL and other inland waters, as well as in offshore waters to 200 miles.

    Within the 5-county area of the Indian River Lagoon, recreational anglers captured more than 149,413 Gulf flounder. Figure 3 and Table 4 below show annual recreational landings of Gulf flounder between 1997 - 2004. The bulk of the recreational catch (38.2%) was taken within the waters of the Indian River Lagoon. Offshore waters 3 - 200 miles offshore accounted for 30%. Inland waters other than the IRL accounted for 21.8% of the harvest, while nearshore waters to 3 miles offshore accounted for 10.0%.

    The lowest harvest was recorded in 1998, when 7,838 Gulf flounder were reported captured. The highest harvest occurred in 2000 when 36,069 Gulf flounder were taken.


    Figure 3. Survey data for the gulf flounder recreational fishery showing the number of fishes harvested in East Florida waters from 1997 - 2004.

    Figure 4. Summary of the gulf flounder recreational harvest and percentage of total by area from 1997 - 2004.

    To 3 Miles To 200 Miles Other Inland IRL TOTAL
    1997 2,571 5,566 8,138
    1998 1,795 6,043 7,838
    1999 474 5,367 769 4,952 11,562
    2000 841 17,478 6,872 10,879 36,069
    2001 5,684 5,286 12,567 23,538
    2002 4,122 779 3,964 5,903 14,769
    2003 972 4,367 5,755 8,665 19,760
    2004 2,807 16,899 5,573 2,460 27,739
    Total: 14,900 44,890 32,585 57,035 149,413
    Table 4. Summary data for the recreational fishery in Eastern Florida waters of the gulf flounder, Paralichthys albigutta, from 1997 - 2004. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.


    To 3 Miles To 200 Miles Other Inland IRL
    % Total % Total % Total % Total
    1997 0.0% 0.0% 31.6% 68.4%
    1998 0.0% 0.0% 22.9% 77.1%
    1999 4.1% 46.4% 6.7% 42.8%
    2000 2.3% 48.5% 19.1% 30.2%
    2001 24.1% 0.0% 22.5% 53.4%
    2002 27.9% 5.3% 26.8% 40.0%
    2003 4.9% 22.1% 29.1% 43.9%
    2004 10.1% 60.9% 20.1% 8.9%
    Table 5. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the gulf flounder harvest for the years 1997 - 2001. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.


    To 3 Miles To 200 Miles Other Inland IRL
    No. of Fish 14,900 44,890 32,585 57,035
    % 9.97% 30.04% 21.81% 38.17%
    Table 6. Summary of the gulf flounder recreational harvest and percentage of total fish captured in each area from 1997 - 2004. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.


  7. REFERENCES

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Recreational fisheries landings. Available online: http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/fishstats/recreational-fisheries/landings. Accessed: 4 July 2016.

    Powell AB, Henley T. 1995. Egg and larval development of laboratory-reared gulf flounder, Paralichthys albigutta, and southern flounder, P. lethostigma (Pisces, Paralichthyidae). Fish Bull 93: 504-515.

    Rogers SG, Van Den Avyle MJ. 1983. Species profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (South Atlantic). Atlantic Menhaden (No. FWS/OBS-82/11.11). Georgia Univ., Athens (USA). School of Forest Resources.

Report by: K. Hill, Smithsonian Marine Station
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Page last updated: July 28, 2005

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