Morning Star Fish Report

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fish Report 7/22/18

Thanks For Your Many Inspirations Men.. 
I hope I have been kind enough here. 

Fish Report 7/22/18 
Best Flounder This Year BUT
Also WORST Trip In A LONG TIME Too! 
On Wind Power & Artificial Reef

If a thousand acre wood burns to smoldering stumps, can we expect hunting controls to restore that lost habitat's squirrel population? 
It really is that simple.. 

Multi-Leg Wind Towers With Cobble Rock & Gravel Anti-Scour Base Armor, & That Cobble Armor Topped With Small Boulder, Will Be, I Believe, The Greatest Boon To MD's Coastal Recreational Fishing Ever. 
Ever. 
It will NOT be a boon to partyboats like mine because we fish around the entirety of the boat's rail. For charters & private boats fishing from one side or stern, however, these towers will be a gift. 
Much more below.. 

Ohhhh... The Weather! Watch For Volunteer Opportunities At OCRF ocreefs.org .. Though covered in this report extensively, there's a separate newsletter for things reef. 

Sailing Daily For Flounder & Sea Bass
 - Weather Permitting - Saturday'6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 –Otherwise 7 to 3 at $110.00.. 
Flounder are on our reefs/wrecks.. We Are Targeting Fluke & Sea Bass (even catching a few..) I Do NOT Know which Will Bite Better On Any Given Day!! If you HAVE TO HAVE one & not the other - Don't Book! I really can't force one species to bite better than the other..

Have opened Reservations thru September 3rd. When you're wondering "how'd those guys book the stern?" - they called early! From now to Labor Day is open..

Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - AND CHECK YOUR MESSAGES!!! Weather Cancelations Are Common - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way..  

Be a half hour early! We always leave early! 
..except when someone shows up right on time. 
Clients arriving late will see the west end of an east bound boat. With a limited number of reserved spots, I do not refund because you over-slept or had a flat..

Bonine Is Cheap Insurance! "Natural Dramamine" Does NOT Work! 
It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure.  If You Suffer Mal-de-Mer In A Car You Should Experiment On Shorter Half-Day Trips First..

Bring A Cooler With Ice For Your Fish – A 48 Quart Is Fine For A Few People. 
No Galley! BYO Sandwiches & Soft Drinks. A few beers in cans is fine. (bottles break at bad times)

If You Won't Measure & Count Your Fish The State Will Provide A Man With A Gun To Do It For You. We Measure & Count — ALWAYS — No Exceptions! 

We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential. 

If you have a concrete few blocks in the backyard taking up space and just making snake reef, bring em. We'll toss em overboard with the rest.

21,370 Reef Blocks deployed at numerous sites.. TNC's Restoration Reef 278 - Doug Ake's Reef 3,503 - St. Ann's 2,116 - Al Giles/OC RUST Reef 1,637 - Eagle Scout Reef 994 - Sue's Block Drop 593 - Two-Tanks Reef (begins) 36 - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 813 - Benelli Reef 506 - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 1,030 - Wolf & Daughters Reef 470. 
Recent Blocks Supplied By Jeff Bauer @ Potomac Valley Brick -- Thank You!
First Truck Load From Chuck Burnham's Major Find at York Building Products(!) has arrived.. Lots and lots of free block in odd lots.. (Yes, we have to pay trucking, but worth it..) 





Far Worse than estimates prior to 2012 under the MRFSS program (which I lobbied against for 15 years!), I am 100% certain NOAA's new MRIP recreational catch estimates are simply garbage. 
Now, under MRIP's "Recalibration," NOAA will become a world-wide laughingstock in fisheries as truth (if truth?) of our catch becomes known. 
Please Know, However, That The People Who Take Data In The Field Are, By & Large, Presenting PRISTINE DATA To MRIP. It's what happens in extrapolation--At Silver Spring HQ---It's When MRIP takes their tiny sample and multiplies it out into total catch---Its When MRIP Adds Its Statistical Magic: THIS is when good field data is turned into compost.. 
One day, I believe, the work of field interviewers will allow a far better look at recreational catch. 
It Is IMPORTANT To GIVE NOAA Good Catch Data!! WE WILL REPAIR THIS BUSINESS YET! And when we do, interview data from all previous years, & Vessel Trip Reports (VTRs) will be vital. 
Still, Great Mercy, our recreational catch data has just become worse than ever under MRIP's "Recalibration". See Fish Report 7/11/18 (and many others) for a close look at some of the estimates NOAA believes will just "average in" to make a sensible picture of recreational catch. Given a system of statistical modeling that has NJ Shore Anglers in March/April catching MORE Tautog than ALL US Commercial & ALL Party/Charter ALL YEAR & ALL COMBINED, There is NO POSSIBLE WAY TO "AVERAGE" Such Codswallop Into A Reasonable Recreational Catch Estimate. 
Not at State Level, Not At Management-Unit Level (Hatteras to Maine), And Not At The Coastwide Level. For Many-Many Catch Estimates - It Cannot Be Done. MRIP's catch estimates are now SO BAD, they cannot be accurately averaged..
But Regulators WILL Use The Data Regardless. They HAVE To. 
Trouble Lies Ahead. 

For Now, another issue comes to the fore -- Wind Power. And, where opposition is supported by fallacious argument, (as has always been the case in history) Here I hope to add simple clarity. 

Greetings All, 
Since my 7/11/18 Report I've had the Best Flounder Bite This Year, and one of my WORST trips in years. 
It's fishing. 
While that hot flounder bite was happening, two anglers standing side-by-side had wholly different results. One bagged out - plus shared a few. The other practiced all day hooking 25 or more  shorts. 
Happens! 
Had a very nice sea bass bite on a previous trip. Fellow in the 12 spot limits-out, while the guy next to him does NOT catch a keeper. 
Sheesh.. 
Grandad, Dad, & Uncle suffer while Grandson (11yo?) outfishes them all with NICE flounders & sea bass.. 
This is summer fishing. My crew & I are doing all we can to send folks home with a family fish fry.  

July is usually a settled month--weather calm and steaming hot. 
Not this year! We've had more summer weather cancellations than I can ever recall. (save one year in the 1990s when a hurricane & NEster duked it out for two straight weeks off the coast. Had 50 knots of NE wind for a LONG time..) 
 
A simple truth in my business -- you cannot get days back. Lost is lost. 
Have made use of weather days, however. Always maintenance to do. 
Reef/fisheries advocacy has had to take a rest while fishing hard as able & keeping equipment up. Fuel issues especially have been a bear. Have had two instances where rough seas stirred enough gunk from fuel tanks to stop fine fuel filters completely. Just did have both tanks 'polished' with $pecialized equipment that filter everything from tanks.  
Taking a break from maintenance a moment. Time now in this gale for some much needed writing.. 
***************

On Maryland's Wind Energy: Capt. Monty Hawkins, 7/22/18 

Some in the Town of Ocean City believe wind towers will be an eyesore. 
Personally, I do not. I think most summer days we'd be challenged to even see them 12 miles and more offshore. Unlike crisp, clear days of fall, in summer I often cannot see OC's skyline on the way back in until 7 miles or so offshore. 
When I do see OC's highrises, I do not consider them ugly, even though the skyline of Assateague Island is so vastly different in its natural preservation. 

If willing to sacrifice our ocean because the view changes somewhat, I fear that vision short-sighted in the extreme. 
 
Marine fisheries scientists' greatest fear about increased CO2 is not warming & sea level rise, but ocean acidification. NOAA says the ocean absorbs about 25% of carbon we release. Others believe it to be closer to 50%..  
The world's leading experts think acidification might become so extreme as to prevent calcifying/forming shell. They believe this is already happening in the earliest life stages of oysters off Oregon/Washington. https://e360.yale.edu/features/northwest_oyster_die-offs_show_ocean_acidification_has_arrived 
(there are MANY articles on this..) 

Of all the shellfish we can think of, there are innumerably many more at the plankton level -- and all corals too are affected. Shells make the ocean, as we know it, come alive. 
Indeed, an article in National Fisherman (leading US Commercial Fishing publication) even has acidification affecting salmons' ability to home to spawning streams. https://www.nationalfisherman.com/alaska/ocean-acidification-salmon-navigation/ 
A quick search of commercial fishing publications reveals the commercial fishing industry recognizes acidification as a grave danger.  
Here's an article from Nat Geo detailing impacts to shell formation https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/oceans/critical-issues-ocean-acidification/

Oysters, clams, scallops? Fugedaboutit.. PH balance, though never pondered until it had to be, is vital to ocean health. 

Acidification primarily comes from air pollution. Pictures of Chinese citizens wearing (not nearly enough) breathing protection are at the far end, but we've made plenty of same here. 
(What do you see when the smog lifts over Los Angeles? UCLA..) 
The ocean collects acidified air pollution from everywhere. 
Automobiles certainly, but big power generation is the main producer of marine acidification - especially coal. 

We have a gift, an unrecognized gift as yet, in ocean energy. Were we to learn to capture wave energy and turn it into electricity, we could reduce our need for fossil fuels tremendously. Same might be said of currents. The Gulf Stream is the most powerful current on earth. It's just a few miles offshore in some places along the south Atlantic. 
Another is wind energy. 
We must learn to make energy that does NOT raise CO2. Regardless how imperfect, we must use what is known today and begin..

Maryland's Department of Natural Resources Coastal Program began holding meeting after meeting about marine wind power construction circa 2009. Everyone who made a living at sea off MD's coast was asked for input. Commercial trawl fishers, trappers, gillnetters, conch potters, & recreational fishers too - we all told MD DNR where we did not want wind towers. 
Assateague Island National Seashore and a multitude of other agencies/NGOs/local governments made comment also. The result was a map of lease areas eventually offered for auction to the highest bidder. 

I truly believe it was an outstanding example of good governance. Those tasked with finding suitable locations for wind towers made a sincere effort to hear ALL concerns. 
Been a whole lot of "buyer's regret" lately.. 

We live in an age when illogical conclusion & downright fabrication are commonplace as tools to sway public opinion; a time when any convenient verbiage is used to sway perception no matter how distant from truth. Although our duty as citizens is to research before forming opinion, the fact is we cannot look deeply at everything. 
If I were paid to just do fisheries habitat work, for instance, I could not begin to read all there is. Still, basic truths remain.. 

Recently an argument was made before Ocean City Town Council by a trawl net manufacturing representative, and she quoting scientific work that surely exists but I've been unable to find; she held "Sand Bottom Is The Most Productive Bottom In The Mid-Atlantic".. That building Artificial Reef is the worst thing we could do to our marine environment ("So what will happen if these (wind) structures are put in is it will REDUCE productivity") ..and that there had never been any reef here to begin with. 
She held that, in our area, sand bottom is more biologically productive than reef &, in these parts, the seafloor  had "always, ALWAYS, been sand bottom." 
How curiously uninformed for someone whose industry is so utterly dependent on ocean health - Or, in way of making Niccolo Machiavelli blush with pride, perhaps simply framing a few tidbits of science to suit her anti-wind power argument.  

Hmm.. 

(Artificial Reef Covered With Natural Growth At The Bass Grounds Reef Site - Photo Nick Caloyianis) 

Well, with Maryland's remaining natural reefs at their smallest footprint since ocean waters flooded the continental shelf, & this diminishment purely a post industrial commercial fishing phenomenon; and given these few remnant natural reef bottoms combined with what little artificial reef we've been able to build in the last 30 years or so amounting to far less than 1% of our region's seabed: one might hope 99+% of the seafloor that does not (or no longer) offers a hard substrate to support the various corals & other growth that comprise our temperate reef ecology; we should hope this vastly larger portion of the seafloor might offer some biological production. 
After all, there are important commercial fisheries - scalloping, surf clamming, & quahoging - that, today, take place in sandy areas
..but didn't always. 

For example: There are a few who still remember fishing the Bass Grounds about 8 miles off OC from the mid-seventies back. Once loaded with sea bass traps, and also fished almost year around by recreational fishers for sea bass in spring/summer & cod in winter; these 4.5 square miles of patchy soft & hard coral bottoms were targeted by the surf clam industry beginning in the 1960s and eventually destroyed. This 'hardbottom' was a soft sandstone easily crumbled in hand. It stood no chance against 15+ ton dredges with water jets that liquify the bottom. 
Speaking on natural reef bottom at the Bass Grounds, Capt. Ward Brex of the Taurus in 1982 said: "We had the best sea bass fishing on the coast & we let them destroy it." His half-day fishing business suffered for it. Was it loss of fishing? Sadly, he took a walk in the woods with his shotgun one day and never returned home. 

Stern towed fishing gears are well-known to damage, even destroy, hardbottom reef ecologies. The science on that is vast. Google search "impacts to seafloor habitat from stern towed fishing gear" and you can read for years.. 

Thing is, what habitat could be destroyed - was. It's rarely something I witness today. I did witness and film a few habitat impacts to regrowing hardbottoms in the early 2000s. Made several videos about it. (*see below) But these are minuscule compared to what must have taken place as diesel engines became available en-masse post WWII.
I have great respect for all of the men I saw tow across reef bottoms. They're all damn fine fishermen. They attended the many meetings held by MD DNR's Coastal Program and made comment based on even over 50 years of fishing off Maryland's coast. They strongly influenced DNR's charts of where it would be OK to build wind energy.  Commercial fishing interests, in fact, were far more diligent than most recreational fishers. 

It remains that we have no Fed/State/Council/Commission guidance, no regulation; not even scientific discovery of our nearshore reef habitats. I've been working on hardbottom habitats' discovery since 2001 when I borrowed an underwater video camera and plugged it into a $99.00 WalMart TV and saw what it was that made our reef fisheries work -- the habitat that made our reef fisheries even possible. 
Believe me, we have beautiful coral reefs just a few miles off the Maryland, Delaware, & Virginia coast. (* see video list below)
And, I wonder; if "sand" is the true key to our region's fisheries productivity as claimed before City Council: why are so many trawl nets lost on our remaining hardbottoms and also wrecks? Trawl fishers know the bottom far better than I - why risk it?
Here's a hint: 
Fish Use of Reef Structures and Adjacent Sand Flats: Rosemund/Paxton 2018 -- "Fish abundance, biomass, and species richness were highest on reefs and progressively decreased across adjacent sand flats."
They risk snagging their very expensive trawl gear on hardbottoms because that's where the fish are. 
Not clams & quahogs (though certainly scallops sometimes) - but fish. 
Every slough with natural hardbottoms has lost trawl gear also. Some wrecks have a net stuck on each end. Some of it may be 50 years old, but it's still there. 

In every area where I take clients to target reef fish such as tautog & sea bass; where commercial trap fishers also target lobster, there is also an important trawl species, summer flounder, for part of the year. In fact, flounder spawn on our wrecks, artificial reefs, and remaining natural hardbottoms from late September to early November. "Sand" is not flounder spawning habitat - Reef is. 

Today management of summer flounder has created Individual Fish Quotas, or IFQs. This allows the 7 individuals who "own" 60% of MD's total flounder harvest (including all recreational catch) to buy, catch, or sell quota as they see fit. 
Trawl effort/bottom time has decreased significantly off MD's coast as extraction of our quotas has shifted north. 
One long-time local trawl skipper explained to me how he would save quota until flounder begin to school up and move offshore for winter. He was able to catch his full share of quota in 3 days high atop a sandy shoal where no natural hardbottoms exist.
In fact, I am again seeing many areas of natural rocky bottom regrow -- seeing growth & fish where I have never seen them before. (I first witnessed an expansion of hardbottom reef growth in the mid/late 1990s as these same men suffered through those much poorer early attempts at summer flounder management. Only allowed to keep a small daily quota, more distant bottoms were rested from trawl effort for years. Once it reopened, however, some bottoms, especially tubeworm bottoms, were lost in rapid order.)

You'd think such increases in habitat of interest to NOAA, management, & fisheries scientists. But, so far at least, no study has occurred save one where a Fifty Million Dollar Research Vessel, the Bigelow, pronounced an area of hardbottom I'd informed them of as 'sand waves' ..yet when I lowered a video camera after the Bigelow's 'research cruise' with interested scientists while aboard the Morning Star, an abundance of slab rock was plainly visible. Sadly, this once vibrant sea whip colony (a soft coral) had been shaved clean. Corals only remained where protected by rocky overlap -- a giant whip meadow lost to one crew's catch, very likely in one day. I wish they'd targeted sand instead.. Ten years later there is some growth evident on sounders again. Haven't lowered a camera there lately though.

Another look, a 36 hour cruise by National Marine Fisheries Service scientist, Vince Guida, did indeed find natural substrate, fish, & coral at every location I told him to check -- even very near the MD Wind Energy Area. 
Wasn't enough though. 
The inconvenience caused to some fisheries, (especially stern towed gears,) should coral reef be 'discovered' off our coast is, I believe, what keeps the sciences of habitat ecology and fisheries productions at a distance. 
Management continues to "restore" our region's marine fisheries solely by catch restriction ..as if a more barren seabed could ever produce populations not seen since the 1950s. 

If a thousand acre wood burns to smoldering stumps, can we expect hunting controls to restore that lost habitat's squirrel population? 
It really is that simple.. 

Measure after measure of reef productivity has a large proportion of the ocean's fish living in and atop what is less than 1% of the worlds seabed -- reef. 
But please don't just take my word for it. Here from the Smithsonian: 

"Coral reefs are the most diverse of all marine ecosystems. They teem with life, with perhaps one-quarter of all ocean species depending on reef for food and shelter. This is a remarkable statistic when you consider that reefs cover just a tiny fraction (less than one percent) of the earth's surface and less than two percent of the ocean bottom. Because they are so diverse, coral reefs are often called the rainforests of the sea.

Coral reefs are also very important to people. The value of coral reefs has been estimated at 30 billion US dollars and perhaps as much as 172 billion US dollars each year, providing food, protection of shorelines, jobs based on tourism, and even medicines."   From https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/invertebrates/corals-and-coral-reefs ..

Wind energy surveys raised my blood pressure through the roof into 2015. Their 'sub-bottom profiler' equipment scared sea bass & flounder from every bit of reef within 3 or 4 miles of the MD WEA - an area of approximately 500 square miles was evacuated by fish. I had a video made in Januray 2016 with video we'd shot on the last day of August 2015 & compared it to video of the exact same bottoms from 2004. Government said: 'Oh No, that equipment is as quiet as a ship's propeller.' And I don't doubt that. But is scared the fish away -- big time. 
They moved though. Didn't kill 'em. No one else complained. Fishing was GREAT where they were fish were artificially knotted up. 
Survey impact video  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46ahNqo8geE  

"Artificial Reef Only Attracts Fish".. 
So nearby natural bottoms & accidental reefs (shipwrecks) are then vacant near where we build new reef? Yeah, no. That's not the case. 
Fish haven't the least concept of the origination of where they are feeding, growing to maturity, & spawning. Reef is Reef. 

Multi-Leg Wind Towers With Cobble Rock & Gravel Anti-Scour Base Armor, & That Cobble Armor Topped With Small Boulder, Will Be, I Believe, The Greatest Boon To MD's Coastal Recreational Fishing Ever. 
Ever. 
It will NOT be a boon to partyboats like mine because we fish around the entirety of the boat's rail. (one side of the boat would be skunked..) For charters & private boats fishing from one side or the stern, however, these towers will be a gift. 
  
The only way to combat ocean acidification is to reduce CO2 outputs. Whether wind, solar, wave, current, nuclear, or of other methods & some surely undreamed of yet; if we continue on course it won't matter. 
Where today we are on the brink of re-enlivening estuarine oyster populations using rock substrates that create vertical surfaces, (and NOT shell!) we might again see blue waters as they witnessed three generations ago -- might again see billfish just 5 miles off the beach. 
Acidification continued means we'll have no chance at oyster reef restoration. They'll not be able to form shells at their earliest life stages. 
Corals too - kaput. 
Shrimp? Yup. Them too. 
Scallops? Uh hu.. 
On and on. 

Will Maryland's Marine Wind Energy component resolve threat of ocean acidification? Heck No. 
But it's a start. 
Wind towers are a whole lot less ugly than a dead sea. 
Regards,
Monty 

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
President Ocean City Reef Foundation
Chairman MD Artificial Reef Committee

(See habitat videos at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n77WF9XQRJM || at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cMC8JVa2Bk where you see bare rock at 5:05 to 5:55 is where I'd witnessed trawl impacts occur. Though surely something to be mindful of; there have not been, in my opinion, enough habitat impacts in our time to lower sea bass production noticeably. Considered from a post WWII historical perspective, however, that would not be the case.. || https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3nGYeXvkxE this video begins with pictures of a once amazing reef laid low & transitions to video of a robust boulder reef of unknown origin. It might be natural. It might be jetty boulder that fell off a barge in heavy weather. I can't tell. Fish & coral sure don't know either. While I'm at it, here's what some of these same reefs look like after BOEM scared the tar out of our sea bass with sub-bottom profiler surveys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46ahNqo8geE ..)

 



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