Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fish Report 3/26/06

Fish Report 3/26/06
Thoughts on Mackerel.
Hi All,
Lost Saturday and Sunday to weather. Friday though was as pretty a day as could be had - little chilly in the AM, but gorgeous thereafter. Set up on a big piece of structure and had a nice grade of fish. Sweet. When I had tried that same spot 2 weeks ago we drew a blank. Quite different this time! But a very small hang nearby beckoned, so, in direct violation of Rule #1 ~ Never leave fish to find fish ~ we picked up anchors and moved. Sweeter! - up to 15 1/4 lbs. That fish wasn't too long; only 25 1/2 inches, but very deep - sorta like a cross between a tog and a porgy. Still vigorous; she swam away with her new yellow ribbon (tag). I wish her many successful spawns!
It looks like the weather's going to warm a bit - that's a good thing! We'll try the tog again on the 29th and 30th of March (Wednesday and Thursday) - 7AM to 3PM - 16 People sells the boat out and again I'll be looking for the elusive mackerel as we go, but won't spend more than a 1/2 hour on 'em.
Tried the macks for a while on Friday and searched all the way home too - no joy. Did catch some herring though. How often I've seen a shot of herring turn into a flurry or bail of mackerel... Been a long time since I seriously tried the macks; might just happen this year. I guess it's been 15 years since the "Foreign Joint Fishing Venture" disaster. Foreign boats were allowed to process American caught mackerel - the fish were transferred at sea. The price on mackerel generally plummets after a few days of good fishing but that year the price stayed artificially high.
Lets see: Huge Demand & High Price + Too Many Boats & Nonexistent Landings Regulations = Fishery Collapse. Yup - that formula works every time!
Oh well, that was 15 years ago; just a tough lesson learned. It keeps coming back though, seems like every other year someone's trying to get the foreign boats in. (Shades of Abramoff???) The 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone that the US claimed back in 1976 - the first Magnusen/Stevens Act - banned foreign fishing inside US boundaries. Prior to the EEZ, mackerel - and everything else - were pounded just outside of the 12 mile federal boundary by anyone. I've spoken with people in OC that can remember watching the huge foreign factory ships work well within sight of land. At times they could even see people walking on deck; maybe the 12 mile line wasn't too rigorously enforced!
Recreational fishers still caught plenty of mackerel back then despite unlimited and unregulated domestic and foreign pressure. I therefore hold that the breadth of the mackerel's overfishing is grossly understated. There's a huge - incredibly huge - difference between the recreational mackerel fishery of today vs. 2 decades ago. 
Back then, if you called in late February looking for a Saturday charter for any boat - a bathtub - No way! All booked up! Newspapers that normally wouldn't touch a fishing article, TV stations too, were constantly looking for news of the first mackerel - that the run was on!  No more. Some of the boats up in Lewes have had some decent shots on 'em in the last couple years - Capt. Ricky especially - so there's hope that the "management plan" has had the fortunate accident of allowing the fish to recover enough so that the recreational sector might capture a few...
I suspect the only fishery in which the recreational allocation is more out of balance is the menhaden fishery!
Boston mackerel, or, more properly, atlantic mackerel, remains a huge commercial fishery. In '04 there were 1,500,000,000  pounds of menhaden landed (yes, 1.5 trillion pounds!), 190,000,000 pounds of east coast herrings and 120,000,000 pounds of atlantic mackerel. Third place - numbing.
In contrast, the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey holds that all recreational landings of atlantic mackerel in March and April of 2004  equaled 1049 pounds. How very different than the 1983 figure of 5,500,000 lbs for the recreational sector. No one has a lot of love for MRFSS's numbers, but still; something's wrong with that picture...
My hat's off to the Recreational Fishing Alliance for staying on top of this one - I'm pretty sure that the RFA was the spearhead that killed the latest effort to allow foreign fishers in for the mackerel.
It wouldn't do to allow a 'fish report' to slip by without some mention of habitat. You'd have to be pretty far out of the loop to not know that there's a big brouhaha going about the menhaden fishery - they feed some of our favorite predators.
Mackerel are quite similar. One of the most awesome sights I've ever beheld was a group of fin whales feeding on an incredibly dense school of mackerel. We were in 150 feet of water and you absolutely could not drop a rig deeper than 25 feet. It was like hitting bottom! The whales were 'bubble net' feeding - that is, going round and round the fish while releasing air to make them school tighter and tighter. Then, taking turns, the whales would push through the school to feed.
I've heard that the tunas, among many apex predators, enjoy a mackerel snack too... 
We'll do a few more things on the boat - then go fishing!
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076
Fish Report 3/26/06
Thoughts on Mackerel.

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