Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fish Report 12/10/06

Gift Certificates are cotton-candy at the reservation line!
Fish Report 12/10/06
Minor Explorations   
Hi All,
The very last trips of the year had little to do with a day's fishing but everything to do with how good fishing might be in the future. Burnt some fuel to take scientists and advocacy groups offshore to see for themselves a tiny bit of our seafloor ecology.
Weather was marginal; I wasn't able to show them even 1% of what I wanted them to see. Cancelled Monday, snuck out far enough to know the forecast was wrong on Tuesday and, finally, with about a foot of visibility, dropped a camera and Ponar Grab on some soft corals and tube worms on Wednesday. Not much for a lot of effort and expense. Somehow though, enough.
The Henry B. Bigelow, a brand new 40 million dollar NOAA research vessel, is being fine-tuned in Mississippi. NOAA has a fleet of other research ships and boats, some of which are tied up a few miles away in Lewes, DE. These boats do work - a lot. Diverting their attentions away from dead zones, collapsed fisheries and entirely new forms of life on the deep ocean ridges will be difficult.
You'd think that undocumented seafloor ecologies might be enough.
Not quite, or at least not yet.
Compared to other US regions, the mid-Atlantic is at least 15 years behind in seafloor habitat research ~ half a millennium if you ask Japanese researchers.
What to look at were there time and money:
Document many rocky areas that can support hard-bottom reef but fishing gear impact intervals are too tight to allow full regrowth. Study unimpacted sites ~hard-bottom reef in it's natural state~ to compare the amount of life -the fish and fish food- that can be found.
Establish an ageing chart of hard-bottom reef ~ How dense is a sea-whip colony at 5/10/20 years- how tall are they? How dense is star coral (the region's hard coral) at 20/40/60/80... 1000 year intervals. Is there useful information to be found among the oldest corals, climate information perhaps? 
Document the mud sloughs where tube worm colonies thrive. Examine the importance of these areas to the mid-Atlantic. Certainly acres of worms with tubes jutting 4 to 16 inches off the bottom create complex seafloor habitat, but how crucial is it to life stages of sea trout, bluefish, sea bass, flounder, sturgeon and so on...
Take that information and create a production model (number of fish that survive to spawn or be catchable) that includes fully regrown seafloor communities ~ a forward looking VPA. (Virtual Population Analysis ~ which is RCFM, Really Complex Fisheries Management).
Also, and this is key, reverse the production model to show a virgin mid-Atlantic. Reversing, taking a look back, can be supported by people who were there. Men that saw and caught white marlin just a few miles off the coast; Party boat customers who were bowed-up on scup while watching the Ferris Wheel go round and round; Captains who remember 40 charter boats tied off stem to stern on Fenwick shoals; Mates who remember gaffing marlin and dolphin while able to see ~actually looking at~ the sandy bottom on Sugar Lump; Skippers that, with only a compass and Radio Direction Finder to find their way, caught burlap bags of sea bass for their customers while drifting on the bass grounds...
There's so much history out there that, if researched, it would help greatly in the restoration of our region's fisheries. 
It's not all about the bottom, there's plenty of other work to do too, but overlooking it is costing us.
I think the recent Boris Worm study, or rather the paraphrased articles based on that study which indicate imminent collapse of the world's fisheries, are dead wrong. If we roll our sleeves up and get to work we'll have white marlin in sight of OC again by 2048 ~ sooner. A lot sooner.
How artificial reefs can help with that in the next report...
Enjoy Your Holidays!
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076

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