Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fish Report 8/29/09

Fish Report 8/29/09
Croaker, Fluke, Sea Bass, Sharks, a Cobia..
Impending Coast Wide Implosion of Recreational Fisheries.
Fish Report from 8/23/09 that was spam-blocked below this one.
Hi All,
The last week has been anything but 'normal'. Hurricane Bill didn't force us to make storm preparations, but he sure threw fishing for a loop. (read the report below for a description of entering the inlet while the storm was offshore)
Our flounder fishing went toes-up. Its gradually coming back; we did nick a few on Friday. Enter the dissolved tropical depression Danny..
Croaker fishing is decent, but the schools are all jammed together - from 7 to 17 inches in the same place. Not many jumbos. Yet. 
Mixing up the days - following my intuition on what will bite best. With a tiny bit of luck that will be flounder/fluke again shortly... That season is --at this exact moment-- supposed to close at midnight on September 13th.
Sharks on the kites have been entertaining, even a cobia. Well, most of 'em. The sandbar shark that ran up under the boat and around the bow, then back under the boat caused a bit of a tangle. Good thing the kids couldn't hear what my mates were thinking!
Best of fishing intentions sometimes go awry..
In 1981 I had a newly rented apartment. After a few days the landlady burst in screaming "Get these people and that beer out of here! Get out of my apartment!"
A single bed, a tiny stove, table and a closet sized toilet.
No people. No beer.
How she saw what she saw I have no idea.
Last year and the year before the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey -MRFSS- said that Maryland shore flounder fishers out-fished the party and charter boats 18 & 12 to one.
How they can make that assertion and have it stick I have no idea.
Now MRFSS has us very close to filling the recreational quotas for scup, summer flounder (fluke) & black sea bass for the entire coast: Not just Maryland - everywhere. There is a distinct possibility that these three fisheries will be closed for the rest of 2009 in the coming week.
Crazy landlady - in 1981 I just grabbed my duffle and headed back to the boat.
Things are a bit more fiscally complex nowadays...
Numbers, numbers, numbers. Management's looking at state by state//recreational-commercial numbers, the landings data. And, great mercy, the recreational numbers are from MRFSS - fishing's crazy landlady. 
While somewhat revealing, managers need very much to look at exactly where sea bass are caught with vessel trip reports -VTRs. The federal BSB tagging study shows why - habitat fidelity. 
When industrial effort converges on a single regional stock but gets reported as landings in 5 states, all seems well to the manager. Yet that particular region's sea bass fishery will be in a shambles.
Looking at the sea bass stock "coast-wide" smooths the picture. The absolutely glorious cbass fishing we had in 2003 was not had everywhere. Our uptick disguised another region's downturn - charted data in a single line saw neither event.
Alaskan salmon are managed river by river because their natal habitat fidelity is so well understood. 
That we could try at least regional management here..
Sea bass exhibit habitat fidelity - indisputable. Its been found in every tag study, including my own of 10 years and more ago. They return to the same area after winter migration, often the exact same wreck, artificial reef or natural coral. Now we also know they remain together in winter.
I am frustrated that we have yet to discover, at least from a management perspective, the "habitat" part of their fidelity.
"Wow, there really is coral reef out here" a credentialed person recently told me. 
Every square foot of reef has a production value to our fisheries. Every year that management has failed to look after their "preserve, protect and enhance essential fish habitat" obligations has lead to further-reduced production. Millions, perhaps billions of fish and lobster larvae have not survived because of our shrunken natural reef footprint.
I was searching people's coolers for sea bass under 9 inches 5 years before it was law. Better and better: In 2003 we were often catching 25 fish limits --everyone aboard-- and that with some customers electing to only keep 14 inches or larger.
Now, after 12 years of management, our region's sea bass stock has collapsed.
Restricting recreational catch, while supremely necessary, can only do so much.
Though she sez that we caught over our quota, listening to the crazy landlady ain't gonna restore any fishery.
In fact, I'm pretty sure that with the tightest catch regulations ever, I've just had my worst sea bass summer since '85 or so.
That being true, there must be -has to be- something broken besides the recreational fishery..
I have a fair amount of underwater video from '01 & '04. Had to search all of it to find a few fluke when I made the video for Congressman Gilchrest that's now on YouTube --  Common Seafloor Habitat in the Mid-Atlantic. Recently forced to get rid of VHS and go DVD, I tested my new system 2 or 3 weeks ago. On a wreck I have fished for decades targeting sea bass, we caught only flounder - the drop-cam showed them stacked atop one another, literally. (and no, I didn't then know how to run the dagoned DVD recorder. Will publish a new video this winter - promise)
No partyboat skipper in Ocean City has ever had wreck/reef fluking like I have - ever.
Rebuilt beyond our wildest expectation; MRFSS & management will need to close that down too.
Great Mercy.

Might be some of that regional stock fidelity going on there too. 
Speaking of crazy, I think its possible to restore the southern stock of scup/porgy using habitat fidelity. We're sure raising them on inshore artificial reefs in summer; just that dern few make it back after winter.
This fisher sincerely hopes that management will reevaluate its present strategies and look for greatly enhanced restoration of regional stocks: that managers imagine bioeconomic stability, then get us there.
Failing to utilize regional strategies and discover habitat sorely in need of protection will assure that no fishery truly becomes rebuilt for long. One region flourishes another fails - the landings data just blend into the chart.   Should managers continue to follow their present and immediate path, economic disaster will result.
And perhaps that is the easiest path to fisheries restoration - get rid of the boats.
We can do better.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
This report written before news of possible upcoming management actions.
Fish Report 8/23/09
Bill's Passing
Regulations & Habitat
Hi All,
Fishing hasn't changed much over the last few weeks. A few rock-solid great days.. A clunker. Repeat.
Nearly everyday we catch someone's 'biggest flounder ever'.
Haven't broken the 10 pound mark, still hunting that one.
The 14 pounder too.
Fat legal flatties make a nice fish fry.
Croakers? Not yet. Just tiny fellows that I've seen. Ought to get some better size fish before long. Split the day up a little.
Our flounder season closes on September 13th - will remain tightly focused on them unless a limit of decent croakers can be had in short order - then go fluking.
Will turn to sea bass/croaker after the fluke closure. Likely tag some seriously large flounder starting the 14th.
Received my dolphin/wahoo permit in late June. Saw a good mahi the next day.. A month and a half later a pair of dandies pop-up behind the boat. At 30+ pounds they were truly inshore trophies.
0 for 3!
Odd that in the clearest summer water we've had in a long time, there's no real mahi action inshore. Offshore charter boats sure putting good ones on the dock though..
Drove over to the inlet to check sea conditions Saturday morning. Hurricane Bill far offshore -and now passed- the inshore marine weather forecast was calling for 5 to 8 foot swells with a great big, luxurious 17 second wave period.
Advertising revenue at stake, TV forecasters were talking about 15 to 35 foot waves.
Who to believe..
What I saw at 6:15 AM from the inlet parking lot was a very calm sea with a fair-sized swell breaking on the south shoal. 
Underway and clearing the inlet at 6:45ish, I see a jumbo rogue-wave.
Holding a course to cross north of Little Gull Shoal some 3 miles out, a bruiser of a sea almost crests in 32 feet of water - that first rogue had a cousin.
Spent the morning fishing in 70 feet of water. You had to really look to see the swell, so spread apart you could barely feel it. Very nice fishing conditions.
Definitely getting bigger though.
Wave period - the distance between peaks - is where most of our perception of 'rough seas' comes from. Three to four foot waves with just a few seconds between is plenty saucy for what we do. Eight foot with a 12 second or longer period can make a fine day. Eight foot and a 5 second period - likely be donning life jackets
Larger long period swells cause new concerns with shoal water & currents.
Both of which are most most magnified in marine inlets.
Tightening up to home so as not to miss the inlet's last of flood current, I see long white streaks on the horizon.
Seven by fifty Nikons up, I viewed seas breaking along the length of Great Gull and Little Gull Shoals.
Ain't playing in the kiddie pool no more..
Binoculars not required; threading between these two shoals you could plainly see the crest, curl and break of Bill's progeny - lots of wind energy stored in wave form.  
Turning at the inlet's buoy-marked entrance certain suicide; the shoal waters east & south are far too treacherous for passage.
Holding far north of the buoy as generations of watermen before, I tighten up to the beach and ease south.
Sea height too great; even the deeper hole between the inlet entrance red buoy & rockpile has seas breaking.
These are the worst inlet conditions I've seen since 1991 - Gloria in '85 before that. 
But the mouth of the inlet is calm - tide's still flooding a touch.
Go slow, let the waves pass you by was Capt. Orie Bunting's teaching. Drink booze and gamble another's. Captain Bob Gowar told of a day at Palm Beach Inlet where the sailfish fleet had to back in - present their bow to the breaking seas and run the inlet in reverse. 'Ol Santa -Capt. Jack- said that to transit a seriously rough inlet wait for a small wave and, stern down - bow up, ride the back of that wave in.
And we did. Just as I lost that small one, a jumbo curled on my port quarter; hit full throttle and surfed the last few feet to safety.
How is that anecdotes from times-past can save lives, yet are as rubbish in the management of our fisheries. That "anecdotal evidence" is sneered at by scientists but the stories of those who survived rough waters are invaluable as a teaching aid.
Went to a fishing license meeting; new NOAA federal registration requirements steamrolling down.
Free next year, any revenues thereafter go to the U.S. treasury unless a state's licensing is in compliance, then individual license fees stay in the state where they were sold.
Technicalities abound in creating a license structure - my best to those tasked with the job.
Fascinating was a presentation by a consulting firm that had looked at fishing licenses around the nation. Charts and data flying across the screen, correlations between price increases and decreased sales - lot to chew on.
I may be off-mark, but I thought a 'quality of fishing' analysis the most needed, yet absent. A 7 day non-resident Alaskan license and king salmon stamp sets some of my clients back almost $100.00 - four times more than a seasonal Chesapeake Bay license..
Based on my wholly anecdotal, non-scientific observations: I'd bet when fishing is really good you'll sell more licenses. When fishing is poor, when fish are thought to be dangerous to eat and handle, when regulations are dense and difficult to interpret, you'll sell less licenses.
Just a thought...
I suggested an Artificial Reef stamp at the meeting. Have for years. Nothing mandatory, just an indicator of interest and small funding mechanism.
Took an underwater drop camera/scuba diver film trip recently. There is now a bit of Hi-Def footage of our region's corals.
Saw several types of reef that day: from small cobble with light growth to boulder with magnificent corals; from never impacted, lightly fished to heavily fished and recently trawled too.
On our dive/drop camera trips its pretty plain to see that where seafloor growth thrives so do fish.
Fishing a near-shore artificial reef we had sea bass from just legal to as small as 4 1/2 inches, scup from just over 3 inches to 8, fluke from 10 to 22 inches, a 4 1/2 foot dusky and some fine examples of southern species - acorns must grow to become oaks.
I overheard a scientist describe a small estuary's oyster recovery as substrate starved. There was plenty of natural oyster larvae, just not many places for them to successfully attach to a hard surface.
A fish in hand released alive is clearly understood by all to be a step in the right direction for fisheries restoration. Yet we grasp not the eggs that don't survive to maturity; the millions, likely billions, of fish lost because we have failed to follow Magnuson's guidelines of "Protect, Preserve & Enhance" marine habitat.
Don't use the u/w camera very often since VHS tapes went out. DVD's are a pain in the neck. You can't just throw the camera over and put a tape in while its sinking - have to configure the disk first.
When I made the edits for the clip on You Tube "Common Seafloor Habitats in the Mid-Atlantic" in 2004, I had to comb through every tape to find a few shots with flounder.
On my first drop with the new set-up, but before we'd figured out how to record, there were flounder swimming around and others stacked atop one another on a wreck.
On another drop I saw "Ninja Fluke" - head and upper body horizontal with its tail pointed down, almost an incomplete C. Fins fluttering, that fish was about 3 feet off the bottom.
A prey striking stance? Showing off for the girls? Who could guess..
Still another was several feet off the bottom swimming white-side up. Though I'd never imagined it, a sensible behavior as both eyes are on the brown side..
It wanted to see bottom.
So do I.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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