Friday, September 04, 2009

Fish Report 9/4/09

Fish Report 9/4/09
Week That Wasn't
Huge Artificial Reef Project
Closures Avoided For Now
Hi All,
Only fished Sunday -one day- since my last report. In the remnants of Danny we caught a few croakers then pressed-on to sea bass and fluke over the reefs & wrecks. Wasn't great, though it sure beat the heck out of sitting at the dock.
The tropical systems killed a couple Saturdays. A regular ol' nor'easter with just enough wind to keep us in shut down the whole week. Supposed to abate soon.
I anticipate doing the same thing - croaks/wrecks & reefs - for some time to come. We'll have to do it without flounder come the 14th of September - that's when Maryland closes. (lot more on that below)
Last day of summer past; lot of artificial reefing takes place in the coming months. One huge project that is finally coming into play is the reefing of the USS Radford - a decommissioned 560 foot Navy Destroyer.
As of this writing the ship is destined for Delaware's "DelJerseyLand" reef site - so named because of its equi-distant location to the three states' inlets.
And --darn the luck!-- wielded without mercy in these tough economic times, Maryland's budget ax recently fell on the money set aside for this project.
Its going to be a big deal. Huge ship, three state co-operative reef - there'll be lots of press & television coverage, likely a TV show.. All of which offer a chance to get 'artificial reef as restoration tool' into the public eye.
Sign me up - I'm in.
But now we have to raise the money in "Grass-Roots" fashion. Ah, just 200,000 Marylanders donating a buck apiece - cotton-candy..
I donated $1,000.00 from the boat's reef raffle to the CCA's "Buy a Ton" MARI tax deductible website which you can get to with the link on my site. I put Radford in parentheses {e.g. M. (Radford) Hawkins} in the 'name' section of the form so the CCA treasurer knows what project its to go toward.
Soon I hope we'll have a new donation site up specifically for the Radford.
Despite that budget cut, Maryland really is moving forward with artificial reef construction. The State just hired Erik Zlokovitz as its first Reef Director since 1997. He doesn't even have a dept. email address yet.
I hold that Maryland has the greatest documented loss of hard-bottom habitat in the world - oyster reef.
We don't yet know what's missing out-front in the ocean - just that every reef we put down works.
Natural restoration of hard-bottom could take thousands of years, if it occurs at all - artificial reef gets right into production.
Erik will be busy for a long time to come. I hope he ends up heading a full fisheries section...
I should imagine that everyone in the coast's partyboat trade spent many an hour at the keyboard and on the phone this week.
Preliminary marine recreational fisheries statistics survey numbers (MRFSS) indicate that we have already exceeded our quota for flounder, scup and sea bass from Cape Hatteras north. Acting on that information as they must, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) held an emergency internet/conference call to determine whether to close these fisheries throughout the region.
State fishery managers and federal regulators form the panel that met - the decision to leave these fisheries open was made.
Clearly, it is simply a stay of execution. A press release the following day stated:
The recreational fishing community should be prepared for considerably reduced fishing opportunities next year due to anticipated large overages in the 2009 harvest of scup and black sea bass. 
Like an addled relative, our ol' friend MRFSS is mostly harmless: now he's found a machete and a loaded Glock.
How many businesses will die..
Oddly, with at least a fifth of the nation's for-hire fishers highly uneasy, the new Administrator of NOAA, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, also had a press release: ..."I'm announcing my commitment to take a fresh look at our relationship with the angling community."
Really is good stuff - thought she'd want comment straight away.
That letter below.
That fishers are solely responsible for rebuilding stocks through catch-restriction --the seasons, size & creel limits that we're all familiar with-- is an idea that has failed.
These harvest quotas are very important in providing enough fish for succesful spawning. However, once fertilized, the success of that spawn is wholly dependant on habitat.
Also in this period I wrote my Washington DC representatives and asked, "Who, precisely, is in charge of essential fish habitat (EFH) in the Mid-Atlantic EEZ"
Feel free to do the same. I've had no answer. Yet..
Here --a little port where the great majority of Maryland's flounder effort occurs-- you could have plus/minus 600 participants in the for-hire party/charter fluke fishery on any given summer day. Its likely that +-110 are fishing the limited area where shore fishers might have access to a fluke.
The party/charter numbers are pretty derned tight - we submit daily catch logs --the fishing vessel trip report (VTR).
MRFSS has shore effort out-doing party/charter by 18 to 1 in '07 -- 12 to 1 in 08 -- 6 to 1 so far in '09.
Why do folks pay us money when they're catching the heck out of 'em on shore..
They ain't. MRFSS is wrong. Really wrong.
Or maybe they're not. In reports I've read MRFSS was never intended as a hard quota number. It is a statistical spread - often a huge spread, sometimes even greater than 100%. These statistical spreads are, after all, usually inclusive of what fishers feel is a correct catch number.
That managers must --have to-- use the center-point of this spread is where real trouble begins.
This center-point is the "hard data" that has us closed for flounder come Sept 13 and a big size limit.
This is the reason NY/NJ and DE/NJ bay fishers have one side fishing while the other can't.
And this is the reason why a lot of party boats are going to fall on very hard times in the coming year.
Not because we've actually overfished, but because the government has over-guessed.
We must find a way to give managers a chance to call the MRFSS center-point Bad Science - or agree with it.
We must undertake the management of making sure larvae survive to recruitment - to harvestable size - thru habitat protection and restoration.
We must do these things very soon..
Letter to Dr. Jane Lubchenco below.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
Dear Dr. Lubchenco,                                                                                    
I am heartened to see you reaching out to the recreational fishing community; we have much to do.
This week I have had my very livelihood threatened by agencies that have made no effort to truly understand and restore black sea bass in the mid-Atlantic bight.
Just now I have received notice that recreational overages will be dealt with severely in the coming year.
My family, my house & my boat's security depend on thriving fisheries; a regulatory closure offers the same effect as biological collapse..
I put a 9 inch size-limit on sea bass aboard the partyboat I was running in 1992 - more than 1/2 a decade prior to any action by management. There were immediate benefits, repercussions too: we started catching more fish, and clients unable to go along with our size-limit took their business elsewhere.
I also put a 16 inch/3 per person limit on tautog. This because I had first-hand knowledge as a participant that the fishery had been decimated.
For us, "Over the rail, into the pail" had died.
The sea bass population, as evidenced by catch, began to grow enormously. That 9 inch limit sure did the trick...
Or so I thought at the time; restoring fisheries is a complex task.
By the late 1990s I was puzzled at the expansion of reef-like areas. How can a place I've anchored over so many times grow a thousand-fold in footprint?
A ponar dredge borrowed, we went to work finding out. Water-hauls with a few grains of sand, a sea mouse, bits of growth..
An underwater drop camera revealed what we could not cipher: Hardbottom reefs. Beautiful, Caribbean-looking expanses of sea whip, rocks with hard coral and numerous other emergent growths decorated a small $99.00 Wal-Mart TV screen.
I thought because corals are protected by federal law I simply had to tell the appropriate agencies and the machine would grind into gear.
That was almost a decade ago. No federal action whatsoever has occurred. Not even an attempt at discovery.
The second short video I made is still on YouTube - Common seafloor habitat in the mid-Atlantic.
More recently, state officials in Maryland have taken a keen interest.
Our region's fishing history includes hydraulic clamming on an incredible scale. It must have been the single greatest destruction of hard-bottom to have ever occurred.
Our region's fishing history has almost three quarters of a century of trawling's impacts to the bottom.
As an individual for-hire fisher I can not afford to have environmental impact statements written, nor pay consultants within management to keep me 'informed'.
Through 2009 --and into the foreseeable future-- we have attempted to restore squirrels to a burned cut-over using only hunting controls.
Though supremely necessary, there will never be true restoration of many demersals using only catch restriction based management.
MRFSS insanity evidenced in our small port where fewer shore anglers are said to routinely out-fish party & charter operators by huge margins.This despite it being frustrated bank-fishers who buy the trips so they might catch.
On and on.. continuing to use tried and failed restoration techniques, bludgeoning participants with regulations that only those deepest within management can fully fathom, fishers in the same body of water with entirely different regulations, people afraid to eat--or even touch--their catch, quotas divided in a time when only one team was truly represented at the table staunchly adhered to even today, species regionally extirpated that have had no scrutiny, complexities of managing fish with oscillating ages in spawning stock biomass and their opportunities offered for stock enhancement ignored, failing to use habitat fidelity as an accelerant to restoration, no consideration of historical prey availability, water quality deterioration..
And a state of the art (research) fleet that won't be distracted from chemolithoautotrophic hyperthermophiles long enough to discover our remnant reefs, let alone determine what once was.
I believe that fisheries management can restore our fisheries. Using habitat technologies & protections, I believe that some species can be made more abundant than ever before.
I also believe that we are not going to succeed in the least with the present strategy.
Thank you for your time Dr. Lubchenco, there is much to be done.
Monty Hawkins

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