Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fish Report 9/8/09

Fish Report 9/8/09   
Of Sea Bass & Fluke
Call For Witnesses  
Hi All,
Labor day weekend wasn't too bad. Got out - caught some dinner. For most anyway..
Sea bass bit a lot better Saturday. Some pretty fish. Had a few shots of mahi-mahi Sunday - the first, and with this low slowly crawling up the coast, likely only dorado this year.
('Ol Murphy, feel free to smack down that prediction..)
Tried the croakers for a few minutes on Saturday - very small - left 'em.
Not quite a dozen keeper flounder each day - more throwbacks.
Because of last year's MRFSS catch estimates, this coming Sunday is 'it' for our flounder fishing. Some clients will be targeting fluke, others bass; its all structure fishing.
There is a tendency on holidays to see a customer or two with self-inflicted sea sickness, the kind they'd have suffered on land too - only hangovers are way worse at sea.
Lot of different ways to make a vacation memory..
Twelve and a half inches -up a half- that's been the cbass size limit this year. There have been many days when that extra 1/2 inch caused a lot less stink in our skillets.
In 2001 we had the first creel limit, 25 fish, and an 11 inch minimum. Prior to that there was never a number limit on how many sea bass you could keep.
Man did we pound on them. I could clearly see where regulation was going to make fish flourish - I thought. 
In 2002 it was 25 again (and has remained so) with an 11 1/2 inch limit.
I fondly recall the federal tagging trip in September of that year. About 25 volunteer anglers & a similar number of biologists and MAFMC staff went out on the Nichol's sleek Lydia that I ran for 12 years, the OC Princess. 
A few of these biologists and managers have retired, most are still in the fisheries business - many have 'climbed the ladder'. Included were some of the east coast's best & brightest.
We put in a very long day, tagging in 5 different locations. If memory serves me, we tagged 1,150 fish that day; quitting only after one of my all-time favorite biologists threw his clipboard down in surrender.
Then the volunteer anglers bagged up some limits to take home.
It was a marathon.
That many fish in one day.. But in those days I often carried 85-90 anglers - the boat's creel limit would have been 2,250 fish..
One day - one Maryland boat - over 2,000 legal fish. Not terribly uncommon.
Sometimes in the fall we'd go catch a limit of croakers after limiting on cbass.
Now, the fishing has slacked off quite a bit, no doubt. Still, those biologists that day saw what they saw & recorded every single tag.
I have witnesses.
I think the the data acquired by MRFSS interviewers is nearly pristine. I heartily encourage cooperation with field interviewers. It's what happens to the data in the upper stories of some office building that causes heartburn - and in the manner used by managers that is wholly inconsistent with good governance.
I hold that this 'intercept' data --what actually got counted in a cooler - what really existed-- will prove invaluable when there is broad, reliable fishing effort data to work with, likely MRIP's. They'll be able to back-track with it; figure out what really got caught back in '08 or '98 - maybe even '88. 
Scorn, contempt, derision, condescension - Those words neatly sum up what I heard on that conference call a week ago when the marine recreational fisheries statistics survey --the 'MRFSS Emergency'-- caused regulators to consider shutting down the coast's cbass, scup & fluke fisheries: "We all know how anglers feel about MRFSS statistics."
You had to hear the inflection - point being made was, 'Yeah, yeah, MRFSS. This discussion is a total waste of time. We need to get back to work.'
Try as I might, it can not be well-enough proven that a catch estimate is too high. There's always the argument that other boats & other fishers spanked 'em leading to higher numbers.
This like the new Delta Force/Green Beret/SEAL Team shore-fishers sneaking about coastal Maryland - these folks steal into the night like ninjas after racking-up huge catches that never get heard about in the grapevine. Crazy uncle MRFSS hears their voices though..
Well.. You can't push on a string. The 'spirit voices' say they caught a lot - we say we caught a lot less - that leaves room for more catch - guvmint knows where they'll side.
But this is statistics: What if you have seriously well credentialed witnesses that can look at a MRFSS number and know that they're looking at a ridiculously low number. What if some digging was done and many more instances were found among the states?
Is the statistically purifying correction needed then transferable as a plus/minus percentage to other MRFSS numbers? Is it not then true that not only are there are exceedingly low catch estimate numbers - but enormously high ones as well?
Worse still is that these statistical spreads not only sometimes arrive on managers desks bad - they then have to use a single, precise center-point from this foul data.  
An example of a typical MRFSS spread has NY's center-point landings at 12,391 sea bass in 1998. Considering the percentage of standard error (PSE) of 36.3 - then the catch is as high as 16,889 cbass, or as low as 7,893. So far as the statistician is concerned - that is their precise answer to managers' query of how many fish were caught. The whole and complete answer includes PSE - the spread.  
From Wikipedia: The larger the margin of error, the less faith one should have that the poll's reported results are close to the "true" figures...
Read the Wikipedia entry on 'percentage standard error' - it wasn't written by a fisherman.
Therein lies the trouble. We require managers to use the center-point of a statistical spread - a spread often so large that pollsters would not use the data at all.
To wit: MRFSS has projected all of Maryland's party-boat, charter and recreational effort at 1192 sea bass for the year 2009.
That's just 42 more fish than biologists tagged with me in one day back in '02.
One boat - one day.
This catch number, 1192, is directly from the data that almost closed us down along the whole coast.
Yeah, cbass fishing wasn't great this year, but if managers won't argue the validity of these types of errors - that's scary.
The witnesses need to come forward.
For many party/charters along the mid-Atlantic dark days loom if these extremely loose figures continue to get used as hard data. 
Worse still, its NOT fixing the fishery.
Left with the system in place, our creel limit could be astonishingly low next year, the size limit higher than ever, a season closure that would prevent any liquidity within the industry, and a mighty brawl as participants try to get the closure best suited to their region's sea bass -- we still manage them under a one set of regulations fits all "coastwide" plan.
We had better fishing with a 9 inch limit and no creel. We had stupendously better fishing when a creel limit was first introduced. 
With tighter catch controls than ever; we now have worse fishing than before official management began.
Its not working - something's wrong.
Management that examines and then regulates via sub-stock's habitat boundaries can succeed where catch restriction alone has failed.
Management that acts to preserve and enhance the places where cbass spawn & feed will do better still.
Management that takes a hard look at varying sizes of the spawning stock in response to fishing pressure, and understands the potential for reduced production in a climax population, could create a fishery better than we've ever known.
There's where we want to go.
It starts by managers/regulators ceasing to use MRFSS in the same manner.
Reasonable limits set regionally are next.
Habitat protections & enhancements; the recognition of their production values follow.
Then maximizing that production via spawning stock manipulation - determining how to get the most fertilized eggs.
I closed my recent letter to Dr Lubchenco with: 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.
Its all doable.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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