Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fish Report 10/29/09

Fish Report 10/29/09
A CBass Prediction
Wheat Field   
Hi All,
Weather.. lots of weather.
Not as bad as weather gets, but plenty bad enough to keep us in port.
Tog should cooperate nicely - water temp dropping, mixing.
Season opens back to 4 fish on November first.
Going every chance we get - even with the very smallest of crowds - even if crew outnumber crowd.
Calling for 10 knots in a long-period ground swell Friday...
I listened to the House Sub-Committee on Oceans testimony Tuesday. My Congressman is on that Committee. He's heard from me. 
Brilliant people, especially Dr. Murawski--but human--and a guy I suspect is looking for a huge Government contract for monitoring catch made up the first panel.
The second panel was fishers, mostly well-spoken and to the point.
One group quite proud, the other angry.
I was dismayed to hear what sounded like a verbatim recitation of a Pew press event from mid-summer coming from a NOAA scientist.
The RFA's council, Mr. Moore, did a fine job. I thought his the best of the lot.
Still, as the panels finished and the questions subsided.. I knew what it was to feel the wake of a passing freighter - while stranded in a life raft. No rescue - not this time..
Perhaps the financial distress caused by this "Emergency Closure" will be a catalyst for improving management.
Tagging studies being definitive, habitat fidelity solidly established, dividing the mid-Atlantic into 3 or 4 regions/zones and splitting the quotas/allotments is absolutely necessary.  
This is the most critical change needed: Create regionally controlled quotas for winter to ensure that massive over-fishing does not occur on a single regional sub-stock.
Apparently, sea bass abundance to our north is where ours was 5 years ago, at least according to the data. Remember, the need for some regulation was so obvious that fishers acted. In Maryland we had a 6 year head start on management, our 9 inch size limit giving us a solid lead when federal management came. Our stock grew incredibly soon after the creel limit was introduced, and then collapsed. In 2003 sea bass were so abundant I honestly thought we were nearing the habitat's holding capacity. 
I suspect what happened to our fish will now continue time after time, regionally. The currently-peaking northern area will experience heavy trawl pressure in January, February and March because it is the most valuable part of the stock. Bigger sea bass are worth more per pound, that's where the money is: it will be targeted. This heavy pressure, recreational included, on a regional stock; this mature cbass stock with the males all grown into legal size, and virtually none sub-legal, will get hit heavily and start to topple. Removal of the males, furthered by continued--even increasing--recreational and nearshore artisanal fishing in spring, will create a spawning shortfall come summer. Imbalanced, that area's cbass population will no longer replenish faster than fishing is removing--regional collapse then unforestallable. 
Meanwhile, other areas will be in better population phase, have more numerous fish. Statistics which only deal in coastwide stock assessments will camouflage on paper the heavily pressured sub-stock's problem.
Unnoticed in the whole of the coastal data set, that regional fishery then collapses to below size-limit. The cycle, the rebuilding, begins anew as more small sea bass transition to male and create a new spawning stock.  
In aquarium settings sea bass transition very rapidly from female to male when a single male is removed from amidst females. That is not what I observed here after our most recent collapse in early 2004. Males never completely absent, it wasn't until 2008 that they were abundant, far more so this year--most sub-legal.
From Cape May to Chincoteague we are well into the upturn--and would have enjoyed it far more had the size limit remained 12 inches. In 3 years, maybe 2, we'll be where the northern region is now; where we were in 2003.
In 3 or 4 years we start all over.
Unless its sooner.
Or it gets fixed.
Shutting us down on sea bass was, and remains, rubbish.
Some are willing to peel back the watery veil and have a look. Most--including the power centers--are all about paper crossing a desk. No scholarly work exists with our natural reefs on them. While I have written several papers, made video: its anecdotal.. There's virtually no scholarly knowledge of mid-Atlantic natural seafloor habitat. There's no paper to cite.
Without efforts to find out what habitat is missing, protect what remains, and restore at least the natural footprint of reef in the mid-Atlantic; the cycle I've described above could worsen depending on habitat impacts.

You can not restore squirrels to a wheat field, nor can you restore reef-fish to barren bottom.
A pile of horse-feathers is any claim of rebuilding reef-dwelling species without knowledge of their habitat. Managing sea bass is all about controlling fishing pressure on discreet habitats; its succesful restoration measured via the regional holding capacity of its reefs.
The bold assertion of grand economic gains for survivors of this regulatory tempest--fisheries quickly rebuilt--are hollow, if not disingenuous; disappearing into thin air upon realization that we now manage fish by sky-fall, not reef production.
Coastwide catch-restriction creates oscillation in sea bass abundance. The peaks will remain temporary, and the valleys more economically destructive, without a solid foundation of habitat and a method of maintaining a sub-legal spawning stock..

Unless you just close the fishery.
Bloody fine bit of management that.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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