Sunday, October 04, 2009

Fish Report 10/4/09

Fish Report 10/4/09
Toggin Begins Monday
Man-Made Fish Stocks
Chitlins & A Sniff Test
Stay with me on this one..
Hi All,
This has to get fixed.
Sea bass being closed isn't right. Sea bass being 12 1/2 inches isn't right.
Fluke being closed isn't right either..
Now we're going to go catch tog and that isn't right.
At least I hope we're going to catch tog..
Could have frequently limited everyone on cbass at 11 1/2 inches, many at 12.. They were deliciously fat & would-be tasty.. throwbacks. 
Must have been a fantastic summer for feeding, the shorts really are chubby.
Saturday's 10 to 15 southerlies were a bit more 20ish.. Rough day. Those that survived nicked a solid dinner out of it, more.
Sunday very different - the last day of sea bassing this year was calm with the bite 100% on.
Very nice fishing.
Now over, unless..
Tagged a bunch of fluke between 18 and 24 inches in the last couple days. They all bit sea bass rigs baited with clam - on artificial reef.
I wonder what we'd have caught were we allowed to keep a few; were we really trying for them.
I wonder how little impact it would have on the flounder's population if we were allowed 3 per person forever..
Fluke seem to be thriving on our artificial reefs. Seeing more small flounder than ever before, seeing them on the anchor, on the drift, natural & artificial reef, open bottom while croaker fishing; everywhere.  I didn't anticipate flounder becoming an offshore fishery when reef building started. Should have though. Makes sense because our natural reefs didn't get trawled-flat for sea bass, they were towing nets for fluke.
Natural reef? Curious thing about tautog management; all the places we target them, bridge pilings, a stone jetty, shipwreck, or artificial reef; its all man-made, there's precious little remaining natural reef that's robust enough to suit tog. How can managers possibly assert they know how many tog there should ecologically be based on the holding capacity of habitat they have yet to find?
To mandate a "tog stock restoration target" when the known fish population lives almost entirely on/in man-made substrates leaves a lot of room for debate. The validity for a need of restoration is, I think, questionable.
Management actions to sustain & enhance recreational or even commercial tautog fishing? Yes, a strong case can be made for the bioeconomic benefits of regulation. But using catch restriction to force man-made habitat's fish abundance higher..
What's restorative about that? 
Three decades ago I was taught that every fish thrown back died; that we shouldn't do it.
Two decades ago I learned that was wrong. But I had to prove that it was wrong, prove that fish did live, prove that what we throw back could make a huge difference in the quality of fishing: I instituted a 9 inch boat limit and tagged the heck out of sea bass, followed with a 16 inch tog limit; tagged them too.
It was making a difference, plain as day.
I pled for real management, any management, of our region's fish.
Slow in coming, just over a decade later the pendulum has swung too far.. 
It was in the late 1960s, early 70's that sea bass fishing, mostly drifting, became wreck fishing, mostly anchored.
Then Soviet factory trawlers were fishing so close to shore that Ocean City residents saw men walking deck. Unregulated fishing of every sort flourished, especially surf-clamming & trawling, scouring the bottom clean of fish, clams - and growth.
In a biological wink the habitat was lost.
Our fisheries restoration targets are based on historical landings - catches from years ago.
Were it not for a few boulder bottoms, catastrophic shipwrecks, even the horrors of war that visited our coast so many years ago, black sea bass would likely be a notation in some dusty ichthyology text.
Just the most robust habitats survived the era of unregulated fisheries; so far as natural reef habitat is concerned, we're still unregulated: low-lying reefs flourish or die at the whim of stern-towed gear fishers.
Nearly everything I wrote about tautog habitat above is equally true for sea bass. Almost all the places we target them, bridge pilings, a stone jetty, shipwreck, artificial reef; all man-made. There's only some remaining natural reef. How can managers assert they know how many cbass there should be based on the holding capacity of a habitat they have yet to find?
How can they claim to have rebuilt the sea bass stock when it is only catch restriction upon man-made habitats propping up their claim of restoration; that continuing to fish this year would shatter all hopes of meeting management's goals..
Might the environmental community rejoice at 'restored' wood ducks dodging between townhouses and tall shrubbery, their whistles echoing off vinyl siding, nesting boxes stacked like condos around golf course ponds: or would they prefer a slow deep river, broad flood plain and pockets of still water between stands of oak and other trees, their dead making nesting areas..
Nowadays the purposeful siting of man-made reef has expanded on what others had to have noted when fish populations flourished around shipwrecks.
The stock of cbass we fish today results from nearly fifty percent man-made habitat.
Yet the folks in charge of their restoration have yet to search out where these fish thrived long before a ship ever sank, before man ever sharpened flint or had even climbed down from the branches.
If management brought back the 'natural' sea bass population to a restored original footprint of this region's reefs we'd have an incredible fishery because of man-made reef's added production.. 
Yet the National Marine Fisheries Service has, to date, utterly failed to find or restore natural reef habitat in the mid-Atlantic.
But they are proud to claim they have restored sea bass, a reef fish.
From: Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act -Public Law 94-265 - As amended through October 11, 1996.
104-297 -(6) "A national program for the conservation and management of the fishery resources of the United States is necessary to prevent overfishing, to rebuild overfished stocks, to insure conservation, to facilitate long-term protection of essential fish habitats, and to realize the full potential of the Nation's fishery resources."
Wood duck boxes around a golf course pond..
A lot of fish swimming around doesn't make for a restoration.
Habitat & habitat fidelity must be factored into management.
No restoration can occur solely through catch restriction.
Discovering what's missing is crucial to putting it back. 
Awful lot of work in those sentences.
Get us a lot closer to Magnuson's "full potential."
Too much I guess. Easier to shut fishers down.
They sure know when we're over our recreational quota.
Think they do..
Size limits, creel limits & seasons are calculated using management plans, stock assessments & the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey, MRFSS.
Never designed for such, managers now use MRFSS to gauge recreational catch in 'real-time' as if monitoring predator drones over a foreign battlefield.
I remember when the National Research Council published its findings in 2006 blasting the MRFSS survey, buckshot in both barrels fired point blank, a scathing report. 
I thought--hoped-- that MRFSS as we knew it was dead.
"...the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine."
Those folks didn't like the survey's product.
"Its all the data we have, we must use it." fishery managers now continue to assert. Even after being castigated, excoriated, even keel-hauled by the very professionals that should be most supportive of using statistics as a management tool, MRFSS is still in use. 
Well, why not; people fry pig intestines everyday. Safe to say most have eaten sausage casings; chitlins another matter.
The difference, I'd wager, is this foodstuff gets thoroughly scrubbed and checked.
I imagine you could 'falsify the theory' that chitlins were ready to batter using a sliding olfactory scale, a sniff test - they either smell clean or, um, dirty.
Ought to be making use of MRFSS, just needs a good scrubbing & sniff testing for precisely, exactly, the same reason.
I guarantee that many sets of MRFSS data can't pass muster, that they can be falsified beyond question.
But these easily proved mistakes are on the low side. Maryland's 2009 MRFSS estimated harvest of sea bass for the entire recreational fishery--all charter, party & recreational boats--is 1,192 fish.
They're kidding, right? 
No, just daft.
My parties have boated that many in one day hundreds upon hundreds of times in years past, even once with a load of state and federal fisheries staff aboard.
Errors this plainly wrong indicate a true disregard for accuracy.
There are more like it.
Errors low dern sure indicate errors high--where they have estimated far more fish got caught than actually were.
If MRFSS were right the salesmen at Sears would remember the shore-fishers backing up the truck to buy freezers for all the flounder they were catching. This while the party & charter boats who provided hard catch data just picked along..
Like the sea bass, that didn't happen either.
Those folks at the National Research Council don't take well to data riddled with errors, they had good reason to castigate the process.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, has good reason to abandon it.
NMFS is used to being sued because of MRFSS data. More suits will follow with this sea bass closure.
Make no mistake, MRFSS wins these lawsuits; yet they keep coming.
A good law firm is going to find a chink in the armor. I think the weak spot is in low estimates, but fishers only sue over high estimates because there are such averse effects on the following year's regulations.
Statistical validity is shot-dead high or low. Disproving an over-estimate is nearly impossible because there need only be more fishers to met the estimate. You just add them to the data - whether they really fished or not.
Disproving an underestimate is simple enough; as in the above sea bass example sometimes just one boat's Vessel Trip Reports would suffice...
When the new federal fishing license, MRIP, is up and running MRFSS data will be firmed up. Not just new data, all the hard work that field interviewers did in years past will become justified as the foggy 'number of participants' clears allowing historical catch data to be refined.
For now, MRFSS data represents freshly eviscerated pig intestines that need cleansing.
Job not done, its e. coli have spread to every fishery management plan, all who have sat at the table are ill, some fatally.
Amidst the distraction of vomiting and diarrhea, the emergencies, the lawyers, no one's looking after real and substantiate restoration.
Let the fishers tell management what got caught. Let us build a case. Seat us at the table and review the landings.
We'll help scrub and sniff.
This is an emergency.
Not the sea bass, us.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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