Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fish Report 11/12/09

Fish Report 11/12/09
Tog Limit Blues
Failings of Ivory Tower Fisheries Economics
If you took what I know about large-scale economic theory and stuffed it in a gnats ear it would rattle around like a BB in a box-car.. Hmm, I wonder what the good Professor knows about fish and fishing..
Hi All,
Saturday we had as fine a start as could be had, folks spread around the whole rail: a military dress-right-dress, not only with left arms extended--rods too--and all nicking away at tog.
Well, almost all, one fellow was solid into cbass no matter what-for crab he baited. He generated some good tags at least; then, later, turned his day around and crushed 'em..
Slick calm in the morning, coming saucy headed home - fair wind, not a worry.
Rode over the newly sited NRG Reef that Capt. Greg/OCRF sank that same day, 11/7. Engineered by good fortune and clever endeavor this one. The pieces just came together at the right time - habitat complexity writ very large - wonderful.
When we 'discover' what reefing can do we'll be engineering on purpose, maximizing the production from each unit's footprint. Whether its oysters, corals, or a specific species of fish; we'll learn to build what's best and do so with a mind to succession--growth succession; the time sequence of organisms actually growing on reef substrate. A year old reef set may have crazy-mad mussels growing on it, but that won't be what's there 40 years from now...
Ah yes, more fishing.
Sunday we had a stunningly beautiful day. Really, you had to just look at the ocean and be thankful.
But we limited out by 9:30.
Ain't no way I'm going in: not yet. Lit up the big radar and--pow--scarcely 2 1/2 miles further offshore worked a flock of gannets, the WWII Avenger-like torpedo dive bombers of the marine bird world that add a visual and audible component to the fishing, their cacophony of calls either to alert others to food or warn them to get out of the way as they--whoosh--plunge into their feast; the sudden swirls of fish--unexpected--only adding to the experience..
Caught all the blues we wanted, yet far-far less than a limit; headed for home and still got in early.
Monday we were a tad further out and nearly limited when the tog bite quit.
..radar ain't fair.
Those birds pulled me 7 miles down the beach before it was over.. Blues. Wonderful fun. 
One young fellow struggling.. what's up with that fish..foul-hooked? Dylan's too tired?
Ah, no.
Ritch: "Capt! Capt! Gimme the big net!"
Forty four inch striper.
Amidst these many blues we caught two very large striped bass. Tagged & released both because they were caught in the MPA, arguably the largest recreational no-fish MPA in the world, this the striped bass closed area from 3 to 200 miles offshore - all of the EEZ.
If I wrote the rules we wouldn't have kept them anyway--too big--but we'd be able to take one-a-man if ever that fortunate. Its been a no-take, closed to recreational fishing area for 24 years because commercial fishers exploited a loop-hole--then state regs didn't count in federal waters--so the fed slammed the door on 'em..
And us.
Dang thing's stuck.
Some say stripers are a rebuilt fishery.. 
Perhaps this is where Pew's "economic benefits accruing to recreational fishers through rebuilding" starts to occur.. but just not yet, not after 24 years.
Lot more on that below...
Buoy Report: 44009 - 15 NM East Fenwick Island, DE. - Tuesday - 11/10/09 - 5:50 PM - East wind 1.9 knots - 1.3 foot seas - 13 second period.
Coming in from a dive trip--an artificial reef monitoring trip--greasy-calm, ocean smooth as I've ever seen, the calmest calm-before-the-storm you could hope to witness.
Had spent the day anchored over a reef similar to what the Radford--a 560 foot Destroyer set to sink next summer--might look like in the future; somewhat alike but, at 165 feet, smaller.
Nick Caloyianis and Clarita Berger were aboard, their underwater video work seen around the world. Just unloading their van worthy of marvel; carefully packed, Rubik's Cube perfect: no fisher ever had such equipment.
But then, we do try to stay in the boat.
Anyway, Nick--joshing--says he'd "like to drop right on the smoke stack."
I reply, "How about the wheelhouse?"
Set enough anchors for toggin.. Get a little practice.
They came back up from their first dive thrilled. Water warm, visibility wonderful, fish and growth in abundance..
And had down-lined directly to the wheelhouse. 
An extremely late school of spadefish--their numbers huge by the standards of these past two decades though of very modest size some three decades ago--swam all around the upper structure of the once & now again proud Coast Guard ship Red Beech. 
Breathtaking video--at least for a lover of marine life--still photos; a jelly in full bioluminescence, its lit up colors neoning along in a stream of natural wonder; those spades caught broadside to the lens, a yellow tagged sea bass trying to evade these filming intruders..
Should have pieces up on Maryland's reef website soon. 
Truly splendid.
All a sign of what this reef-site centerpiece, the Radford, might look like in a decade; just a glimpse of her in several decades.
Then, sun having set and dockside, Clarita, with her thousands of hours diving, experiences revelation: "Those spadefish could have been among the 5 inch juveniles we saw on artificial reef in the Chesapeake.."
..this the same bay that is missing 99% of its natural hard-bottom oyster reef.
That calm buoy report now replaced by Storm Warnings, gusts to 52 knots, and 23 foot waves with an 11 second period; its fantastically rough.
Going fishing for tog when the weather breaks.
If we limit - or get all we want - we can hope for blues to finish the day.
Below is a direct refutation of the report by Professor Gates published--and presumably funded--by the Pew Environment Group, titled:
One Last Chance: The Economic Case for Rebuilding Mid-Atlantic Fish Populations.
Fishing is more fun, but derned if there doesn't need to be some truthing too.
'Sancho, my lance.'
'This will be worse than the adventure of the windmills,' quoth Sancho.
Is what it is..
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
Capt. Monty Hawkins' refutation of: "One Last Chance: The Economic Case for Rebuilding Mid-Atlantic Fish Populations" Professor Gates, University of Rhode Island.
Alright Professor,
You have presented "One Last Chance" while I am at that exact point. You presume to tell me/us how fisheries restoration is going to play out in the Mid-Atlantic, how "an additional 570 million per year in perpetuity in direct economic benefits" is being missed out on by our reluctance to just STOP overfishing & rebuild.
Now granted, if you took what I know about large-scale economic theory and stuffed it in a gnats ear it would rattle around like a BB in a box-car.. Hmm, I wonder what the good Professor knows about fish and fishing.. About marine ecology.. About where little fishes come from.. And about the whittling away, sometimes bulldozing, hydraulically liquefying, Joint Foreign Fishing Venture selling of our original production engine - the habitat, that Essential Fish Habitat of Magnuson that we just can't seem to grasp unless we can wade into it..
I think the good Professor is standing slam in the middle of my proverbial Nebraska wheatfield, stretching horizon to horizon, telling me how hunting controls are going to rebuild the squirrels: how a rebounding economy of returning hunters filling motels, buying dinners, breakfasts, thermoses full of coffee, guns of every sort, ammo, dropping serious coin on ATV four-wheelers so they can get deep in the woods quicker, buying homes closer to the....woods? 
Its a wheatfield.
This giant wheatfield ain't gonna restore no squirrels.
From the Professor's Report: In the recreational sector, rebuilding these four fish populations {black sea bass, bluefish, butterfish and summer flounder} would increase landings by 24 percent more per year than status quo management, with an economic value of approximately $536 million per year (in 2007 dollars) in perpetuity. These direct economic benefits would have potential secondary impacts in the region through increased income, sales and jobs for related businesses such as bait and tackle shops, lodging and restaurants. Thus, the estimates reported here are conservative and the actual benefits are likely to be more expansive. These results provide analytical evidence that there is both significant value in rebuilding fish populations and foregone economic benefits from delaying rebuilding.
Bragging about a 24% increase? That's the plan?
We're toast. 
Estuaries great & small, and our present marine seafloor the wheatfield, our fish the squirrels: the professor and all the great might of his fantastically deep pocketed sponsor, Pew, a sponsor who can get the NMFS's Chief Scientist to repeat word-for-word from this report; he, they, and all others who believe these words are simply missing a supremely significant point: Repairing the impact of up to several centuries of extensive habitat loss, though mostly from the last 60 years, is an incredibly important part of fisheries restoration.
Read the whole report - it Googles - habitat ain't there. This economic theory is either misleading--dishonest with a purpose--or ill-informed of fisheries ecology.
You can't spend five seconds reading about salmon without crossing into deforestation and dam construction: yet sea bass? Their habitat is apparently unworthy of inspection. 
We can not simply take the heat off fish populations and expect a glorious revival. We must do the heavy lifting, the habitat restoration; its not going to happen by reviewing 15 year old studies of recreational fishing's economic impacts.
Fiddle. I bet a regionally based management plan would, based on the factual previous 4 years catch, increase sea bass catch by 378.26%.
Still, I have to agree, if you cut off all fishing for these species they would rebuild to the holding capacity of the remaining habitat - even higher. By today's standards that would be a lot of fish.
I saw a preschooler hold his shoelace as his mother tied the knot, "I did it!" Big hugs..
Like so, reducing fishing mortality to nearly zero increases populations.
I would call that neither fishery restoration nor management.
These theoretical stocks now rebuilt to new heights, an economic state of grace, they find their reproductive success too fruitful: and, outpacing the available prey base, they crash. 
Where too is the diverted effort, the fishers patiently fishing other species while this nest-egg of income 'in perpetuity' gathers interest: these fishers are targeting something.. Tautog? Are we rebuilding in a vacuum? Where will this latent pressure go? As Yogi Berra said, "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is." 
Where are fishers to shelter while regulatory nirvana, this magical stasis, is being created..
There is no shelter. We fish - or else.. 
Using recreational catch data well-known to be rather barnyardy to effectively reduce fishing pressure as much as possible, while spouting fisheries restoration theory that can't pass simple scrutiny, represents railroading in the grandest tradition; its not modern management - its all the brute force money can buy, not the best use of available science....
The four fish in the study:
Butterfish? Can't speak to it.
Bluefish are not scarce, but they do not use our region as they once did: now only migrating through, not staying far into summer. A case for global warming? Eh, the summer spadefish and amberjacks of southern seas have diminished more too - used to frequently have the three species together. Lessened prey availability/findability a cause I think. Importantly, the blues we do have are remaining much further offshore - in clearer water - seas less sullied by the regurgitation of the region's un-biofiltered major estuaries.
Sea Bass management has created an abundance/scarcity stock oscillation that will repeat every 4 to 7 years by region depending on industrial winter effort. This "coastwide" plan fails to accept that no sea bass swim coastwide; they'll only migrate a small distance then return, often exactly--with the precision of GPS--to their home reef. The economic restoration of this fishery is not going to be found in broad-scale management or economic theory. It will never be well-restored, or bettered, without shouldering habitat management.
Summer flounder are at a population never seen in my life, nor that of any other party boat skipper that ever sailed from Ocean City, Maryland. Never targeted in my industry here prior to 2005, we now spend upwards of 100 days a year targeting these fish on the still-unfound reef system. Far beyond fully restored, we fishers await stock assessments that account this apparently new use of habitat--but it isn't new, its an adaptation: biological stock assessment having caught up, fishers could then enjoy the fruits of this success.
The worst enemy of fish and fisheries is ignorance.
There's coral out there in the mid-Atlantic. Bryozoans, hydrozoans, tube worms, sea whip, star coral; lots of varieties: my success at fishing depends on finding these emergent growths--reefs if you will, and you must.. for they are.
Those now barren bottoms that once yielded catches unimaginable to modern fishers, whose fish were caught without benefit of modern navigational equipment; they must be accounted for in restoration economics.
But aren't.
At least not yet. Habitat's not been found.
Science sure hasn't - the councils don't seem to want to - fishers have to.
I await an unveiling of a large project by The Nature Conservancy in the coming weeks. Newcomers to the marine eco-wars; we may well see that their monumental effort at GIS mapping reveals information on habitat never before quantified; a peeling back of the veil through computerized mapping..
Management's success can not, must not, focus on catch restriction alone. Being blind to prey availability, water quality, seafloor habitat, estuarine habitat & more is never going to offer the least hope of driving fishers toward bioeconomic stability. In fact, accelerating along our present course is, right now, driving the whole industry off an economic cliff.
Wonderfully large-scale spontaneous generation--sky-fall--as our primary fisheries restoration plan isn't where I thought we'd be in 2009.
It is my strongest desire that some of the world's leading fisheries ecologists hear this plea for sanity in fisheries management and, using new tools, attack this economic thesis in a more scholarly fashion: that a truer path to restoration based on sound biological ecosystem restoration will emerge..
It will surely include catch restriction, but in no way rely exclusively upon it.
A boundless din of opinion across the fisheries, from Eskimo whaling captain to Virgin Island reef fisher to bloodworm digger in New England; the great truth of habitat production is all but absent in the ever-present fight for more quota.
From the many environmental groups now concerned with the fate of these fisheries are a few that have habitat in mind, at the fore even; but they lack the strength, the voice, the ability to be heard above that din that the behemoths posses.
Rebuild now these giants cry, economic splendor awaits - catch shares for all!
Billions of dollars vs. some several millions vs. some hundreds of thousands vs. a fisher that can still afford an internet connection. 
Real world, real seas, real habitat loss: absent is a real foundation of habitat to support their restoration goals.
I believe that fisheries management in broad spectrum can fully restore 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. And, if we remain unconcerned with these other aspects of restoration our last chance has already occurred; that "One More Chance" will become someone else's first chance.
And their chance too is doomed without deepening efforts of management to directly grapple these many habitat issues.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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