Monday, March 29, 2010

Fish Report 3/27/10

Fish Report 3/27/10
A Tease
A Taste
Data Broadly
Hi All,
Snuck out Thursday and were not warmly received by schools of tautog swirling under the boat like a Tarzan movie's piranha awaiting the next tasty crab leg to fall.
No, it was a slow bite. Still chilly. I had a demon on briefly; personally lost every fish that bit. A few clients goose egged with me. One guy limited and tagged but was way off his game in-so-far as the bites he had: Don't like to use names here but his initials were Dennis. 
It was just an odd bite - a tease. Tagged two short cod as well. 
Sunday was another matter altogether. Best bite since late February. Four guys limited, most caught dinner, there were a pair of skunks: Pat T. took the pool when he tagged & released a 25 inch female.
It's getting ready to happen.
But first we'll take a couple more days for maintenance & CG readiness on account of weather: Resume toggin Wednesday 3/31.
We have CG inspection next week. After that I'll open a lot more days.
Very late now, this fishing has to bust loose.......
Here I want to give some simple examples of what our recreational catch estimating system was designed to do and some glaring examples of what it could never do. Entertaining with statistics is challenging at best so stick with me; I'll try to mix a few fish stories in. Our official catch-estimates are a lot of what's wrong with the fishing we have, not the fish.. The conflicts constantly resulting from poor data and its ill-advised use distract us from the fish we really have lost, fish that could use our fully focused attention; where we really do need to get to work.
Some readers will remember our Boston mackerel fishery. Triple headers, quads; Heck with a cooler, many guys would bring a trash can for the wear-you-out crazy-good fishing. It was always a big deal when local TV personality, Scorchy Tawes, would arrive at the docks come spring and interview the old timers, "When will the mackerel arrive?"
In an age before internet we had 2 or 3 days from when we first caught a load of mackerel to selling out 7 days a week.. The run usually peaked around Easter. Once we started chasing the fish north passenger numbers would fall off.
And then it would be over.
Sanding and painting 'till sea bass got thick.
Almost 20 years now, they could come back of their own accord. May yet.
The mackerel fishing that everyone had known since boats were launched from the surf, since before there was an inlet, died when a Joint Foreign Fishing Venture circa '91 & '92 was allowed. Huge factory processors bought American caught mackerel--All They Could Get.
Although it was happening all around us and to many species, we had no notion that there could ever be an end to what always was. At that time striped bass & weakfish were the only recreational species I can remember under management. Flounder may have had a 12 inch limit; The surf-clam industry was under intense regulation.
It was then, when these last "underutilized species" were being sought, that the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) arranged for these foreign processor ships to buy American commercially caught macks..
I think we still do not understand that just because biologists have created a coastwide stock assessment that the fish will behave to suit. We had not learned, and still have not learned, that we should never manage fish as if there were no regional separation in spawning stocks..
With disappointingly inadequate scientific deliberation the US allowed the southern stock of atlantic (or Boston) mackerel to be overpressured with an incredible surge of fishing effort.
It has yet to come back..
Recreational clients have long-since ceased coming.
MD's Pete Jensen would forever make the argument that recreational fishing is never about catch, just camaraderie.
Yeah UhHu. 
Nowadays the more northern stocks, which survived just fine apparently, are taking more pressure than ever.
Ah, Wandering.. I want to use Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS, say Murfs) catch estimate data on mackerel to illustrate what MRFSS was designed for: Catch Estimates That Show A Trend.
See if you can spot it.
Species: ATLANTIC MACKEREL Maryland Rec. Landings
1983 655,859 42
1984 263,320 57.9
1986 167,094 44.8
1987 285,035 52.2
1988 195,732 41.5
1989 264,121 40.4
1990 537,301 52.8
1991 176,571 50
1992 53,464 59.5
1994 16,373 46.2
1995 6,594 50.4
1996 109,822 58
1997 48,923 53.7
1998 11,279 64
1999 30,444 34.5
2000 4,172 73.2
2001 39,222 63.3
2002 3,616 68.2
2003 7,026 67.4
Note - 1993 is missing as are 2004 thru '09 -- I presume those are zero catches.
Point here is you can easily see a shift in catch starting in '92.
Did we really catch exactly 109,822 in 1996? Heck No.
Did we really catch exactly 537,301 in 1990? Heck No.
Did we really catch exactly zero in in 2009? Well, probably.
Trends in catch, however, are evident. That is all MRFSS was ever designed to do. Never a two month or wave by wave real time analysis: "Warning! Warning! Recreational Fishers In Sector Nine Are Approaching Fifth Week Quota!"
Um, No.
More like..
"Seems like the recreational catch on mackerel dropped off pretty fast after the factory processors were let in; Do you think we screwed up?" 
That was its design.
But we are using MRFSS for real time analysis.
No manager I know has ever pondered the lost mackerel fishing..
For this report I tried to access our historical landings of red hake too; called them ling or lingcod. Used to be up on the recreational statistics site. Fishery's gone & now the data's gone as well; I think both are restorable, the data far more simply...
Very importantly, the PSE or percentage standard error that you see to the right of each catch-estimate in the chart above represents the real statistical answer. Political polls would be scrapped if they exceed 4% PSE. To them 4% represents a very high margin of error. 
Yet throughout MRFSS there are numerous examples where the PSE is above 50%.. Even 100% PSEs occur.
Still & importantly, a statistician will say that is the answer, that the centerpoint is only a number that represents a large field where a true number might be found.
Statistically perfect or nearly so: I'm sure the internal policy of using the statistical centerpoint as if it were hard-data is where recreational fishing's troubles source; That when the centerpoint wanders far above the correct number, beyond and inexplicably higher than any other catch-estimate, the system fails.
Now, just for something out of left field, how could we fairly allocate these Atlantic mackerel with recreational Catch Shares?
Popular right now; lot of folks think Catch Shares are the new answer to fisheries restoration. I might too without a sense of how fouled-up the data is, how lacking some management plans are in basic understanding of the managed species' behavior; In a world without waves the paper & flat-screen calculations all look so good.
If we use MRFSS to permanently divvy-up recreational catch, some are going to hit the jackpot, others will get robbed. The chances that mackerel will be divided up using a 5 year average from the 80s is miniscule.. I wouldn't possibly have enough landings to qualify for a catch-share of mackerel in the last decade, despite that I fully participated before the collapse; And didn't create it.
Ok-Ok. Catch shares another day.  Fast forward a piece. You have seen in many of my past reports examples of summer flounder and black sea bass data that are accepted and used by management; Yet those data sets are thought laughable---in most anguished fashion---by fishermen.
This catch estimating program, MRFSS, that was supposed to show by general trend how recreational fishing was doing now needs be as a predator drone with real time transmitted aerial surveillance to satisfy the needs of modern managers.. It's not about where the enemy was an hour ago, it's where they are now: Not rec-fishers catch-trend of the last 72 months, managers now want the last 72 hours.
MRFSS, however, is still equipped with black & white film that has to be delivered, developed & analyzed.. Apparently the enemy has infiltrated the system too, is frequently creating diversionary decoy data sets that send staff off to create trouble within our ranks--Closures.
We know MRFSS is over-tasked, that's why the new federal registry system was developed to take over -- MRIP.
Folks I know on the inside do not think MRIP will necessarily deliver speedier data; Its enhancement of our present system will come as a much better estimate, almost a hard number, of participants.
Because field interviewers give a broad spectrum of pure catch data--what really got caught by an individual angler in a face to face interview. MRFSS must then take fantastic guesses of how many people participated: Here is where the system occasionally flies apart. MRIP, with its Angler Registry, will have a much better idea of how many people went fishing; can call them...
Simply smoothing the data, removing the flyers, should be enough for all but the most high-pressure fisheries. Adding truth to catch estimates will preclude the most contentious management: Where bad data leads to poor governance, better data must lead to improved governance.....
Now I'll present some for-hire tautog numbers that I think would certainly interest anyone who has read this far. Party and charter boat catch only here - I know quite a bit about it because MD has only one seaside inlet. Managers must think there are crazy pulses of fishing effort - that our clients demand one species or another but almost never two years in a row.. Scroll down through this real data.
Species: TAUTOG Maryland Charter/Partyboat
1981 4,670 65.9
1983 2,126 57.4
1984 36,008 59.9
1985 486 59.7
1986 5,476 64.6
1987 765 42.9
1988 14,849 63.5
1989 3,150 52.2
1990 541 61.3
1991 2,413 47.7
1992 2,354 84.7
1993 8,652 44.8
1994 19,314 37.6
1995 1,799 66.7
1996 216 81.3
1997 2,461 67.1
1998 1,235 62.7
1999 3,604 63
2000 1,165 90.5
2001 3,635 60.1
2002 17,650 39.7
2003 6,532 26.6
2004 6,439 26.8
2005 5,693 20.6
2006 2,969 14.2
2007 9,417 25.6
2008 5,572 16.8
2009 11 90.3
Eleven fish in MD for 2009 in the entire for-hire industry?
That certainly requires adjustment.. maybe move the PSE up a couple digits? What if that got thrown into a recreational catch-share average? 
We all did at least some toggin last fall. Cbass closed, had to target tog. There is no excuse for an estimate this low. 
The catch shown in this table in 1988 & 1994 never happened.
At all.
Nor the decline from '94 to '96.
The catch in 2002 is fantasy; We were solid into some of the the best sea bassing I'd ever seen. Maybe 10 guys on the planet can fish a crab while doubles of nice sea bass are coming over the rail. There were no party boat trips targeting tog at all in 2002.
Eleven fish.. It was a proportionally similar --but opposite-- data failure that was used to close sea bass by emergency regulation last fall.
..despite that we turn in a 6 layer deep carbon-copy catch data form taken on a day-by-day basis: Mail it to 'em..
There really is no excuse for saying MD Charter/Party caught 11 tog last year.
It is a gigantic Screw You - Fishers have never fought the data and won - MRFSS says we caught 11 fish or 8 million - They always win.
Still, here's an easy one, 11 tog, a slam dunk--multiple eyewitness--error. Almost 30 years of data though.. You see a spike in 1984. Happened too. It kept right through the next year in real-life, but that got missed in the data. They didn't pick up on the fact that the surge in tog effort continued for 2 1/2 years.
I remember - was working deck - netting peoples fish - would catch big tog on diamond jigs when the day's crabs were gone.
With no limits on a species with a narrowly defined and shrinking habitat -- We crushed 'em.
And then our tog catch stayed very, very low and flat for about 2 decades. Wasn't the commercial bad guys - We did it.
In 2003, after over a decade of a self-imposed 3 fish at 16 inches limit, a hard lesson learned about habitat and fishing pressure, and having failed in an effort to get MD to go with a larger size limit in the ocean to increase egg production; We resumed tog fishing with the State's 5 fish at 14 inches limit.
I could pry this farther apart by researching my own logs but you can see again that trends are evident in the party/charter data though not perfectly so: OK, it's very poor here, but evident if you have background knowledge---perfectly evident that some estimates are just wrong at least.
Another Then: The slipperiest data sets are almost always the private boats--except when shore estimates go badly wrong. Here's the set for private boat ocean fishing for tautog -- does not include the back-bay or jetties. Watch for consistency. (but don't hold your breath)
Species: TAUTOG Maryland     Private Boat - All Ocean Combined
1982 8,507 100
1987 62,758 69.5
1988 64,332 68.8
1989 910 0
1990 438 75.4
1991 282 100.3
1992 7,971 43.8
1993 6,913 30.6
1994 1,215 100
1995 4,747 100.8
1997 20,859 49.2
1998 3,713 71.5
1999 0 0
2001 5,952 91.2
2002 0 0
2003 538 93.1
2007 20,082 75.3
2008 1,350 0
Hmmm.. I'd call HS on the whole data chart. That means Highly Speculative and has nothing to do with what gets cleaned from a horse's stall.
I'd wager 1991, 2003 & 2008 are the best sets here. Remember, this estimate does not include the jetties and such, just the ocean.
The 1987 & '88 sets are hallucination; There were maybe 40 private boats that might target tog, less than a dozen were serious about it..  
Zero caught in '99 - Zero again in 2002 - 2004, '05 & '06 are zero by omission: And 20,082 were caught in 2007?
This is precisely the type of data that is being used to destroy the recreational fishing industry...
Below is Everybody in Maryland's Tog Effort --Boats, Shore, For-Hire-- Everybody. See what you spot..
Species: TAUTOG Maryland        All Areas/All Effort
1981 4,670 65.9
1982 35,105 61.1
1983 2,126 57.4
1984 42,835 51.6
1985 486 59.7
1986 5,476 64.6
1987 90,523 53
1988 107,570 45.3
1989 34,709 42.9
1990 45,467 26
1991 26,770 36.9
1992 106,255 35
1993 60,231 30.7
1994 157,260 31.3
1995 43,542 36.4
1996 9,695 43.8
1997 85,682 34.1
1998 6,512 45.8
1999 20,180 44.1
2000 20,129 50.3
2001 23,715 40.9
2002 42,038 29.2
2003 13,555 31.4
2004 14,049 55.5
2005 39,993 48.4
2006 14,314 48.2
2007 107,061 30.5
2008 24,127 28.5
2009 38,194 34.5
You may well remember in 2007/08 when we had to pick an "Option" with which to take our mandatory reduction; That because we had "Over Fished Our Quota" in 2007 we would be allowed less the following year..
I spent maybe an hour trying to refute the data.
No Mercy.
Irregardless how obvious the implausibility of the data, managers won't even fight it. Policy is to use the centerpoint: Subordinates need a paycheck and will use the data as ordered.
Their defense: The data Could be right. Just add more fishers - lucky ones at that.
Lots of people want to add greater and greater layers of complexity to our data collection; Make it real-time like the hi-tech surveillance on an Afghanistan hillside's battlefield.
I think greater complexity leads to higher expense and often to failure.
Were we to take the hic-ups out of the MRFSS flounder, sea bass & tautog data we'd have management flowing along fairly well.
Remove data sets that are only supported by managers under duress of job loss and fishers wouldn't be in such trouble.
Instead though, managers are running around from emergency to emergency, fishers are trying to cope with closures in the great recession; A great embattlement over the sourest of data sets ensues.
Below are the MRFSS sea bass tables that I think were pivotal in closing our season last year. They're self explanatory. Yet these are some of the data sets that have taken our sea bass season from 11 months to 3 months. We really need fairhanded governance here.
Words on paper can change how numbers on paper are used.
Then we can get back to fixing where the fish live, a place where paper has, thus far, been nearly useless.
We did not overfish. 
Sea bass habitat remains undiscovered.
Habitat fidelity remains unused in a coastwide management approach.
The very worst that can happen is we go back to a size/creel/season that we know rebuilt sea bass and other species for well over a decade.
Sacrificing an entire industry in worship of MRFSS data is shameful.
There's a new team in place that can fix it.
Ought to.
Fishery Closed: Shifting fishing effort to whatever remains open then retards progress in other restorations.
The fishing public's faith in governance goes lower.
Lifetimes of work are destroyed by complex calculation without the simple posit: Could this catch estimate possibly be correct?
See cbass data below. I'd wager any would see what I'm talking about.
Needs Fixin. 
We need our sea bass season back.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
Species: BLACK SEA BASS - MA - Private Boats - Wave 4 - July/August
1,122.28% Increase
2005 43,478 42.6
2006 27,518 44.1
2007 13,062 71.3
2008 13,548 69.4
2009 165,595 25.6
Species: BLACK SEA BASS -MA - Partyboat - All Areas - Wave 3 - June/July
14,564.64% Increase
2005 204 32
2006 74 31.7
2007 3,015 31.1
2008 526 19
2009 77,136 32
Wave 2 NJ Party Boats - March/April
15,230.5% Increase
2005 61 71.1
2006 30 99.6
2008 134 100.1
2009 20,543 37.7
Wave 2 March/April - From 1998 to 2009 - New Jersey, Private Boats
942.2% Increase
2002 9,921 92.9
2007 3,302 74.1
2009 34,418 56.4
Species: BLACK SEA BASS - Private Boats - New York
455.2% Increase
1999 23,711 62.8
2000 13,179 66.5
2001 0 0
2002 59,718 55.3
2003 59,282 25.6
2004 4,852 59.6
2005 17,591 95.4
2006 58,051 81.4
2007 12,461 89.7
2008 15,320 47.2
2009 85,056 36.5

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