Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fish Report 4/21/10

Fish Report 4/21/10
A Tale of Three Days
More Toggin
Aggregating Devices
They Don't Use The Low Numbers 
OCRF Dinner May 5th
Hi All,
Slipped on offshore Sunday morning with some regulars and a few new folks. A bit of wind, fair current, anchors came tight with precision. George had 2 keepers in the boat before I could get out of the wheelhouse. Could have easily limited all anglers but are treading lightly so we might diminish the unavoidable pressure on tog created by the sea bass closure. Been lots of tagging, though I can't fund that as much as I'd like...
In Monday's falling winds I set up for my 4th try this year on a reef not too far offshore.
Piranha Attack. Hungry girls all. Eh, nearly all; a few males. They are soon coming into spawn---Early. Two clients limited and put 47 back on the prettiest day thinkable.
Calmer still, Tuesday we were ready for more of that hot bite.
Yeah, um.. No.
How in the Billy Blue Blazes do you figure a fish..
Nicked a few. Sporty crowd, some great tags.
Did witness the most painful dropped fish of the year - The one that got away. A member of our coast's "Grand Masters Club" of toggin bowed very deeply on what I know was a jumbo fish. No line was gained nor was the fish hung in the wreck -- just the rod tip's antics reflecting a fish attempting escape.
And did.
Would've preferred tagging it.
I was thinking in the very high teens.. Possibly better. Big fish.
We'll go some more.
The reservation book is now open for tog trips from April 23rd to May 6th. The May 1st trip will be a unique 14 hour trip from 5am to 7pm for $180.00 a person. I have to have 2 crews aboard for that one. All the other tog trips, save this coming Friday & Saturday, are $100.00 regular 7am to 3 pm days. I also have the book open for sea bass trips from May 22cnd to the end of June and will open more days in early May with the next email.
If You Want To Go See Trip Particulars Below Signature.....
Very Importantly: The Ocean City Reef Foundation's annual Italian dinner is May 5th at Hall's Restaurant. Ideas for donations? The auction always has some of my trips and some great tackle from local shops.. Hall's has donated this dinner for many years. Awesome....
Often times it seems that the hallways and dinner tables are where much of fisheries is hashed out. While hardly a negotiation, one of the old-hands at NOAA and I were having a frank discussion on seafloor habitat at the Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit last weekend. Sure enough, he tells me that artificial reefs are aggregating devices - with the whole implied argument that building reef causes fish to become more susceptible to fishing pressure..
Looked carefully at 10 years of my VTRs --The Vessel Trip Reports that we have to fill out daily. When abundance/catch is up on shipwrecks --one could call them accidental reefs-- it's up on artificial reef.
And, when these human-made reefs have greater abundance so do natural reefs; If they haven't been scraped bare lately.
Were the assertion that "Artificial reef only serves to aggregate fish for easier slaughter" true, then abundance must continually have diminished---always & constantly declined---over areas of natural reef. Surely by now, after centuries of accelerating creation of accidental and then artificial reef, any natural reef would be devoid of fish entirely.
But that's not what the ten year review of my landings data showed. The three types of reef train-track on a graph; When abundance is up - it's up across natural, accidental and artificial reef. When it's down, it's all down.
..I await, I wish, just once, someday --a wonderful day-- that a manager making the aggregation argument would have some real concept of nearshore reef habitat in the mid-Atlantic.
You see, Aggregation Theory - this, "It's bad because it causes unnatural congregations of fish" theory can't just be a little bit true.
..well, yes it can--a very little bit.
When you first site an artificial reef the original colonization must be had from somewhere. Perhaps this is the aggregating moment. So too -in incredibly faster time scale- are the earliest moments of an atomic explosion only mildly hot; What follows would not be similarly described.
Of course, this explosion of life I'm writing of is in the ocean.
It's reasonable to conclude that the more natural reef has been diminished in an area --say 99% lost-- the faster fish will respond to it.
Rather than submit to a permanent reef loss in, say, a really big estuary, managers should rapidly expand a restoration footprint of artificial hard substrate in order to avoid fish aggregation problems.
..or keep using whatever techniques have consistently failed for over a century. And why not, the funding keeps coming. Just not success...
There is no unnatural fish aggregation on artificial reef, but there can be a wholly unnatural depletion of habitat in which fish respond extremely favorably to some slight improvement: The mussels, corals, oysters, crab, shrimp and fish of a mature artificial are no more artificial than cicada, ants, birds, raccoon, opossum and deer in a large farm tract left untilled for a decade.
Where animals are able to feed and shelter from predators they will spawn.
My experience in these 30 years at sea tells me habitat is crucial in fisheries production; Tells me habitat more than waist deep is easily lost in the shuffle; And tells me habitat already lost for several generations may be permanently lost.. unless we look for what likely existed as evidenced by anecdotal catch in the early and mid-1900s, even as far back as the mid-1800s.
And then restore it.
Our Bays; Our Ocean: It used to be out there.
I suspect that if NOAA will but grasp the importance of sea floor habitat, in conjunction with the incredible tool that is habitat fidelity, we can take some fisheries far beyond our restoration targets.
And, because this focus on production has not yet occurred we stumble along with oscillating stocks, poor utilization, and the poorest of governance.
Reef restoration is, I realize, not a stand alone project -- No panacea. This evidenced by large expanses of Caribbean reef and small local sites: The most scenic & complex habitat in the world will not produce fish without management if there is unregulated fishing or simply too much pressure on a given area.
Conversely: The most complex fishery management in the world will not produce fish without habitat.
And isn't.
Except by luck.
Or shipwreck.
It is my opinion that real fishery restoration of our reef-dwelling species has not begun. Not until what remains of our natural reef is discovered and some idea developed of what is permanently lost or restorable can we rebuild the reef species: Not until the wheat field has lain fallow and trees been sown can it be said that we have restored squirrels.
Discovery will, I believe, be the exact-point that fishery restoration began in the Mid-Atlantic's habitat dependant fisheries. Management has been coat-tailing on the horrors of war & weather too long. Riding the shipwrecks to stable fisheries, they have now claimed too the fish production from artificial reef for their fisheries restoration. 
Denied access to the fruits of our labors, industry founders.
We'd really like our sea bass back. Applying Bayesian statistical stops high & low would work the kinks out of MRFSS.. We had an 11 month season - Lost our innocence via emergency closure - Were then told we would have a 2 month season - which, in bold celebration, was raised by quota to 3+ months of season..
Eleven months - We had eleven months.
Now we might have 3 and a piece.
Rebuilt the whole sea bass fishery with only a month closed some years.
It is the MRFSS data that is causing industry's demise; Catch estimate data so putrid that no manager supports it; Catch estimate data so poor the Government ordered a replacement program. 
If catch data came in as low as our official MRFSS MD for-hire industry estimate of less than a dozen tautog for last year, all year -- Would we lift all restriction, throw the fishery wide open? Or would managers snicker and say, "Yeah, we know that number's not right."
They don't use the low numbers to lower size limits and raise bag limits crazily; Dern sure they do use the high numbers to restrict..
An industry dies because no one double-checked the data. An industry dies because catch estimates low are of no consequence nor concern while catch data high is held aloft in false worship, "Here is our best science available." 
"Here is science we find expedient and have adopted our conscience to its failings" might be more truthful.
From the very highest reaches of government should come this directive: Average three years' regulations and leave it at that until MRIP is fully developed.. We know fish of many different species rebuilt nicely without the crazy antics we have now. 
Some states have been so positively pummeled by MRFSS data that no fairness remains. New York's fluke, for instance, should have a special review.
Stabilize the industry & find avenues for management to increase production.
That would be some good fishery management. 
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
Boat sells out at 14 - Green crabs provided - Leave as scheduled or earlier if all are aboard - PLEASE be a little early so we can leave early - Return as scheduled or a little later - Reservation a must, that phone number in signature - Email does not work for reservations - Call - Leave a good phone number--Cell--in case of cancellation.
Tog Limit is 4 fish @ 14 inches - We encourage the release of all females under 16 (and some way bigger too!!) Fish Pool is decided by length so tagged and released fish count too.
Yes, we have caught some big tog this year and in years past. No, I can not pick what size, if any, are going to bite on any given day -- We are going fishing. Inexperienced tog fishers frequently find this an exasperating sport.. So do the sharpies some days. It's more about presentation than in our other fisheries.

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