Sunday, October 03, 2010

Fish Report 10/3/10

Fish Report 10/3/10   
Sea Bass One Day  
Wind the Rest
Acceptance of Natural Variability
Hi All,
Slipped on out Wednesday-last in between two weather fronts. With swells from several directions it wasn't comfortable; just doable.
Sea bass didn't mind. Sent my few clients home with a nice mess for dinner and a few for the freezer.
Bluefish too have become part of the reef mix. Happens nearly every fall. Presently the blues are small to medium--the right ones if you enjoy eating bluefish at all.
I suppose the blues we catch are up against some tough competition. Given a choice between cooking fresh sea bass or bluefish, most would opt for the cbass.
Bluefish fillets then become a day older. Then two. Then frozen..
Ahhh, but if you, or someone you know, smokes fish they'll get eaten quickly no matter how abundant the sea bass.
Mate Mike bled these, filleted them into quarters & removed the strong tasting blood-line; all ready for a bit of salsa then baked, or rolled in House Autry and dropped in hot oil. We froze others whole for an eventual return to the deep -- bluefish strips make good tilefish bait.
Speaking of tiles, I'll soon send a special "Trip Report" via this email list announcing another deep tilefish trip--this after ticket holders from previous attempts have been contacted. With the October cbass closure coming up -but reopening in November- I have several special/experimental trips in mind.
Saw a handful of flounder Wednesday too. With so much deep-bodied swell we've not been able to do much with them.
They're out there though.
C'mon Calm.
Extended Calm..............
This weather is having the same effect on fisher's incomes as last year's "Emergency Sea Bass Closure."
This fishermen understand: Weather sometimes turns sour for long periods. We curse & accept it.
The data that brought us the 'emergency' sea bass closure last fall well into  spring & forces closure again soon might be accepted as a great sorrow--as a life we can not bring back: It will never be accepted as truth.
How recreational catch data is created is changing. There is hope that better catch estimates will bring greater fairness.
But not yet. The upcoming three-week cbass closure is but a bit of jewelry for the current management plan: Fake jewelry.
It wouldn't be real unless it addressed a specific region's over-harvest, the catch from a specific set of reefs --the real places, wet places far from carpeted hallway, places with hard substrate and emergent invertebrate colonization where all of a reef-fish's life stages occur, the very places where fishers have complained of habitat loss for 600+ years: It would be management if overfishing were addressed where it occurred.
If believed; last year's recreational catch estimate data has greater than the entire coast's quota coming from a small northerly region, An entire year's worth of allowable catch --the whole recreational "Catch Share"-- coming from but a small area and in a small amount of time.
If believed, the data would call for sudden and sure action to prevent crisis, an attempt to prevent very real & dire overfishing from occurring within that given habitat parameter.
Instead, the sea bass season was closed across the entire management unit--but only after most northern fishers would normally have been finished. It was then reopened in late spring when those fishers would normally have just begun to catch.
Businesses to the south suffered greatest effect despite there being no  possibility that the more southerly reef habitats had been overfished.
Reconfiguring how sea bass are managed is --so far as I know-- not on anyone's to-do list.
In fact, I'd wager in a small quiet place in managers' minds is the thought that no matter how unfair the closure, no matter how little it may have done to address what the data reported as a problem, no matter the economic pain wrought upon stakeholders; They'll rationalize the closure must have spared fish, must have contributed to restoration - even if only by accident.

If something as ill-found as that emergency closure & its continuing aftershocks in this year's regulations can fall through the cracks and be thought OK for the fish, Then we should ponder what's also falling through that isn't OK..
Lot of work to do.
When the sea bass population is reported to NMFS, NOAA, Congress, and indeed to us, it is expressed as a single number -the Stock Estimate- from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod. And that is how they are managed too: One set of regulations spread over vast coastline.
Yet because of spawning site fidelity --as shown by every cbass tag study including my own and a much larger federal study-- sea bass must be, have to be, managed in smaller units, in sub-stocks; their removal from the whole 'coast-wide' stock must be monitored regionally.
Despite illusions created by current recreational catch estimate methods; Most crucial, most in need of regional caution is when sea bass move off their summer grounds, when they are in tightest concentration in winter. Even in cold water there remains very little inter-regional mixing. Because each region's fish are then compacted into the smallest habitable area, their susceptibility to over-fishing is at peak.
Our current management plan would work well if there were only one reef and no winter migration.
Oh yawn..
Like our now-ongoing weather-caused economic drought, we fishers accept that some years are just better than others, that abundance of fish is simply variable.
And it is.
We need to double-check though, to make sure that what we accept as natural variance really is. 
A lot of it isn't.  
If restoring reef-fish without reef habitat is impossible, it follows that management will be made more difficult without understanding: That recognizing habitat and the manner in which reef-fish use habitat are vital in restoring our fisheries is certain.
We must now begin that management.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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