Saturday, January 08, 2011

Fish Report 1/08/11

Fish Report 1/08/11
Tagging Tog
Next Trip?
Saving Sea Bass
A Letter You Should Read
How hard is it? If you have trees and some level of management you'll have squirrels: If you have reef and some level of management you'll have fish.
If you knock the trees down to get to the squirrels it will be a long time before you have squirrels again..
And, if you plant more trees than you had, squirrels might very well flourish.
Rocks bought from idled quarries & rolled off barges manned by idled tug-boat crews can make cleaner waters; can make fish populations soar: Combined with management, those rocks & boulders can make reef ecologies and fishing economies thrive from estuary to canyon's edge.....
Hi All,
Had a beautiful day Thursday. Light winds, calm; Just what we'd want.
Burnt a little fuel, dropped in over 90 feet of water; Caught some keepers and some throwbacks.. Brr.. Chilly down there.
Bite so-so, we tagged a number of shorties, had some 8s & 10s too; Dennis's 15 pounder topped 'em all..
You know, It almost seemed like he was making sure a certain Russian knew there was no second place in the pool..
It's all in fun.
And fine dining!
Togging can be a tough though.. In an hour late on an 11 hour trip, Thursday was just that. Had 3 good anglers goose-egg on keepers and 4 or 5 limit-out. All went home with fish.
Going to try to catch good fish again soon but do not see a weather opportunity any time in the next few days.
In fact, I think I'll sell my boat & get a snow-plow.
Ehh, not yet!
Will continue to announce trips via this medium....
Was up to the 'sustainability conference' Friday. Had great opportunities to put artificial reef in front of government --Fantastic-- even directly to our Governor..
Hundreds of people - Microphones for public comment - I told him that the estuaries' water quality was affecting marine water quality, That 4 generations ago men had caught white marlin within sight of land, That accelerated restoration efforts were indeed necessary to restore the fisheries.  
One man from deep inside the .gov eco$ystem told the crowd that constituents wanted more ecosystem 'assessments'.. 
I took the mike again: "You could fill this room with assessments and it would never help a fish. Governor, You and Secretary Griffin are doing it better than ever before. We want you to keep doing what you're doing--Ecosystem Restoration--just a lot more of it."  
Then, in front of hundreds of people, the Governor looked at Secretary Griffin, pointed his finger at him and said, "I like artificial reef."
Perhaps it was with a wink; To me it seemed like Mission Accomplished.
Yesterday's mission anyway.
Today its back to saving sea bass.
We really do need to save sea bass
..from management that's not working.
(If you're leaving at this point, There is a boldened section in a letter below that everyone who is affected by fisheries management should read--otherwise read on..)
We  need to restore sea bass, need to make fishing a lot better: Using sensible catch restriction combined with habitat protections and restorations--by building reef--we can take ANY reef-fish species to far higher populations than we have ever known to exist.
We can--actually did once--restore our region's sea bass to our habitat's potential while still catching--and with scarcely a closed season. Simple regulations can work fine again.
Reef & reef building not understood; Tautog are going to get creamed by regulation next. 
Over the years people have told me stories of my tog tags being ripped-out and thrown overboard: The har-de-har-har bravado of men who know remaining ignorant of our fisheries will best protect us; That bolstering science--in this case the growth, fidelity & migration of tautog--is of no use to Real Fishermen.
Ah well, managed a bunch of good tag returns anyway. Still ongoing.
I'm finding it does take a while, but if know something to be true you can convince government of it..
A decade?
Not quite there. Little more time perhaps.
One of the illusions that plague our reef-fish restoration efforts is in the population estimates--the Stock Estimates--which are partly done with a trawl net. Sea bass of today often live on wreck and rockpile, on our remaining corals where no trawl can go. Tautog have always lived where trawls can travel only to the fringe, and that with trepidation..
Because trawl-net and robust reef do not mix, our reef-fish population estimates are done with lots of statistical conjecture. That's why they're called the Data-Poor fisheries.     
Shadowy data far worse is the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey--MRFSS--catch estimate system. Even a student of Plato's Cave could never have anticipated actual governance by this devilment of delusion in perfect illusion that is MRFSS.  
Below is a letter I sent to a Senator who had requested more information. Not long ago, I haven't heard back yet; I just hope I brought this problem down to earth.
It's complicated.
More catch-restriction isn't going to accomplish Magnuson's goals.
Habitat does matter--A lot.
In that letter are 3 data sets that cost Maryland's coastal fisheries dearly.
And still didn't help the greater goal of restoration much.
Sea bass may be closed from now to July..
We tagged and threw back two jumbos on Thursday's trip. Good management?   
Our ignorance vast, We don't even know how they spawn. I think they nest.  
"Reef? Coral Reef? In the mid-Atlantic? In less than 50 fathoms? Ha! That's a laugh!"  "..Let me show you these catch estimates."
Governing with just shadows of truth is difficult. The "har-de-har, keep 'em in the dark" strategy does neither fish nor fisher any good in the long run. The data causes regulators to shoot at shadows on steel walls; Ricochets have crippled industry and threaten its death.
I'm a fisherman.
Want to remain a fisherman.
The MRFSS lie denies us real restoration. Catch restriction based on lies of catch -and that on a coastwide basis- leaves management stuck, going deeper & deeper into a bottomless rut..
To fishery managers MRFSS screw-ups are just data-sets that, right or wrong, they have to use; It's scarcely a real concern.
Let me tell you - Three years running this garbage is killing the recreational sea bass industry: It Is A Very Real Concern.
If a science can not be proven, then to believe it requires faith. Hmm.. 
There is no test MRFSS must suffer for truth. Regulators simply have faith in the statistics below.
Copernicus' work on the paths of planets does not require faith. It did require many, many tests of proof, of truth..  
I assert that for MRFSS to be used as "The Best Science Available" it should first have to qualify as science.
"It's all we have! What else can we use!"
Umm, common sense? Large collections of firmer catch-data given in Vessel Trip Reports over any span of time will certainly illustrate real abundances of fish.. Will reveal management that worked.
Despite MRFSS' many failings, it can be used in broad-scope to illustrate, say, the success of Government Regulation on the atlantic mackerel fishery: Where MRFSS has New Jersey and points south catching lots and lots and lots of fish --their exact estimates meaning nothing-- Then those catches taper to nothing, to ZERO.
That use of MRFSS is true.
Guvmint: "Hurray! Atlantic mackerel are restored! Over-fishing is not occurring!" 
I'm telling you -- This isn't working.
Regulators ritual use of MRFSS as the very foundation of recreational fisheries restoration must end.
It is a foundation built on falsehood.
To find our way out of this maze built with deceitful fabrications will require truth: Or at least as few falsehoods as possible. 
Please allow me to show you how the use of very poor data & ignoring sound fish restoration science have brought us here.
Please allow me to show you three crucial data sets....
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
Sent 1/4/11
Greetings Senator Mikulski, Senator Cardin, State Senator Elect Mathias, Secretary MD DNR Griffin, Director MD Fisheries O'Connell, NOAA Assistant Administrator of Fisheries Schwaab.
Thank You all for your attention. I really think this particular fishery issue can be used to illuminate many other troubles in our struggle to make fishing better. I hope for the day when my clients are too busy catching fish for me to trouble you.
Sea bass have been knocked hard these last three years; Not by recreational fishing, but by recreational catch estimate data--by MRFSS estimate.
We really don't have a fish restoration issue that can't be overcome. In fact, I'm quite confident that exploring actions in this letter can take many fisheries beyond any know historical base. 
However, there may be ingrained management styles that finish off industry before we can begin.
I watched the sea bass fishery climb from its crypt in the mid-80s to, in 2003, honestly thinking our region's sea bass were at habitat holding capacity.
Oh, the fishing was beautiful..
I had self-imposed catch regulations long years before management took notice of our sea bass and tautog.
A few months after that '03 population peak, winter trawl effort --the big boys-- smoked through their sea bass permits off our coast in early '04; Were calling trap fishers -any who held a permit- to come get cbass, much of which was bycatch in the flounder fishery.
I'm sure many were simply shoveled overboard dead--as regulatory bycatch, especially in foul weather..
Because of that surge, our region's fishery took a nose-dive. In the spring of '04 we caught half of what we had in '03.
I had predicted habitat fidelity's importance; Soon after felt it.
I have tried for over a decade to get our corals explored & listed as Essential Fish Habitat. There has been great forward motion with the help of Secretary Griffin's MD DNR Fisheries Service; the new XO of the MAFMC, Chris Moore; and, just lately, from NOAA's Habitat Conservation Chief, Tom Bigford.
Please see my reef video from the recent Ecosystems Workshop: Google search YouTube 'Maryland Corals.'   Our corals filmed from a bouncing boat: Be careful if you get seasick..
How hard is it? If you have trees and some level of management you'll have squirrels: If you have reef and some level of management you'll have fish.
If you knock the trees down to get to the squirrels it will be a long time before you have squirrels again..
And, if you plant more trees than you had, squirrels might very well flourish.
Rocks bought from idled quarries & rolled off barges manned by idled tug-boat crews can make cleaner waters; can make fish populations soar: Combined with management, those rocks & boulders can make reef ecologies and fishing economies thrive from estuary to canyon's edge.....
First we must comprehend this: Just as salmon have natal fidelity & will return to the stream of their birth, We've discovered sea bass have site fidelity too. I personally tagged over 5,000 of them, Woods Hole 16,000 more.
We know beyond a doubt that sea bass move offshore in winter and return to the exact same reef come spring: That they have habitat fidelity.
And, just as in the salmons, managing fish removals by that fidelity is crucial to real & sustained population growth; That whether controlling fishing effort on eco-regions of Reef or winding River: Fidelity is a key player in effective management.
In no part of our sea bass management do we factor in habitat: There is no Essential Fish Habitat off Maryland's Coast, There are no "Reef Forming Corals" in the mid-Atlantic, and therefore no 'habitat forming' corals ..Yet in that video I show beautiful corals no more than 8 miles out. 
Sure look like 'Essential Fish Habitat' to me.
In no part of the recreational "coastwide quota" do we factor in fidelity either.
This is fishers greatest hope, that regional sub-quotas can be developed as was pushed hard by the Maryland delegation at the recent Council & Commission meeting.
We have a chance; If a political solution can be crafted for a biological problem, Recreational businesses may endure another year in these challenging times.
A fully integrated/regionalized sea bass plan would never have allowed that surge of winter-trawl effort in early '04..
A recreational sea bass plan that recognized regional fidelity would never shut down the whole coast because recreational fishers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have "miraculous" spikes in sea bass catch..
Southern New England's fish will never-ever grace our reefs; They are a product of their rocky habitat protections spurring fishery production; So too will we never see the product of fantastic reef building in northern New Jersey's state waters..
A sea bass plan that recognized fidelity would strive to improve and protect reef habitat in every way: Reef is where sea bass Feed, Spawn, Shelter, and Grow to Maturity as is set forth in the EFH section of the Magnuson Act...
No: We have none of that.
We have MRFSS.
The Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey. Some say Murfis, others Murfs.
I hold that science is founded in skepticism, That "Prove It" lays at its core; That those who hold MRFSS as "The Best Science Available" are doing a terrible disservice to all involved.
You see, the National Research Council ordered MRFSS phased out for its obvious failings in 2006. It is being replaced with MRIP.
Statistics are the science of uncertainty: MRFSS is science so bad that our nation's finest said to have done with it.
Its use should have been barred then.
Many in fisheries dislike the MRFSS data. Still, it is virtually the only data that is pre-packaged by middle-management and fed to Council & Commission.
And, its always given to Councilmen & Commissioners with this predicate: "Angler effort is difficult to predict."
Actually, No: MRFSS is difficult to predict. 
I will show you just 3 MRFSS data sets: Three data sets that monkey-wrenched Maryland's coastal fisheries; Three data sets that made good people order fishers before an economic-firing squad.. Three very poor data sets among dozens if not hundreds..
In these charts PSE is as in a political poll (percentage standard error) ..the plus or minus percentage that the poll might be off by. All these charts are what MRFSS says was put in a cooler and taken home to fry--It gets much worse when factoring in release mortality of fish thought to have been caught and thrown back. Watch for missing years too.
Species: TAUTOG - Maryland - Private Boat Catch Only - Sept/Oct
There it is. That '07 set stole December from me in a fishery I practically hand carved over two decades.
Looking at the little sets shows MRFSS for what it is.
Angler effort did not shift like the pogo-stick that data set implies; Not even during the '09 emergency cbass closure--which the MRFSS misses entirely.
Species: SUMMER FLOUNDER - Shore Fishing Only - Sept/Oct
This data set created an Emergency Regulation shutting down Maryland's recreational flounder fishery. Apparently, while the private boats were fishing down the jetties' and bulkheads' tautog population, Shore fishers were casting overtop the boats and catching flounder the private boats had elected to leave alone..
"Angler effort is difficult to predict" must be an incredible understatement if you believe these data sets. 
What poppycock.
But its effect are real enough: Still being felt in the fishery.
Terrible to make good people act as this data makes them.
Species: BLACK SEA BASS - Massachusetts - Private Boat Catch - May/June
Here is a crucial data set to the assertion that the entire coastwide sea bass quota has been overfished: This is why I may have to declare bankruptcy if no solution can be found; why Emergency Federal Fishery Disaster Relief may be my only hope..
There are others like it.
Yet for all these data sets' two-month periods, charter & partyboat catch stays fairly consistent. Professional skippers turn in catch reports. The MRFSS WAGuestimate is then made to suffer some truthing. 
Private boat and shore effort data is FULL of wild swings. The data causes regulators to shoot at shadows on steel walls; the ricochets have crippled industry and threaten its death.
I assert that MRFSS' bad recreational catch estimate data is about to destroy the southern sea sea bass fishery.
If Maryland's efforts to regionalize the recreational sea bass quota at the Council & Commission level are not succesful, fishers will have to endure another 90 days of closed season--A fatal blow.

This situation needs a very firm hand.
I beg your attention.
The corals, the fidelity, the data: I plead for your help.
Thank You,
(addresses below)
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star" Ocean City, MD.
Reservation Line 410 520 2076 
Please look-up your DC reps online.
Secretary Locke
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20230
Secretary Lubchenco
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW - Room 5128
Washington, DC 20230
CINC NMFS Eric Schwaab
NOAA Fisheries Service
1315 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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