Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fish Report 2/17/11

Fish Report 2/17/11
A Quilt
A Cod
Sea Whip?
Orders of Magnitude
That night, early May of 2009, was filled with downpours and lightning. Propane and diesel heaters kept the tent warm; makeshift gutters kept the rain off our work: It was 2 AM and we were just finishing painting for the day.
I did not know that Massachusetts's black sea bass recreational catch-estimate for July/Aug of that year would climb from the thirty-thousands to two hundred thousand; I did not know the 3,022 hours of labor I had paid-for to give the Morning Star another life would be such an ill-timed investment; I did not know that after all my seafloor habitat work, in 2011 a very good NOAA scientist would be unable to reference sea-whip anywhere in the mid-Atlantic's scientific literature except through my 2010 video evidence; I did not know that fictitious, imaginary --indeed treacherous-- catch-estimate data would, in just a few months time, nearly break my business...
Hi All,
If the weather keeps up we'll be inshore toggin again soon. Not next-week-soon, but hopefully sooner than usual..
Twenty years ago we would have been gearing up for the Boston mackerel run now. We're still allowed to catch them; there's absolutely no danger of overfishing them due to recreational pressure; No "over-fishing" will ever occur when its not worthwhile to "go fishing." Management perches like ol' Snoopy atop his doghouse & watches like a hawk for overfishing: Restoration-wise we'd be better off if they'd look to see if "any-fishing" is occurring on southern scup, atlantic mackerel, red hake, spadefish & then find out why.
Might just try a cod trip soon. Funny that a fish from a region that recognizes discreet regional spawning sub-stocks and protects at least some bottom habitat is returning to its full range.. Couple fellows even caught cod off Virginia Beach last week.
Mike's about there on the little bit of paint I had in mind. Maybe a quick trip announcement before too long.....
OC Boatshow's this weekend. Reef Foundation always has a booth. This year OCRF will be selling raffle tickets to an awesome quilt, a nautically themed quilt with rope borders and compass-rose center; It's a quilt made & donated by long-time SCUBA diver Dana Mason. I'm telling you, this quilt will look good in any room; on any bed.
I mean that. Stare at the swinging pocket-watch: You Need Lots Of Tickets.
Contact Marta at OCRF <> for raffle ticket info.
Dana's diving off Maryland's coast might go back more years than she'd care to admit. I suspect she had the "Duh" moment with artificial reef several decades back. It was her early observations of mussels and starfish that helped lead me to U/W video gear and a theory of reef-growth successions becoming hard-coral reef.
Any year now NOAA...
There really was a scientist that did a 'literature search' for sea whip this week as part a simplified peer review. I don't know how exhaustive it was. He didn't find whip; Used my video (YouTube search Maryland Corals) as evidence the assertion could remain in a marine habitat paper.
Sea-whip: The seemingly grass-like vegetation but really animal colony growth; The orange, branching, filter-feeding soft-corals in my reef videos: This vital part of our region's reef ecology where sea bass, tautog and lobster all thrive not readily available in a scientific literature search.
Perhaps you've recently been told, "NOAA & NMFS are working with their management partners to identify and protect habitats that are critical for supporting marine life, including habitat important to black sea bass."
This fellow's literature search wasn't a question of whether sea whip was once incredibly more prolific than now, Nor if it should qualify as Essential Fish Habitat, Nor how many partners were slaving away in its restoration: The question was does it exist in the mid-Atlantic.
Except possibly in a partyboat skipper's u/w video.
I think whip meadows once covered far more area than oysters ever could have; tube-worms greater still.
Fishery restoration can not occur until we have restored habitat. To restore habitat we must first recognize it exists.
We're not even on square one.
In fact, raffling Dana's quilt could do more for our seacoast's habitat this year than all the government's millions.
How sad is that.......
I nosed-around some in the marine recreational fishing statistics survey data--MRFSS say Murfs--before a flounder/tog DNR meeting last week. Our recreational statistics are broken out into 3 modes: Shore, Private Boat & For-Hire.
I'm a for-hire. A charter boat is a for-hire. That buddy you split the gas & bait with has a private boat. The fellow that enjoys sopping up sun with his surf-rods in sand-spikes and the togger who has a well-worn seat on his favorite jetty boulder are shore fishers.
Really quick look before the meeting: I see that March & April's for-hire data-sets in 2003 & 2004 look odd. Not sky-high astronomically wrong--common in MRFSS data sets--but fishy. The estimate of 6058 fish caught by for-hire boats in Mar/Apr '04 just looked funny..
As I was the only MD participant in the for-hire trade that period it was pretty easy: Fishing hard and catching well --with a higher creel limit than today-- my clients landed 672 tog.
There were no other party boats fishing: None.
No charters either, save possibly a few late-April trips on a 4 person for-hire boat.
Ditto 2003.
An 'order of magnitude' is when something increases/decreases by a factor of ten; It is therefore no exaggeration to say that this MRFSS estimate is too high by an order of magnitude.
In an official catch-estimate of 6058, MRFSS was off by 5,386 fish.
This is the data that is used to write Compliance Reports to federal fisheries staff, The data that determines whether regulations need to be tightened. If the catch-estimate claims too many fish were taken then there has to be fewer fish caught the following year in order to prevent overfishing: Closures, bigger size limits & smaller bag limits follow. That's why we're in such trouble with sea bass. Because MA's private boat sea bass estimates have skyrocketed, we stand accused of overfishing. Yet if Massachusetts' anglers caught every single sea bass north of Atlantic City it wouldn't trouble our reef's fish in the least.. 
A MRFSS-based assertion of overfishing strangles commerce where, biologically, no harm could be done. 
Now Maryland's 2010 catch estimates are out for tog.
According to the 9 year MRFSS average, Maryland's private boats generally catch 1,975 tog in March/April. MRFSS now claims the private boats caught a breathtaking 18,587 tog in Mar/Apr of 2010.
Darn! Those boys beat 'em up!
Although I fished hard during that period --really hard-- my clients missed out on almost all that action. Even including our 14 hour special trips we only caught & iced 462 tog in March & April 2010.
Those private boats sure are hard to figure.. "Angler effort is difficult to predict." 
Since I scarcely ever saw any other boats --including tugs and ships let alone any private boats fishing-- I'll bet the truth would reveal this private boat estimate is two orders of magnitude too high, that even 300 tog for the private boaters would be a high number in Mar/Apr; that the MRFSS assertion of 18,587 tog caught by MD's private boats even in a whole year is just one more serious error in this dead-man-walking catch-estimate program.
Maryland's 10 year average for all recreational tog landings is 34,000 per year. Take out the high-flyers and the average drops to 15,800 total tog per year.
Last year, with most of the season at a two fish limit, MRFSS claims we landed 74,570 tog.
"Dastardly over-fishers! You'll pay for that!"  
Have to stomp-out overfishing you know.  
Reef? Where!?
What coral?
The MRFSS tog estimate for Maryland in 2007 was 107,061 caught & kept.
Oh, there's some precious catch-estimates in there.. The average shore catch for May/June is 1,726 - but in '07 the boyz got busy and pulled 19,374 tog off the rocks.
Then there's the private boats and what MRFSS sez they did to tog in Sept/Oct '07 - A tragedy. I'll frame it with the early fall 2006 private boat estimate of zero--no fish, and the 2008 private boat estimate of 1,451 tog caught: However, in Sept/Oct 2007 it was a bloodbath. Those same private boaters caught 31,023 tautog.
Magnuson demands use of our best science and, By-Gosh, this is it!   
Given what I know about tog from my video work, I'd think the 2007 total estimated catch would have just about eradicated the species.
If it were right.
I'm positive that the tog estimates are very wrong. I'm also positive that using the equally wrong sea bass estimates to justify an emergency closure & ensuing regulatory restrictions has set our tog back a fair-piece.
But we've got fantastically more tog & tog habitat now than there ever was 'naturally' so it's difficult to justify need of further "restoration.."
Where did the 'natural tog population' live before the rip-rap, bridge-pilings & jetty walls were erected?
Shouldn't the fish be managed instead for population stability and growth in stock to match habitat increases via reef building? 
Great Mercy. This needs to get fixed....
People who have never worried one moment about the Magnuson Act's Essential Fish Habitat clause wield MRFSS data like a club. Some big environmental groups and upper-government are focused solely on overfishing. Some recreational fishing groups think they have to play nice, have to accept the MRFSS data or loose their seat at the table.  
Believe me, you are not reading the wheelhouse version: I'm playing nice too.
Because "fishery restoration" must include fishermen; focusing solely on preventing overfishing while using bad catch-data is destroying generations-deep fisheries more surely than those long, dark decades of unregulated overharvest.
Catch estimates whose errors can be factually measured in orders of magnitude & Vital habitats that await discovery..
The truth of any science is only as good as the veracity of its data.
Here MRFSS has so befouled the system that we'll need a fantastic scientific effort to bring catch-data in line. It's possible to do, especially with angler counts coming from MRIP..
Habitat science in our marine region isn't even in development--There's no data at all.
Real fisheries restoration could begin today if we used tautog -sea bass too- as foils with which to steer management in a new direction: Fact-Check/Back-Check the MRFSS Data -- Discover Habitat's Importance: Restore Fish and Fisheries.
I saw a surveillance camera film-clip on TV.
Robber was attacking a motel desk-clerk with an old-fashioned dial phone -- Beating him time & again over the head: "Stop! Stop! You're killing me!"
Clerk was right.
So am I.
MRFSS errors are killing fisheries.
Drop a note to your State's Fisheries Dept.
Write to the addresses below.
Let your DC Representatives & Senators in on this fiasco too.
Fishing can be made far better than it's ever been.
But not with bad data.
Discover Habitat.
Thanks For Reading.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076 
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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