Friday, March 25, 2011

Fish Report 3/24/11

Fish Report 3/24/11
Still Going
Of Sea Bass & Whales  
The State of Our Science 
Sunday, May 22cnd -- Long Cbass -- 6:30 AM to 4 PM -- Regular 25 Person Rail -- $125.00
Monday thru Friday, May 23 thru 26 - Regular Cbass Trips - 7 to 3 - $100
Saturday, May 28 -- Long Cbass -- 6:30 AM to 4PM -- $125.00
Reservations Required On All Trips -- Call 410 520 2076 -- Clams Provided -- BYO Gulp!
See for reserved rail/spot positions...
As always: If everyone is 20 minutes early--We leave 20 minutes early! Be Early!
AND: Still Going This Saturday - but not Sunday - Cod/Tog Trip - March 26 - Going Further, Deeper.
Saturday, 3/26: Leave 5:30 - Return 4:30(ish) - Fare $150.00  
16 Head Sells Out - Reservations Required - Call 410 520 2076 - Weather Looks OK But Leave The Best Contact Number In Case It Changes.
Hi All,
At the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission sea bass board meeting on 3/24 it was decided to go with a State by State allocation.. Maryland, Delaware & Virginia will be returning to last year's regulations; Which, if you recall, offered considerably less opportunity than any other set of cbass regulations ever.
Still, we are in a much better place opening May 22cnd than July 1st.
Much better..
A lot of work went into it, Into salvaging a sea bass season for us.. I wish I knew all who fought; Certainly many, many readers did, A lot of states had skin in the decision: I know MD DNR Fisheries under Tom O'Connell worked very hard to find sea bass fishers relief, Vince O'Shea too saved it when Mike Luisi's motion almost failed back in December --- Thank You All!
Personally, I thought regionalization most likely - the NY north & NJ south split - The state water vs. federal water split - option 3-2b.
Somehow the northern-state voting block pulled off state by state.
It's regulatory chess and I'm not very good at it.
Strikes me that NJ's reef fishers from Atlantic City south have caught this bullet square in the chest; That adding NJ to DE, MD & VA would be the regional split..
This I do know; An average done in 2005 had MD down for 9% of the coast's recreational sea bass landings we're between 1 & 3% depending on what landings period gets used. In the eventual permanent splitting of the recreational sea bass quota, what years get used to decide participant's final percentages requires some very serious game theory. 
Chess based on our official MRFSS recreational catch estimates.. Finding a sensible winning strategy would give that Jeopardy playing IBM computer a run for its money.
Preventing injustice in a voting democracy isn't what it seems either: Who exactly were the "All men are created equal" prior to the civil war and a century of struggle thereafter? How did women come to vote in the United States? No, a democratic voting system does not always immediately result in just decisions.
Fed only our official MRFSS catch-estimates: Any system using bad information has to result with justice or injustice only by chance.
Make no mistake; Many fought hard to get some sea bass season back: I do, however, look forward to a day when near-truth in catch estimates and an understanding of habitat production & habitat fidelity are the tools with which we manage this region's fisheries.
When the '06 Magnusson rewrite passed it was commonly thought that we'd have recreational catch estimate data well-squared away by now..
Lot of talk in that monstrous document--the Magnuson Stevens Act, about Essential Fish Habitat too..
So I'm opening my reservation book -- Just a little for now.
Sunday, May 22cnd -- Long Cbass -- 6:30 AM to 4 PM -- Regular 25 Person Rail -- $125.00
Monday thru Friday, May 23 thru 26 - Regular Cbass Trips - 7 to 3 - $100
Saturday, May 28 -- Long Cbass -- 6:30 AM to 4PM -- $125.00
Reservations Required -- Call 410 520 2076 -- Clams Provided On All Trips -- BYO Gulp!
See for reserved rail/spot positions...
As always: If everyone is 20 minutes early--we leave 20 minutes early! Be Early!
I'll open up a lot more trips soon..............
Wow! There are multiple confirmations of an orca whale eating a giant bluefin tuna that was hooked off Hatteras. How fascinating!
..I wonder if that was a main course after lots of striped bass hor D'oeuvres.
I'm fairly confident that we only have one orca sighting off MD. by Capt. Darrel Nottingham on the Mariner circa late 70s/early 80s.
A more somber whale sighting: We came upon a dead right whale right whale on the 17th. There's only about 400 left on the planet. This one was spotted WAY out by my young friend Jonah; I turned to investigate..
On my direction he took pictures of the head and tail; places where the right whale recovery team often have noted specific markings that will allow an individual animal's ID. I noticed a large perfect square with a + sign behind the head. This mark sure wasn't natural; I assumed it was a liquid nitrogen brand. Marked plain as day, I 'knew' that NOAA already had the whale's death in the books.
Two days later I realized, quite suddenly, that it was no brand: It was simply where the whale had rode on a ship's bow and been imprinted with a draft mark..
They put an airplane up to search for Slash, a whale with 6 calves to her credit since 1979, but did not find the carcass.
Lost opportunity to advance science.
My Bad.........
I occasionally enjoy reading older fisheries works to see what we've capitalized on and, far more often, what we've missed..
This from California Fish Bulletin 146, Man-Made Reef Ecology: Summary & Conclusions -- Page 198 -- Thanks Sis...
It's not too hard to wade through--is very well written; It neatly captures an essential idea of fisheries restoration. Brackets{ } are mine. Parenthesis() are original. is apparent that "non-productive" areas of nearshore ocean floor can be made "productive" by installation of relief structures {artificial reef}. Initially, these structures attract fishes from surrounding areas and present a substrate suitable for development of the complex biotic assemblages {reef growths, e.g. mussels & coral} typical of natural reefs. As these new reefs mature, biological succession occurs and fishes which may have been initially attracted only to the structures are incorporated into the reef community in response to increasingly available food and shelter. Ultimately (in about 5 years) a natural situation is attained and the plant & animal populations exhibit fluctuations typical of reef ecosystems.
Rats! I thought I had a unique perspective on the succession angle and the self-supporting nature of artificial reef. Alas, this Fish Bulletin was published in 1969 -- Ronald Reagan was California's Governor.
I also learned recently that reefs were understood to be self-supporting in Darwin's day -- In the dawn of biology.. Fascinating.
So, in 1969 we knew that rolling rocks off a barge would create self-supporting/self-propagating reef communities of fish vital to commercial & recreational fishers.
We're all on the same team--even many commercial guys believe it or not; We all want fishing to get better & better.
MAFMC begins to consider the December Ecosystems Meeting recommendations on April 12. We'll have a sense of it then; Gain a better idea of whether we'll finally begin to see recognition of habitat's changes & contributions.
I want to believe management is about to change; That maybe this time Lucy really will hold the football..........
A friend of mine was trawling near the tip of the Washington Canyon back in the early/mid-seventies; Among a large fleet, he and another fellow were the only US boats out there.
Nearby, just north, is a place where another friend would catch grouper with bottom longline gear even into the early 80's.
An incredible amount of foreign boats --all that extra effort, even huge factory boats: Long-gone
..but so is that big piece of bottom where grouper once lived.
"..fishes..are incorporated into the reef community in response to increasingly available food and shelter. Ultimately (in about 5 years) a natural situation is attained "
Nice Description of Reef Production.
Perhaps with that beautifully worded section from the 1969 California artificial reef study; Perhaps given an understanding that real fisheries production--real increases in fish populations--occur with reef building; Perhaps then the infallibility of this logic will fall into place more easily: If artificial reef increases a region's production, then loss of natural reef must decrease a region's production.
Lots of good reef bottom has gone missing; Towed & scraped by foreign boats; Towed & scraped by US boats: As one old-timer put it, "Oh Yes, We rearranged a lot of bottom off there."  
There must be reef restoration before we will see true reef-fish restoration.
In 1952 commercial fishers in the mid-Atlantic landed 11 million pounds of our temperate reef dweller, black sea bass--most of it by trawl.
By 1970 trap fishers were landing more sea bass than trawlers but, combined, the total was just a shadow of past decades, about 400,000 pounds.
Importantly, trawl landings did not decline precipitously simply because of fish removals, of catching. No, it was the their method of removal, of towing and disrupting reef growths along the bottom that reduced production in the areas where they fished.  
Trap landings have changed much less over the years--the most robust habitats have remained in production where traps are used in the mid-Atlantic.
Trawl landings did increase again with the advent & improved accuracy of LORAN C radio-based navigation. They could tow closer & closer to the remnant reef cores, closer and closer to the hangs where they stood to lose their gear if their navigation was off by even a little..
I can't estimate how much time I've put into this, into understanding why I could possibly experience natural sea bass habitat "Growing" & "Expanding" during the mid-late 90s ..and, by the early/mid 2000s, shrinking back again.
My recent video on YouTube --search Maryland Corals-- was a one-take production. What's on that video is not "the problem" -- It's a tiny bit of what happened back-when that I managed to capture in our modern era.
The damage to our seafloor habitat was nearly all done by 1976--at the peak of fishing's industrial revolution. Habitat loss on such grand scale had to lead to rapidly declining stocks: It wasn't just the catching, the taking of fish--It was the mowing down of habitat and culling through nets full of sea whip for fish--It was the destruction of clay & pebble bottoms; the removing of rocks from entire areas so they would trawl "clean." 
The most sea bass I've ever seen was in 2003. It was incredible to limit-out more often than not.
There were roughly 1 million pounds landed commercially that year in the mid-Atlantic -- not the 11 million of 1952.
Our habitat was still nearly at peak -- peak in my experience -- and it was full: I don't think we could have carried many more sea bass.
We had nowhere near, not even remotely close to enough habitat to create an 11 million pound catch..  
Management must grasp, must fully realize, that single-focus fishery restoration --just catch restriction quota management-- isn't going to work. We have to have an aggressive habitat component in order to truly restore our region's fisheries.
If the commercial men really want to keep a remnant-rocky bottom area for their stern-towed gears where growths will never recolonize that's OK -- Find an area of similar size and roll some rocks off a barge..
Magnuson Stevens Act - Essential Fish Habitat: Protect, Enhance & Restore those waters and substrates necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. seems so clear.
Remember though that just a few weeks ago a really sharp NOAA scientist could not find sea whip --our #1 soft coral-- in the literature for our region.  
Management that cracks our eggs so viciously for MRFSS asserted overfishing as required by Magnuson remains blissfully unaware of habitat and therefore any of Magnuson's obligations to Protect, Enhance or Restore habitat.
Now, were you to assert that surf-clam dredges damage habitat as do--or actually worse than--simple trawl or scallop dredges, you'd find yourself facing a body of well-funded work that finds no such similarity between trawls and clam dredges.
Around the world it is well documented that trawl nets and scallop dredges damage habitat if the equipment is towed across live bottom.. 
Yet the biggest & heaviest dredges with water jets that liquefy the bottom before they pass over it are held harmless: This while we have to accept management's use of the MRFSS' assertion that DE tog fishers really did catch 54 fish to Ocean City's 18,587.. That Massachusetts's private boat cbass catch increased from 26,827 in May & June of 2009 to 218,790 sea bass in 2010.
All In Our Best Available Science..

There's an incredible amount of bottom that isn't reef and never will be. So far as I'm concerned habitat impacts to hard-bottoms need only be addressed in very fine scale to rapidly rebuild fishery production.
Meanwhile, we could build a bunch more too; start rolling rocks off a barge..
Recreational fishers have borne the many claims of overfishing wrought of bad science, of bad MRFSS data; Data that sentences fishers to a public opinion of greed, a part of society that can not be trusted..
We have no idea how bright fishing's future truly is when finally given habitat's discovery & restoration. Because of the data, because we are forever locked in battle to get the best use of recreational quota, in constant search of how to get better regulations with poor data; We have left all the work of how to maximize fish stocks via habitat & spawning stock manipulation unused.. Hundreds of thousands of work-hours have been squandered because we had to make MRFSS' lies fit into a rational management model. 
The injustices of accusations of overfishing and the hidden injustices of delayed true restoration via habitat protection & enhancement is costing recreational fishers dearly.
In the very existence of our ocean bottom's life, Absent any knowledge of our nearshore & offshore reef ecologies; With no understanding of how regional over-fishing can play a dramatic role in localized fish populations; In the continued use of catch estimates so poor that very few in the general population even believe anyone would use them--estimates so bipolar that a slight increase in catch becomes catastrophic overfishing and any decline results in a no-catch estimate: Where the Magnuson Act requires the use of these as our best science, We have truly had a poor beginning.
I think it's time..
C'mon MRIP, C'mon Habitat.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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