Thursday, October 06, 2011

Fish Report 10/6/11

Fish Report 10/6/11
Cbass: Weather & Whether 
Weather through the remainder of cbass season looks good. I have long trips scheduled for Saturday & Tuesday--last day. Also have regular 8 hour trips set up for Sunday & Monday. Reservation Line 410 520 2076
Whether the accelerated spawning we experienced for decades was a result of more young fish spawning or young fish learning to spawn earlier makes no difference---Spawning Was Accelerated: Fish & Fisher Benefited.
Hi All,
Most days quite fine since my last; Even had a fluke-fisher limit on cbass. Mad at 'em; I think all he really wanted was a hole to get at his flounder.
Clients typically have been in the mid-teens with some in the 20s.
Blues too continue, mostly in fine size -- not the jumbos that destroy rigs and keeper cbass.
Weather has played a bigger role in our success or failure recently. Tuesday was foggy, Wednesday's current required 12 ounces, Friday 16; Monday we had one heck of a thunderstorm -- But we caught FISH.
The 4th & 5th were much less successful in high NW winds. Couldn't quite get where we wanted to be. Well, I did get where I wanted to be Wednesday, but my hi-tech AirMar anemometer was showing 27 knots while at anchor..
Typical NW trap -- lured offshore in forecast; forced to beat your way back.
Still, most days have been very kind.   
Believe me, when clients drop and each rod arcs --when every pole along the rail is bent-- fishing is good.
Been a lot of that lately.
Weather through the remainder of cbass season looks good. I have long trips scheduled for Saturday & Tuesday--last day. Also have regular 8 hour trips set up for Sunday & Monday.
Due to MRFSS asserted recreational overfishing, sea bass will close on Oct 12th & reopen on November 1st.
This is also why we have the 12 1/2 inch size limit--because of repeated MRFSS reports where private boats have just crushed all sea bass catch records despite regulatory constraints.
Regulation balances what management thinks we can safely take while still having more fish at year's end -versus- what we are said to have caught in catch-estimate: When overfishing is thought to have occurred size limits go up, seasons grow shorter & creel limits shrink...........
Now: Sure seems as though MD DNRP has run out of jet skis -- EVERYONE'S been getting checked; Each boat's fish measured.
Checked 4 times lately, only one ticket. Everyone knows I have zero tolerance for short fish: Still, a group of 8 guys likely measured 1,000 fish between them (Yes, fishing is that good) and had 3 just-under fish in the box.
One guy got sloppy and, Fair Enough, was fined.
Rules are rules...

But how did the cbass size limit get to 12 1/2 inches? Is it doing any good? Is this effective management?  
Years ago, 1992 thru 1998 --before real regulation began-- I saw the benefit of a 9 inch size limit and made a boat rule of it. We encouraged folks to measure long, to give a 1/4 or even 1/2 inch cushion. (micrometer now - 12 1/2 fries)
That 1st size limit agreed perfectly with my own observations; What science claims was true then: Yes, by 9 inches every sea bass has spawned.
The literature also claimed some sea bass would have spawned twice. I couldn't argue against it; Made sense to me.
Now cbass regulation has completely escaped the veil of sound science. Present-day recreational regulations are based solely on MRFSS catch estimates. 
The difference in the fishing between the 80s & 90s was phenomenal. Throwing back smalls really made an obvious & wonderful difference.
The black sea bass "Essential Fish Habitat Source Document" (no mention of reef here either) has sea bass transitioning from female to male between 23.9 & 33.7 centimeters. (9.4 to 13.2 inches)
We used to see --and is reported in the literature-- many 7 inch fish already transitioned too. Indeed, the source document repeatedly references 19 cm (7.48 inches) as an adult fish.
When lit-up in spawning color, male sea bass --blue heads or knot heads-- are very simple to spot. It follows that where small 7/8/9 inch sea bass are observed to have transitioned, there ought to be active females of similar or same size.  
By far the best cbass fishing I've ever seen was 2003. Well into management; we limited-out the whole boat as often as not--everyone aboard kept 25 cbass.
In 2002/2003 I noted far fewer smalls displaying blue hues associated with fish already transitioned to male and, presumably, engaged in spawning; That a result we were witnessing when the the stock quickly ballooned with the first recreational creel limit in 2002 was far fewer small fish were in spawning display. A very mature population; I honestly thought we must be near habitat capacity, that we couldn't possibly have many more sea bass on the available reef habitat.
When our region's cbass population was cut in two during early 2004 (Feb/March) by concentrated winter trawl targeting summer flounder, I assumed small fish would quickly rejoin the spawning stock; That, again, nearly the entire local population of cbass would be in the spawning stock.
In 05, 06 & 07 I thought there must be some 'slowing' mechanism that prevented the majority of smalls (7 to 12 inches) from participating: I thought they would soon revert to the behavior I had seen for almost 20 years -- behavior noted in the literature of that time and still today: "all black sea bass have spawned by 9 inches, some twice."
Hasn't happened.
Not going to.
Sea bass appear to respond to visual cues. If there's a lot of 3 year old fish, the 1 & 2 year olds will remain far less active.
The notion that older fish are 'better' spawners likely originates in age/skill/experience/number of eggs: Whether the accelerated spawning we experienced for decades was a result of more young fish spawning or young fish learning to spawn earlier makes no difference---Spawning Was Accelerated: Fish & Fisher Benefited.
It is very rare now to see males below even 12 inches -- Transition, and therefore spawning, must now be delayed.
Believe me, we see that spawning delay in reduced production.
Management should lower the sea bass size limit by a half inch per year for 3 years to increase spawning potential..
It is absolutely true that low-profile reef systems are no match for any manner of stern towed gear; That almost a century of industrial fishing effort must have resulted in reduced reef habitat. 
It is absolutely true that age at maturity in sea bass is now noticeably older than it used to be; This must result in reduced spawning capacity.
It is absolutely true that using MRFSS catch estimate data as a precise measure, especially in a third-tier fishery, is unreasonable for regulation's purpose.
It is also true that our region's cbass population was exploding on new reef growth when I wrote "On the Recent Improvements of Live Bottom Habitats in the DelMarVa Region of the Mid-Atlantic Bight" in 2001.
And true that cbass as small as 7 inches were frequently seen in the spawning stock.
And true that each & every artificial reef built has contributed to the reef fisheries.
And true that habitat fidelity creates a crucial need of management in finer geographical scale..
..and true that management, on its present course of considering only MRFSS estimates, will have created maximum economic disruption in the recreational reef fisheries with minimal benefit to fish..

Change comes slowly; Here's a terrific opportunity to offer your thoughts.
I really like this project.. Take The Survey, but be prepared to think.
I think we can engineer far better fish populations. Not just better than now: Better Than Ever.
But not while stuck in this witch craze; Not when all our resources are focused on eliminating overfishing no matter how poor the data; And not in a system so narrowly focused on overfishing that even species collapse can go virtually unnoticed -- No Overfishing, No Alarm.   
There has to be some fishing for overfishing to occur
Had a weakfish for dinner lately?
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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