Friday, December 16, 2011

Fish Report 12/16/11

Fish Report 12/16/11
Going Cbassin'
Golf Course Geese
Hi All,
Looks like a nice calm shaping-up just in front of Christmas, 22cnd & 23rd; Another shot sooner--Monday.
I don't anticipate limits of cbass, but I do expect good action with maybe some bluefish & cod
.. I hope spiny dogs have moved on or been caught.
Mixed results from jigging recently; Fun when its right.
Long Cbass - Monday, 12/19/11 - Then Again On Thursday & Friday 12/22/11 & 12/23/11 -- 6 AM to 4 PM - $125.00 -- 18 People Sells Out The Boat.
Highs in the 50s, light winds; We'll paddle on off and see what we see..
Reservations at 410 520 2076 required. Please arrive 1/2 hour before scheduled departure with food, water, beverage & a medium-sized cooler w/ice for fish. Bait is provided, Jigs are not, but you're welcome to bring either. We often -almost always- leave early. Show up late and you'll see the west end of an east bound boat.
Maybe, just maybe, we'll sneak a sea bass trip in between Christmas & New Year's too.
Tog opens January 1st, 2012 - I'll go when weather allows; Will still announce off-season trips via email as I have for many years. Its just not worth it to constantly fight the forecast. We'll "go with the tape" as they say in the markets. 
Went to Williamsburg Wednesday. Not sightseeing: Trying to advocate a course correction in how sea bass are managed..   
Expensive, but glad I went.
Joint ASMFC/MAFMC meeting: Scup, sea bass and summer flounder recreational quotas all seemed to come out of it OK considering recent years.
Heard a LOT of talk about regionalizing sea bass management. Suspect there are other species in similar consideration.
I guarantee some folks there think I've lost my marbles; Think dropping the cbass size limit while building new and protecting natural reef - In conjunction with creating regional quotas that better control fishing's impacts on distinct habitat-defined populations is no better an idea than simple catch restriction..
"There's NO EVIDENCE there are different sea bass populations. We have no genetic proof these fish have distinct regional stocks," one Commissioner went-on.
Its certain that different 'species' offer genetic variations useful to management. Fisherman can see weakfish & spotted trout are different, black & red drum too; but fine-scale genetic differences--differences requiring incredibly sophisticated scientific equipment--are of no use at sea.
It makes no more sense to apply a single set of sea bass regulations from Brownsville, Texas to Bar Harbor, Maine than from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod - the fish are too sensitive to regional overpressuring..
Geographic boundaries are well understood by all who venture out: Where tagging has identified the extent of regional reef populations to management, GPS can keep fishers from overpressuring the separate regional stocks via regulation: Here is catch restriction perfected.
............................................. marbles?  
I thought one fellow was crazy a few years ago when he spoke into the microphone, "Doesn't matter what we do. At night the foreign boats come in and scoop the fish up."
Maybe he's right. I sure think the Coast Guard's got it dialed in better than that though.
Then I heard a mid-level manager say this week, "Fishing was very good that year" while talking about sea bass in 2010 -- Refering to the exact data sets I used in my last two reports where, for instance, New Jersey private boats fishing in early fall caught 18 thousand cbass in 2007, then 161 thousand in 2008 but plummeted back to 33 thousand in 2009 while rocketing to 234 thousand in 2010 -- Those Jersey private boats caught 7.5 X more sea bass than the party/charter fleet in 2010 when just the year before they'd only caught half as many as the pros.. 
This bit of 'science' describing "how good fishing was that year" highlights management's use of MRFSS data to characterize recreational catch
...while the data we send in, Vessel Trip Reports or VTRs, is plainly prejudiced.
The Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey (MRFSS) is used to form management's foundation of reality. Its as real to them as waves we encounter at sea: Storm waves, rouge waves; wind-driven to increasing height & growing more dangerous with each set waves: the MRFSS catch estimates are every bit as real, as perceptible and necessitating of action to management as storm-driven waves are to fishers.. 
Sad lot that..
Management always says "We can't change it" when it comes to specific catch-estimates. Numerous lawsuits have failed. Estimates remain as they are.
Much to my amazement, at the conclusion of the Council/Commission's evening session they pulled chairs around and gave microphones to Dr. James Weinberg (NE Fisheries Science Center) Dr. Patricia Kurkul (her last meeting before she retires) Rick Robbins (Mid-Atl. Fisheries Management Council Chairman -- MAFMC) & Dr. Chris Moore. (XO MAFMC)
More proof current Chair & XO are really out to do this differently; There's maybe 10 of us in the audience. I'm front row. We get to ask questions.......
I asked Dr. Science Guy about the rise from zero to 7 thousand to 72 thousand in the NJ shore-bound tautog fishery for Mar/Apr 2010. I don't have his exact/precise quote yet and do hope it was recorded: He said, "That's a heck of a first question! It doesn't sound like a good estimate though; doesn't seem likely."
..and that's from the senior staff scientist.
Folks, including Dr. Weinberg, were saying all day how the new MRIP (MRFSS Rest In Peace or Marine Recreational Informational Program depending on how you see these things; MRIP is the new license-based recreational catch-estimate program) ..MRIP data comes out January 13th back-dated to 2003. Its three years behind schedule but, hopefully, worth the wait.
I think a lot of fishery science, a lot of fish population estimates & management measures, are going "shoe-soles over teacups" when MRIP's new catch data comes out..
Scientists & Managers are worried about that.
There's Anxiety.
Wouldn't Budge All These Years, Wouldn't Change The Worst Estimates, Wouldn't Even Change A ZERO when we turned in VTRs showing what we caught.
If it somehow drains away their life savings and leaves them sleepless while in want of a drink, they'll have a firmer notion of what bad data feels like when applied by management.
I'm glad they picked Friday the 13th..
I danced with habitat a bit; Top tier of management sitting right there: Really glad I went.
No one's paying my gas--buying my meals, I just thought it was a meeting I had to go to.
This Public Listening Session, this round-table is worth far more than my investment.
..then Dr. Kurkul finished by saying "I don't think we'll ever see fishing as good as it was.."
Talk About Negative Waves!
{see or Youtube search "Oddball negative waves" from the movie Kelly's Heroes if the link doesn't work. }
Dr Kurkul is retiring. She's fought a rear-guard action her whole career; Kept the whole thing from collapsing.
I believe the time has now come to advance beyond catch restriction, to fold habitat production into management's purpose..
I begged the mic one more time, told the small audience how refinements in management and attention to habitat can take the reef-fish populations higher than they've ever been..  
The many great & wonderful things we've accomplished in this country did not begin with, "We'll Never.."
We will have to stabilize regulation -a task made more simple with sound data- and begin to manage FISH, not just fishers.
We'll have to engineer population advances.
It's very difficult to convince people reef species we catch today are akin to golf-course geese; That these fish we so enjoy catching & cooking survive on just a fraction of the original habitat..
Think oysters for a moment; What fantastically rugged & complex reef -- Primordial.. How much is left? Zero? Less than 1%?
Small patches of elevated substrate where oysters are regaining an ecological toehold are far fewer than golf course ponds.
Many marine species use these oyster reefs that once stretched far into the Chesapeake, the Delaware. Sea bass, for instance, often hide and feed during their earliest life stages upon estuarine reef before heading out to sea. We have video of sea bass on artificial reef as far up as the Choptank River. 
NMFS claims sea bass are fully rebuilt.
I don't. They do.
Do manage to catch'em though ..and that's with less than 1% of our oyster reefs reconstructed/restored -- an Essential Fish Habitat if ever there was.
The nearshore corals I've so often written about, filmed: Have maybe 15% remaining -- Maybe.
I believe there are square miles of nearshore reef --in many places-- that's gone missing. We've put back square yards.
I've been looking for years now, trying to find tubeworms like we had between 1995 & 2003. Can't find a single patch to film.
Carried a drop camera at the ready, waiting to see squid spawning on inshore sea whip again: Its back in storage.
The deepwater reef growths could easily be lost--don't know. We have pictures of corals as tall as a man from the Washington Canyon & now search in vain for remnant colonies.
The ocean grows greener, not more blue; Cloudier, not clearer.
Pretty sad state.
Ponder this: A sweetwater biologist has a thousand acres with only one 2 acre pond that is already managed for production. Now he's told there must be 100X times more fish coming from the property. He already knows catching some fish is vital to making more fish; First Thing He'd Ask, "Can I Make More Ponds?"  
No. That's wrong.
He wouldn't ask. He'd just go hire people who build ponds.
When I examined commercial sea bass landings decade by decade I saw the 1950s were more productive than all decades since--put together: Better than the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s & 2000s put together..
Has to be habitat
..habitat that was lost in the catching.
Reef Restoration Makes Fishery Restoration Simple.
Ignorance & False Data Make It Hard.
Friday, January 13th, should be the beginning of the end for false data;  
then to Build Big Rock Reefs..
We've come this far with golf course ponds.. 
The Best Is Yet To Be.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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