Monday, July 01, 2013

Fish Report 7/1/13

Fish Report 7/1/13 

Sea Bassing Continues 

Flounder/Fluke Tease 


Plain As Day  

I've fished for sea bass my entire working life. 

I see spawning sea bass every single trip this time of year. 

I've endeavored to learn & understand fisheries science these last 25 or more years.. 


Sailing Everyday Weather Will Allow

Reservations For Sea Bass Trips at 410 - 520 - 2076. 

See much more info at 

Saturdays Often Have Room In High Summer While Weekdays Book-Up..  


From Coastal Fisherman: See Our Latest "Show You Around The Boat" Video (many regulars have pics in it) For New Clients. 


Rescheduled our "Back to the Deep" trip for Sunday, July 7th. Take a couple guys –- not as deep, no goldens — Jig for sea bass and bluelines (bait's OK too) — 2:30AM till 7 PM(ish) — $300.00 — 8 Sells Out (so crew can fish some too!) — Three Spots Remain — Boat Goes Slow & Not In A Straight Line As I'm Also Looking For New Spots — Manual Reels Only With No More Than 2 Hooks (No Electrics On Any Trip) — Weather Sensitive — Leave A Good Contact Number — As Always, Mates Work For Gratuities. 


Regular 8 Hr trips $110.00 - 7AM to 3PM – Saturdays 6AM to 3:30PM - $125.00 

LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - Weather Cancelations Are (far too!) Common - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way.. 


Be A Half Hour Early - We Like To Leave Early.

Clients Arriving Late Will See The West End Of An East Bound Boat..  


5,496 'Oyster Castle' Reef Blocks By The Rail. Now 1,608 at Jimmy's — 698 at Ake's.. 


Greetings All, 

Despite some excellent fishing, even near limits, since my last; I'd say sea bass fishing has settled into a summer bite — a pick. Sending folks home with dinner; some days much better. 

Starting to get more indications of flounder turning on too.. 

I anticipate when this weather pattern breaks, seas will settle & we'll have a clean-shot at the flounder/sea bass reef trips we've been doing in July/Aug for some years now. 


Anticipate being the key word concerning flounder: anything could happen. Whatever that may be, It's Not Happening Yet.. 



One day recently I had a bachelor party aboard. True to form, they'd had a bit too much fun the night before. Seemingly vengeful, the sea was prepared to make these young men pay. 

Trust me: You need only experience a hangover in rough weather once. 

Living that life-lesson, they provided remaining anglers with premium chum, a not unheard of commodity aboard the Morning Star. 

Those young men dehydrating in every venue & wanting nothing more than to get ashore; I concocted a story about new regulations in the aftermath of cruise-liner food borne illnesses.. 

"Because more than 25% of today's passengers have sea flu, we'll have to anchor near the quarantine buoy ten miles south of Ocean City until a Coast Guard medical team can determine cause of illness.. 


A couple of the surviving revelers picked up the thread: "It might be after dark before we get in." 

..such pitiful moans. 


With this weather pattern cooking the West Coast and a perpetual t-storm warning along the East Coast, its best that EVERYONE be mindful of seasickness. 


Dramamine is such cheap insurance. 



We've had a curious development with red hake, aka 'ling.'  

I've seen more ling in the last few weeks than in the last few decades. 

Management always & forever claiming to use our "best available science," we have no management/regulation whatever of red hake in these parts. In fact, for management's purpose they have ALREADY been chalked-up as a victim of climate change: Science Sez — You'll never see them again.


But here they are. 

Some at least. 


I tagged a small cod, a true cod, Saturday. My crew had to net a few pollock. I've deep-fried ling for dinner twice in the last two weeks. 

Inshore boats have had a sign of triggerfish. I expect to hear of spadefish soon if they haven't already shown. 


Northern fish that we've always had & southern fish that we've always had: All diminished considerably from their heyday and often much further offshore in better water—but found throughout as in our region's oral tradition. 


It is getting hotter. Ice melt's no joke. Ships routinely cross the NW passage above North America where centuries ago men gave their lives in search of an open-water path to the Orient. 

Labrador current carrying ice-melt waters deep & south: Slow, Low & Inshore.

Gulf Stream & Wind-driven warmer surface waters pushed north — even into Buzzards Bay. 

Our waters will remain colder on the bottom, warmer on top for a while more.  

After the ice melts, after it's all gone, then we'll see a Mid-Atlantic much different than we've ever known. 


But why then have ling been gone so long? 


You may know that the earliest stages of a red hake's post-larval settlement involve living inside a live scallop from when it's about a third of an inch until it's about 5 inches long. 

I did work years ago correlating closure of a huge area of Georges Bank's scallop grounds with a corresponding expansion of Mid-Atlantic scalloping effort — which was followed immediately by a steep decline of our red hake. 

Scallops get the red carpet in both science & management. 

Red hake -a little one found in nearly every scallop I'm told– get a flick of the shucking knife.. 


Perhaps there's a local scallop population flourishing that's allowing a resurgence of red hake. Perhaps a closure in some of the Hudson's Mudhole is allowing their spawning success to increase.. 


I'm certain scalloping is a sustainable fishery. (and delicious)  

If we are to embrace ecosystem based management, however, then a closer look at red hake's juvenile habitat is in order. 

While we eat scallops, lots of other critters eat red hake: Bluefin tuna, sharks; I've seen 'em in sea bass & summer flounder — pretty much anything big enough to consume one: Red hake are an ecosystem component. . .  



We've seen the recent re-collapse of cod because NMFS's regulatory model failed to account tagging data going back to the 1880s.. Tough regulation within the Gulf of Maine on cod populations softened to almost nothing when that population migrated to below Rhode Island & south. 

Because management did not recognize that the sudden & enormous increase in cod from Block Island south in early 2011 was Gulf of Maine fish swimming south to escape snow-chilled coastal waters—and not Georges Bank fish swimming across the Great South Channel—managers blamed the sudden evaporation of GOM cod on 'Climate Change.'


A coincidence I'm sure.. Odd that the recreational catch estimating program, MRFSS, final set of estimates included a utterly fantastic assertion of catch that would explain much of the disappearance of those GOM cod. 

If, that is, no one looked closely at the wave data. 

With part of the period closed to fishing in 2010, there was an incredible spike in Massachusetts private boat landings for April; up from 2,500 in 2004; to 2,500,000 in 2010.. 

While 2 million of those late winter/early spring 2010 cod were throwbacks; 2010 was the first year ever (despite every cod tag return that has ever occurred) where ALL recreational cod discards, our throwbacks, were counted as dead discards.. 

For-Hire skippers assure me that up there, as with tautog here, there's practically no private boat cod fishing effort in Mar/Apr.. 


I believe multiple snow storms—the storms that shut our tog down very early in January 2011 but then came back on as bottom temps rose a bit: That snow melt created a dispersion event in GOM cod -- There Was No Fishing-Caused Collapse Of GOM Cod, Just Natural Dispersion. 


Fishery Science Needs To Allow For Things Natural Even If They Don't See Them Coming. 



Management will not concern itself with cbass production from a new or restored 1/4 acre reef, a real annual increase of several thousand fish available to fishers. They will not worry over maximized spawning potential nor the vital need of including habitat fidelity in quota management; Not while swings of several hundred thousand fish in a state's landings seen in catch estimates scarcely merit a shoulder-shrug.. 


I've fished for sea bass my entire working life. 

I see spawning sea bass every single trip this time of year. 

I've endeavored to learn & understand fisheries science these last 25 or more years.. 

What science claimed decades ago about spawning sea bass was true: They used to spawn even as young as 5.5 inches — always before they'd become 9 inches. 

Now none of our fish have spawned by 9 inches. The only ones I see running ripe with roe & milt are either being measured to see if they're 12.5 inches — or just iced in a cooler. 

Our local decrease in sea bass production is not related to over-fishing. With emergency closures, tighter & tighter regulation, plus a recession; its very safe to say that sea bass effort has never been lower since 1990.. 

Because management has reacted to ludicrous catch estimate assertions as though handed down by Moses over the years, we have a 12.5 inch size limit forcing a biological change in age at maturity. 

It's plain as day. They spawn 2 years later than they used to — Right when they become legal.. 

The erosion of our local population is steady. 

Tighter & tighter regulation is resulting in fewer & fewer fish being spawned. 

Instead of production outpacing removals by a wide margin as we had in the late 1990s/early 2000s, we're precariously balanced, we're taking ALL of our region's production — even though commercial & recreational effort is at its historical nadir. 


In 1996 the Joint ASMFC/MAFMC Black Sea Bass Plan Adopted. 


In 1997, published too late in '96, management began with a 9 inch limit. Listed as a goal is increasing the size limit to 10 inches. 


A coincidence I'm sure; in 1998 we get that size increase and a late summer closure because of a 1,220,000 fish increase in NJ's for-hire estimate to over 3 million. 

Then, with only that 1 inch size increase, NJ for-Hire's 1998 catch-estimate dropped to 186,000 or about 3 million fewer sea bass the following year.

A 1,220,000 sea bass spike -- 1 state, 1 mode: There were no other spikes in any other state's data nor in NJ's private boat estimates. 

And THAT is how we got to 10 inches. 

I supported it. 


In 1997 combined estimates for catch amount to 4,721,000 sea bass boxed-up by anglers. Of those, 799,000 fish were thought harvested by private boats -- 10.8% Private Boat vs 89.2% Party/Charter. 

2012's Emergency Closure was based on estimated landings of 1,769,000 sea bass. But in today's fishery MRFSS/MRIP credits private boats with catching 1,205,000 of them or 68.1% - some 6X the percentage of the fishery private boats had held earlier. 

Its not as though outboards are a new invention. Even allowing a million fish here and there, the RESULT of regulatory tightening is seen plainly on the party/charter side -- our catch is actually, visibly reduced when regulations tighten; but catch erupts wildly & uncontrollably then subsides swiftly on the private boat side.. 

I seriously doubt private boats accounted 5% of Maryland's sea bass landings in any year ever. While that percentage changes by state, I have yet to meet a skipper who thinks private boats are landing more than half. There's a method to truthing catch-data here, of calculating for-hire's percentage of the fishery with Vessel Trip Reports -- VTRs can help paint a much clearer picture than MRFSS/MRIP alone..


In 2001 we had a size increase to 11 inches and a spring closure.

With a beautiful, fast 90 foot party boat carrying at about 2/3rds capacity I landed 29,626 bsb in Sept/Oct, 2000. I was running one of only 3 boats going from MD in fall & certainly the only boat going daily. Fishing was very good.

MRFSS has MD for-hire wave 5 landings at 237,307 with a PSE of 51.4 - The centerpoint of this estimate is absolutely at least 180,000 fish too high. The PSE spread goes from zero to 485,000 sea bass.. 

NJ's estimate too played a hand in this 2001 regulatory tightening as they shot from 242,000 sea bass in fall '99 to a solid 3/4 of a million in fall of 2000. They also caught 'just' 178,000 sea bass in May/June 1999 increasing to 698,000 in May/June a year later. No other states showed an increase in late spring although NY's summer estimate climbed from 6,500 in '98 to 42,000 in '99 then to 209,000 in year 2000..

3 states, 3 two-month wave periods - 1.3 million sea bass.


2002: increase to 11.5 inches & no closed season -- NJ "catches" over 1/2 the quota according to the estimates and that's that. NJ Party Charter 1,184,000 cbass / 567,000 from private boats.. Over half of the entire US catch..


Owing to MRFSS assertions concerning NJ, in 2003 there was an increase to 12 inches with a short fall closure -- NJ declines slightly in 2002 while DE increases from about 110,000 in 2001 to 560,000 sea bass in 2002.. MD's up 200,000 from '01 to '02..

MD for-hire 'catches' 311,000 sea bass, but again I'm absolutely positive this is at least 100,000 too high.


To be sure, there was an increase in abundance & catch along DelMarVa & southern NJ from 1995 to 2003. However, the increase is over-represented in the catch data even though it was the best sea bass fishing I've ever seen. 

The regulatory history is driven by single mode/single wave/single state estimate spikes and not broader multi-state/multi-mode/multi-wave increases; Its either private boat or party charter and never both. Our catch increases are rarely seen across time in estimates as they truly are in real life; Statistically they happen swiftly inside a two month period and melt away..


Once the size limit hit 12 inches & then 12.5, sea bass production fell off in the southern Mid-Atlantic & so did catch.

The Spike-Free Regulatory Peace from 2004 onward was shattered when our smallest quota ever was "exceeded" in 2009. . .


No one in management can see a way forward to reducing the size limit w/o severely reducing the creel limit too: The Numbers Have To Balance. 

But the numbers that got us to 12.5 inches are no different than that 2010 NJ shore tog estimate of 174,000 fish — concoctions. 

Bad estimates have severely impacted our region's sea bass production. The problem will continue to worsen as production shifts further offshore. 

Fishery Science Needs To Allow For Things Natural Even If They Don't See Them Coming.. 

Management knows bloody well they've been fed a steady diet of WAGs concerning recreational catch. 

Reducing the size limit by half an inch at once & again next spring will reinvigorate nearshore sea bass production. 

Habitat, Habitat Fidelity, Age at Maturity: Here is where management's focus is needed. Catch restriction long since carried too far; its hurting the fishery.



Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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