Monday, September 02, 2013

Fish Report 9/2/13

Fish Report 9/2/13 
All Flounder – No CBass 
Regulatory Season 
Not Fond Of The Concept 

Reservation Book's Open. Now Taking Reservations Through October 15th.. 

Sailing Daily

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

See much more info at   

Bring A (not so big) Fish Cooler With ICE For Your Party.. We want to avoid keeping the chips & hoagies cold while fresh fish cook in a hot bucket.. 

Eight Hour trips $110.00 - 7AM to 3PM – Saturdays 6AM to 3:30PM - $125.00 

LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - Weather Cancelations Are 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..  


7,056 'Oyster Castle' Reef Blocks By The Rail. Now 2,111 at Jimmy's — 1,240 at Ake's. 

Another Truckload Coming. This is working, just need to reach a tipping point where others grasp the ability of small boats to build large reefs.. 

See if you'd care to help fund this truckload. Snailmail a check – any check! 

Greetings All, 
Been some great flounder fishing. 
Handful of brutally slow days too. 
Mostly good though. Outstanding even. 
Its amazing to see Lady Luck (cousin to Boethius' Lady Philosophy & Roman Goddess Lady Justice) run an individual angler's catch into the dirt or up into local legend. 
I've had guys who were routinely catching keepers in double digits struggle during their next trip while others caught fine. 
I saw Hurricanne Murray limit out. That was amazing..  
I saw a grown man whine about his sinker & get skunked while a twelve year-old girl (using the same size sinker) caught her limit two spots away. 
I've seen lots of folks who believed determined effort with their rod & rig would result in a catch, while others believed no effort on their part could possibly influence their cooler's weight of fish. All were correct. Many were rewarded with dinner for working their baits, while anglers offering no effort (sitting on a bench, rod on the rail) nearly always resulted in no fish. 
I also saw sharpies take a turn in the barrel.. Good anglers having an off day while others caught fine. This is when the knives come out, in fun of course; "Look Frank, George has ANOTHER KEEPER!" 

I'm pretty sure the mumbling was, "Gosh, I sure enjoy the challenge of flounder fishing." 

I do not know when sea bass will come back to the reefs. For the second time in my life it certainly appears they've left; appears flounder have run them out. 
To simplistic, I'm sure. Not seeing any sea bass to speak of though. 

Tropical weather will shake things up. Very glad to have made it through August without any. Some manner of storm will come and the fishing will all be different – completely different. 
I expect we'll be fluke fishing 'till then. 

Consider this: If a trawl skipper had quota he had to use – where would he tow? Before there was a such thing as quota where would he have towed? 
Rocks when they're rocked-up. 
Almost 75 years of stern-towed fluke fishing. 
Sometimes they were in the rocks… 
Cull coral to gather the fish. 

Regulatory Season Opens Soon. 

Our present 12.5 inch cbass size limit sourced from bad data; It's destroying a recently vibrant fishery. Where once all sea bass had joined the spawning stock by age one, now most await year three – that's right when they become legal. 

We restored our region's sea bass once. 
Now we have to do it again.. 

Fishery managers are not fond of the concept: Its Not Overfishing, Its Overregulation. 
If My Assertions Are True They'll Have To Lower The Size Limit. 

Was at a Council meeting a couple years ago just before an important vote when lead staff for a recreational species said: "Here are the comments from the Advisory Panel & Public if anyone would care to read them." 
No Council member read those comments at that time. 
But I'll bet lots of Council members read comments from their constituents in the weeks before  ..if there were any. 

For a long time catch estimates have made regulation cut & dry, our fisheries management formulaic & uninspired. Whatever catch a MuRFFS estimate claimed had occurred was feed into their computations & out would come three 'options' for public comment. 
A crap-shoot for fishers & fish; we've experienced closures and enourmos size limits based on outrageous assertions of catch that couldn't possibly be true, as well as situations where regulation is loosened. Our 16 inch flounder limit is, after all, a result of the new & improved MRIP estimate of ZERO summer flounder caught by Maryland private boats in May & June 2012. I would have believed it if, instead, MRIP had asserted no legal flounder survived beyond July in our back bays.. Officially underquota; managers allowed us another fish and lowered the size limit.. 

This year, however, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) adopted the Omnibus Amendment for Recreational Accountabilty Measures. Managers will be able to consider much more fully an estimate's worth as "science" & also be able to use the entire statistical spread. 
You see, when the new Marine Recreational Informational Program decrees, say, 100,000 flounder were caught; statisticians full answer will also include a margin of error estimate as well—a PSE or Percentage of Standard Error. The actual & entire answer to 'How many did they catch?' might then be "Maryland anglers landed between 60,000 & 140,000 flounder." 
If the 100,000 estimate would have kicked in "payback measures," now there will be consideration of the lower end of the estimate instead of just the centerpoint. 
Paybacks as required by the latest re-write of the Magnuson Act would create real punishment for imaginary catches.. 

I keep checking the MRIP recreational catch estimate website for May/June data, what they call "wave 3 landings."  
None posted. 
I hope that's because they're being real careful. 
If some previous estimates have gained noteriety because of glaring inaccuracies, it won't hurt statisticians' pride near as much as it hurt fishers' businesses. 

An "advisor" for sea bass, the Council sent an info packet for our mid-September meeting. This is much better than getting info the night or days before. 
But there's no landings, no catch estimates — no "New & Improved" MRIP recreational catch estimates.. 
Why do I think this is going to hurt?

The Council was kind enough to ask, "Are you aware of management issues that influenced catches?"
Glad they asked. 
Yes. Yes I am.. Management has been so captivated by error-ridden catch estimates for the last two decades that real biological response of sea bass to both spawning age/maturity & habitat have gone unnoticed. Sea bass along DelMarVa, despite the lowest fishing effort ever, will soon be at a lower population than before management began.  

Ain't striped bass. Ain't flounder or swordfish either. 
Sea bass are way down the list. 
Touted as 100% rebuilt; Sea bass are supposedly "Good as New." 
I fear truth lies far outside press release. 

But we did have it, saw incredible fishing in early management, saw fishing unbelievably better than in those dark days before management began. 

Perhaps at the core of sea bass's scientific & managerial failing is habitat expansion. Rocky bottom with suitably warm temperatures for sea bass have increased in Southern New England. Ice really is melting at the pole.. 

Coastwide sea bass population estimates pronounce cbass as "fully rebuilt" with a stable population. They're calculating for a target that existed before warming, they're basing their 'now fully repopulated' estimate from a smaller piece of coastal habitat with far-fewer rocks than currently exists.. 

As New England's waters grow a bit warmer, that warmth grows deeper. With more & more rocks available as habitat, a spawning jubilee is occuring for sea bass along that part of the coast. 

While not suitable for hard catch data needs & direct quota oversight, MRIP/MuRFSS can (with caution) be used to illustrate an incredible fishery transformation from just a few degrees of water temperature. From 1997 to 2004 Massachusetts Party/Charter boats averaged 1 sea bass for every 57.1 scup. From 2004 to present, however, they averaged 1 sea bass for every 5.1 scup.. For private boats it's one sea bass for every 24.3 scup before 2004 & 1 in 3.4 scup since.. 

Yes, there's some hinky data in there. Massachusetts private boats, for instance, are said to have caught MORE sea bass than scup in 2010.. 

Here too are the Massachusetts Party/Charter Annual Scup Estimates For '04 & '05.. 

2004 sets off flares in many estimates: Something Changed In Catch Calculations That Year. That's about when private boats began outfishing party/charter by a fairly wide margin.. 

Just this week I saw THE MOST private boats ever at Ocean City's Queen Artificial Reef – Eighteen. Although it reminded me of the Hunger Games, all those private boats multiplied by 4 anglers per boat wouldn't begin to make what the half-day party boat guys carry every day..  

Still, evidence abounds that there's more sea bass up north now. The region below Cape Cod has become very suitable to sea bass. They are, in fact, advancing above Cape Cod.. 

Very importantly, however, there are still plenty of sea bass in Georgia & South Carolina too. 
Because MAFMC's management zone begins north of Hatteras, no one can assert there's been a concurrent contraction of the sourthern sea bass population: For MAFMC's Purpose There's Only Been An Expansion Of Suitable Habitat From Warming – No Decline.. 
Habitat Fidelity noted by Kolek in 1990 and again in VIMS & personal tag returns, Fidelity was firmly established from Moser & Shepherd's "Seasonal Distribution and Movement of Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata) in the Northwest Atlantic as Determined from a Mark-Recapture Experiment." (2009) 
Increased production up north offers no benefit in the southern range — black sea bass will return again & again to spawn at the same inshore reef. They will "home" to their habitat. 

If management were hitting stride, today's cbass population would be far above their pre-warming conception of 'rebuilt.' 
If management recognized the effect on regultion from past errors in catch estimates there'd be plenty of room for regulatory improvisation. 
If management recognized habitat fidelity, shifting age at maturity, and the power of habitat creation & protection we'd be able to create a greater cbass population than has ever existed. 

In the second edition of the Black Sea Bass Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) source document (2007) there are errors, misquotes and omission of recent findings: simpler to write perhaps, just not accurate. 

I couldn't agree more with the document's opening, however: 
"One of the greatest long-term threats to the viability of commercial and recreational fisheries is the continuing loss of marine, estuarine, and other aquatic habitats." Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (October 11, 1996)
And, "The long-term viability of living marine resources depends on protection of their habitat." NMFS Strategic Plan for Fisheries Research (February 1998) 

I'd add: Our ability to restore fish & fisheries will eventually come to rest on our ability to create a habitat rebuilding plan from fishing's remembered past. 

Perhaps I'll mention corals & oysters in another comment..  

Here is a nearly impossible assertion from the EFH source document: Adult black sea bass growth appears to vary with latitude. Growth was nearly twice as high for fish collected in Massachusetts than for fish in New York and Virginia (Dery and Mayo 1988; Kolek 1990; Caruso 1995). A similar latitudinal trend was suggested by Mercer (1978) and Wenner et al. (1986) who showed fish from the Mid-Atlantic Bight were larger at age and grew faster than fish from the South Atlantic Bight. Adults show linear growth up to age 6 (Wenner et al. 1986).
Dery & Mayo's final conclusion from their paper: "Characteristic differences between the northern and southern stocks have not been documented, however." Strange thought if you believe a genetically identical fish is growing faster in colder water..
Indeed, in Dery & Mayo's figure 3; the very otilith aging sample most responsible for lodging the idea of faster growth in northern sea bass, there is a question mark (?) inserted in the work behind the stated age of the sea bass. This strongly indicates the authors' lack of confidence in the analysis.. 

In correspondence with NOAA's preeminent black sea bass scholar, Dr. Gary Shepherd, I asked about the assertion of faster growth in the northern range. He responded, "Length data shows bigger fish in the north but a slower growth rate." 
That corresponds with a genetically identical specie's response to longer growth periods. Like tautog; where water is suitable for feeding over a longer part of the year, growth is increased. 

This Is Nice: 
Several studies have suggested that growth rates are sex dependent in adult black sea bass, with females growing more rapidly than males (Lavenda 1949; Mercer 1978; Wilk et al. 1978). However, Alexander (1981) used otolith analyses of year 1 and older fish from New York to suggest that males grow faster than females.  


Schwartz (1964) showed that adult black sea bass stopped feeding when exposed to a temperature of 8°C {46F} (salinity = 15 ppt) and died when temperatures were reduced below 2°C. 

All our sea bass in over 105 feet of water would have starved to death this summer as temperatures didn't climb above 45 in the deep until late August.. 

Here's the part where science & management really get us in trouble. 
By their calculation there's an immense spawning population of sea bass. 
By my calculation we're taking nearly all of the spawners home to fry every year in this region. 
I caught more 5 pounders in any 3 days of 2003 than I did all this year. Those 5 pound fish must have been spawned under the then-new 9 inch (no creel limit) regulation. 
Now very, very few fish are escaping fishing effort to grow huge despite being spawned during the most highly regulated period.. 

Here in black from the EFH source document: 
Black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites, with fish changing sex from female to male as they increase in age and size. Age of sexual transition varies with latitude with females maturing and undergoing sexual transition at greater ages in northern latitudes (McGovern et al. 2002). Fish in the Mid-Atlantic Bight begin to mature at age 1 (8-17 cm TL) {3.14 to 6.7 inches – which is actually half age zero to early in age one} and 50% are mature at 2-3 yrs and ~19 cm SL {7.48 inches is solidly age one} (O'Brien et al. 1993). {According to modern work, age two to three black sea bass would not be 4.5 inches, they would be at least 8.7 inches — It is positively vital to understand AGES have changed in the science but everyone always had the same ruler: We must consider only lengths from earlier works.} The majority of fish less < 19 cm are females, {7.5 inches} while larger fish are transitional individuals or males (Mercer 1978). Detailed studies of sexual development and transition have been performed with individuals collected in the South Atlantic Bight and Gulf of Mexico, where the patterns are similar (Mercer 1978; Link 1980; Wenner et al. 1986; Hood et al. 1994). In the South Atlantic Bight, frequency of occurrence for transitional fish is highest at ages 2-5 yrs (Waltz et al. 1979; Wenner et al. 1986). Fish older than 4-5 yrs and > 210 mm TL are primarily males {8.5 inches is late age one/early age two..} (Hood et al. 1994). [I have only seen TWO under nine inch males in all of 2013 — before the 12 inch size limit we'd see HUNDREDS of sub-9 inch male sea bass every day] Maximum age and size of black sea bass are 7 yrs and 330 mm TL, respectively.{at 13 inches they all die?} The age and size of fish undergoing sexual transition has decreased as a result of increasing fishing pressure (Alexander 1981; Shapiro 1987). The frequency of large mature males also declined. A mark-recapture study of black sea bass in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, Georgia also showed that size distributions of fish decreased overtime as a result of fishing pressure in the South Atlantic Bight (Sedberry et al. 1998). Reproductive potential in black sea bass may be limited by the availability of large males (Shepherd and Idoine 1993). Reproductive output varies with the abundance of large males for other serranids that show strong spawning hierarchies and paired spawning (McGovern et al. 1998). However, black sea bass reproductive behavior has not been studied and the participation of non- dominant males in spawning could reduce the possibility that reproductive potential is depressed by the rarity of large dominant males (Shepherd and Idoine 1993). 

{I hold that age/size of transition to male in some sea bass is indicitive of that size female also joining the spawning stock. I fished a 9 inch size limit for the better part of a decade; self-regulation without State or Federal backing. Everyone else had 9 inches for a year. What we experienced then was as scientists advertised: All sea bass were spawning by 9 inches – some twice. We would catch a great many male sea bass just over & under 9 inches. To say we could catch a thousand small males in one day would not be an exaggeration. Males of 7.5 inches were not uncommon. This year, all year, I've seen 2 (two) male sea bass under 9 inches.. 

Fecundity is related to body size and age. Female fish 2-5 years of age in the Mid-Atlantic Bight release between 191,000 and 369,500 eggs (Mercer 1978). In the South Atlantic Bight fecundity ranges from 17,000 for age-2 females (108 mm SL) {4.25 inches? The assertion directly contradicts the sentence before.} to 1,050,000 for age 2- 3 fish (438 mm SL) {17.24 inches.. 12 inches of growth in one year? please.. What? That's NOT what Wenner wrote. His single 438mm cbass was, "a fish of undetermined age."] (Wenner et al. 1986). Frequency of occurrence for individuals in sexual transition may be highest just before spawning. 

This confusion is preventing managers from comprehending what we plainly see at sea — Advancing size limits have created a huge decline in the spawning population. The trigger to 'switch' from female to male remains elusive & may even include bull sea bass spiking younger males in the eyes. Whether in visual 'size-of-surrounding fish' cue, pheremonal response, or threat of brutal injury — I'm positive it's NOT overcrowding. I believe our habitat was at or very near holding capacity in 2002/2003. Following a precipitous population decline in early 2004 with a nearly continuous drop since, there has been no regression in age at maturity: Reefs are not at all crowded with cbass, yet age at maturity remains 2 years later than when management began. 

Our present 12.5 inch size limit sourced from bad data; It's destroying a recently vibrant fishery. Where all sea bass had joined the spawning stock by age one, now most await year three – that's right when they become legal. 

We restored our region's sea bass once. 
Now we have to do it again.. 

Fishery managers are not fond of the concept: Its Not Overfishing, Its Overregulation. 
If My Assertions Are True They'll Have To Lower The Size Limit. 

Not going to be easy..

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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