Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fish Report 3/25/14

Fish Report 3/25/14 
Who's Being Robbed? 

Greetings All, 
I've written a great deal about sea bass management over the years. Now I believe we've come to a place where we must either effect repair of sea bass management, or accept the fishery as "restored" while nearly 50% below its 2003 population. 
I would far prefer to base an increasing population from that time, rather than accept a laggard's win. 

I've recently learned catch estimates can be based on remarkably few fish being seen. The 2013 New York - July/August - Private Boat - Sea Bass estimate of a half-million pounds, for instance, shows 116,000 more pounds of sea bass caught by strictly recreational boats in two months than the whole East Coast's Party/Charter fleet caught all year. This fantastic assertion that NY private boats had their best-ever summer sea bass season post-Sandy is based on interviewers witnessing 73 sea bass.. 

Make no mistake, spikes in our recreational catch estimates have no bearing on field interviewers work. Their data is as close to pristine as we could hope for. Its what happens to their reports at the head office where our troubles begin. We must have and continue to get those field reports; how they're made into our estimates is what must change..

In the case of 73 observed sea bass it was initially reported to me that 33 sea bass had actually been observed to form the 500,000 pound estimate. Taken from raw data, it turns out there were 73, not 33. 
Accuracy is vital to me. I firmly believe "Science" must be Testable, Repeatable, Verifiable and Falsifiable. 
While just that sentence could stage a book or even a library of books - and has; Here though I want to point out that while I've heard concern expressed from the scientific community over my use of raw data that wasn't true in its strictest sense, I've not heard back concerning my many requests for more data, for similar data, for management's use of such data; nor has anyone expressed scientific outrage to me over the NY Private Boat estimate or any of the many other estimates I've pointed out. It's much more likely those NY anglers caught between 95 to 98% fewer fish than reported. Its a bad estimate that will create measurable economic burden upon the recreational fishing industry--perhaps for years to come. 

I've heard nothing concerning the NY estimate wrong by hundreds of thousands; But, off by 40 fish, heard back, "Hey, you got that wrong on the 33 sea bass data point."

As I demonstrated in my 3/16/14 report, catch-estimate spikes used to occur in the For-Hire fisheries. Though still not perfect, we fought for and demanded their repair. 
Now, and sometimes oh-so conveniently, the private boat estimates are often seen leaving earth's atmosphere instead. 

It's not just recreational fishers who are being robbed by bad estimates, it's the entire system. 
When a fishery is closed, but accusations of being over quota stem from an estimate without foundation, we're being robbed. 
When regulations are tightened, & tightened-again, based upon bad estimates; the robbery can go on for over a decade & has. 
When a fishery is disappearing & the only place anyone sees it going is into Private Boats Estimates – Look Out, there some's bad science ahead. 

Management sees the decline in sea bass too. Aside from "Uncontrollable Recreational Fishing Effort From Private Boats," there's also a lot of arm-waving over the scary warming-water monster. There was even a presentation using only Mid-Atlantic & Southern New England sea bass data about a year and a half ago. It conclusively showed sea bass were moving north – FAST. 

But that movement of an entire population of fish was MRFSS/MRIP based – found almost exclusively in recreational catch estimates. 
Looking at commercial landings alone would not lead to a similar conclusion. 
In this particular case, it seems no attempt was made to see if sea bass even existed below Cape Hatteras. It happens that at about the same time the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council was announcing to the world "Sea Bass Restored" - NOAA/NMFS' NE Regional Office was simultaneously concerned sea bass were fleeing southern reaches of the Mid-Atlantic owing to suddenly warmer water.. 

With sea bass still abundant along both Florida coasts, I think concern for Mid-Atlantic sea bass somewhat premature. Because the assertion "sea bass are moving north" is no longer included in that specific work, I've asked NOAA/NMFS for other supporting works. I've heard John Bullard say in Council session, "Sea Bass Are Moving North." I just don't know what that statement is based on now.. 

It is true that sea bass are expanding north in warming water. It is not true that sea bass are contracting in the southern Mid-Atlantic. 

Assertions of overfishing by recreational Private Boats cannot & will not withstand rational investigation. Recreational For-Hire data, however, very clearly shows a steep decline in sea bass catch which is Testable & Verifiable. 
Commercial fishers are, by and large, operating within their regulatory boundaries. There is no secret market worth more than their present reported landings. 
Neither Warming Nor Commercial & Recreational Overfishing Are To Blame For The Decline Of Sea Bass. 

Fishing's removals were far higher in the first 7 years of regulation. Catch restriction/regulation was much looser. During that exact time the sea bass biomass grew from approximately 15 million pounds to 39 million pounds. 
Now, with incredibly greater restriction in place, the population has not grown more at all: it's shrunk – by half. 
Had we not suffered MRFSS catch-estimate craziness, I believe we might have instead continued the trend of population expansion. 

Management's use of catch estimates as a singularly important tool in recreational management is responsible for this fishery's decline. 
With "Inherited Comfort" from whatever catch-estimate rests upon a computer screen blocking scientific curiosity, no NOAA/NMFS biologist can say conclusively whether sea bass "age at maturity" has/has not shifted; that comfort's also why natural nearshore coral habitats remain a mystery. 
Please remember, Marine Fisheries Restoration is a very young science. It wasn't long ago that any regulatory action, any at all, resulted almost instantly in a higher population of fish. That's where management's comfort stems from: Why Worry With Exactness Of The Estimates? What Does It Matter If Reef Habitat Is Increased? Tightening Regulation Always Increased Populations Before. . .

It is precisely true that from the regulatory tightening of 2003, our sea bass population has declined. Soon regulators will have to face their Pogo Moment: "We have met the enemy.." 

It remains true that my observation of hundreds, even a thousand, under 9 inch male sea bass per-day from pre & early regulation into the very early 2000s, is now balanced by seeing three under-9 inch male sea bass in an entire year – in all of 2013
That sea bass change sex does not complicate their management, it simplifies it. A kindergartener can be taught to sex mature sea bass. 
Its perfectly obvious we've shifted their age at maturity and that the population has declined steeply as a result. Our Mid-Atlantic sea bass are behaving as though their population is at Habitat Capacity. Sea bass are holding their own population in check. 
I believe that's only because of the recreational size limit. 

Habitat Capacity is a "just a theoretical" to scientists. But I think we were there in 2003, just 6 years into management. Dern near at least. 
It's not how tightly packed sea bass are on a reef, it's how big they are that controls what age they join the spawning class. 

Management's response to spikes in the MRFSS recreational estimates is why our size limit grew so large. Even though the population climbed straight up with smaller size limits & far higher removals over decade ago, now tighter & tighter regulation stemming from estimate spikes drives the age at spawning higher still – making spawning production, so necessary for continued extraction, taper away.. 

To fix it we must first unglue management from bad estimates.  

Below are two tables with "Fish Observed" in the right-hand column. It's the same sort of raw data that recently drew ire from my friends in the statistical world: These are not the actual numbers they would have used. 
But I've asked & asked.. Maybe, I gather; Maybe I'll get the real data a month from now. 
OK good. 
I'll write about the exact numbers then, after I get them. 
For now, I bet this raw data's really close. Incredibly closer than their estimates.. 

I'm hitting MRIP with everything I've got. I'm writing & visiting DC, I'm writing to State & Federal management all the time & I'm writing and speaking with the scientific and statistical community. 
This is a period of minor regulatory upheaval – We're "only" losing 5 fish off our bag limit & 15 or so days of season. 
It is not going to get better. 
It is going to get worse if we don't demand repair. 

Readers should write to their DC Reps and State Fisheries Directors – Fix the estimates! (throw 'Find, Protect & Repair The Corals' in too).. 

I'm convinced we cannot possibly re-restore sea bass so long as this vulgar cloud of disinformation lingers over the entire process. 
I believe our situation will grow far worse with sea bass if we do not act now. 

The 'warming water monster' should be management's best friend. In my experience, habitat expansion ought to lead to fantastic population growth. An understanding of habitat production, if management possessed one, would sound another loud klaxon over our region's sea bass population dip. 

Instead, no one wants to be the first to grapple fishery management's strange twist: Managed Fishing Pressure, "Fishery Management," Should Result In Greater Fishery Production. It really is true that an unfished population will be in balance: Births = Deaths. It is because we can exploit the tendency toward increased production from a population under stress that we can remove any fish, at all, yet still grow a population – without increased production our only choice would be to leave all populations alone.. 

Sea bass have simply had the sad fate of being the first marine species where we've discovered how to slow production.. 
Instead of making them spawn young and giving them lots of habitat; We're forcing them to spawn 2 or more years later and remain ignorant of habitat. 
A Perfect Recipe For Reducing A Population. 

See Two Tables Below. The "Observed Harvest" in the bottom one could be off by a lot. Instead of two sea bass becoming 645,000 pounds of Massachusetts Private Boat Catch, there may even have been an order of magnitude higher, maybe there were even 20 or 30 sea bass "Observed" that became 645,000 pounds of MAFMC Recreational Quota.. 
By whatever means these statistical calculations are being done; denying management honest catch estimates is undoing the whole restoration process. 

That needs to get fixed. 
We could be well on our way by the fall of 2014 if we begin soon. 
DC is your complaint department. 
Write. Tell 'em to fix the recreational catch estimates. 

My Regards,

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

Several New York Private Boat Sea Bass Summer Estimates, With Raw & Actual Observed Harvest for 2013. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSERaw "Observed Harvest"
And Actual Number 
 Sea Bass Witnessed  
FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS53,74052.579,97450.5?
FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS127,87159.1246,01060.7?
PRELIMINARY2013JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS236,77933.1510,14134.733 Raw — 73 Actual 

Massachusetts Spring Sea Bass By Mode With Observed Harvest Based Upon Raw Data. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSERaw Data: Fish Seen In Field Interviews AKA  "Observed Harvest." 
Awaiting Corrected Data










Blog Archive