Sunday, April 06, 2014

Fish Report 4/6/14

Fish Report 4/6/14 
Help Wanted 
Boat's Almost Ready 
Recreational Summit 

Selling Long Sea Bass Trips May 19th to May 25th.. 
Be opening the rest of May & June to reservations before too long. 

Greetings All, 
A sad day. Mate Mike is leaving for a job in the real world. Among the best crew I've ever had, he shall be sorely missed. 
I am now in need of a deckhand if you know a flexible person looking for work. Not flexible as in working hours; flexible as in able to fold up into the small places in her bilges.. 
Seamanship will come. I need someone to cut bait, clean fish & scrub the heads; to pull and set anchors, tie rigs and work very long hours.. 
Applicants should email and be patient. I will respond.
Long winter. 

Mike & I just put a coat of super heavy duty non-skid paint on her aft deck. Dropping reef blocks overboard daily has costs: paint's just one. With 8,700 oyster castle blocks by the rail in two years; I'll see if I can take it to six-figures before my turn's over. 
Have a few more tasks, including non-skiding the forward deck. Get that paint on after this next rain & clean her up for clients. 

Then we're going toggin 
..and, I hope, training. 

I am humbled that so many contribute to the Ocean City Reef Foundation. Capt. Jeremiah of the O.C. Dive Boat has been steadily improving our website at and has recently added an email newsletter, plus Facebook. We're seeing a steady increase in the number of subscribers & have had two "name that reef" donations just this week. Also looking forward to a delicious Reef Dinner at the Marlin Club on Sunday, May 4th, from 4:30 to 7:30. An annual fundraiser; we'll have silent, Chinese, 50/50 & live auction items – even a Benelli shotgun. (Thanks Benelli!) Only a month away, tickets will be $20.00 and available soon. 
Please write if you have items to contribute to any of the auctions; we are in need.
It's going to be a fantastic year for reef building. Help make it even better. 

Anglers support reef building because it's what we live. Perhaps that's precisely why they don't get it near the top of NOAA & NMFS  - More Coral, More Fish. 

Always trying to help them see a clearer path toward restoration, I went to the Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit in Alexandria last week. Conference opened with our new ex-astronaut leader's comments on how the view from space blurs the lines, about a blue planet; about how "NOAA is a Science-Based service organization" and "Fishing is a mainstay of coastal culture." 
Following speakers Eileen Sobeck & Russ Dunn held-forth in flowery language about so many improvements since the last summit four years ago: Overfishing was ended, Communication was wonderful, Science was gaining ground, Fishing was better, MRIP was improved..  
Heard a lot about communication. 
You might not be surprised my view from the wheelhouse offers a different vantage. Here from notes I wrote as Dr. Kathy Sullivan gave her opening speech: Fishing's worse – Regulation's worse. Catch estimates are MUCH WORSE. Our goal of well-restored fisheries and fish habitat has grown more distant. 
Guess I'm not a company man. Ain't too worried about communications. Call it like I see it. 

But that's why I went. 
Four years ago I was wholly unsuccessful at my three primary messages. 
MRIP was due out any moment to replace MRFSS so no data argument applied – the repair was coming. 
Artificial reef was conflicted in the "Attraction vs Production" debate and dead in the water. 
My thesis on sea bass production based on age at maturity was greeted as if I were speaking the tongue of a heroin addict after a cold steel rail.. 

This time I beat the truth out of MRIP for two days. I did not have to refer to my notes to quote exact estimates. It did not appear as though anyone believed the estimate spikes I am trying to have repaired. 
When I quoted the raw "Observed Harvest" data, however; the number of fish field interviewers actually witnessed in data I shouldn't have seen; when I claimed only two sea bass had been extrapolated into 650,000 pounds of Massachusetts May/June, 2010, Private Boat catch; a very senior West Coast manager, a legend, called me on it. 
He said, "That couldn't have happened." 
I agreed that it shouldn't have happened & wrote it all out so there could be no mistake and gave it to him. Then I wrote it all out again and gave it to Forbes Darby. I've also posted it previously it in my 3/25/14 Fish Report and have requested the actual data in several different emails. 
There were at least 5 people at the conference, maybe a dozen, who could have pulled the data with a phone call. 
Wasn't happening. 
Maybe we'll have the exact number by May. 

MRIP's estimates stink to high-heaven. 
Under our new MRIP recreational catch estimating system, New Jersey's shoreline anglers caught 168,000 more tog than the entire Party/Charter fleet caught along the whole East Coast in March/April, 2010.  

Honestly, we should be arguing over the 9,730 Mar/Apr NJ tog shore estimate from last year. No one close to the fishery believes that estimate either. 
Instead, our new & improved estimating system is so out of measure, so out of touch, that we must first argue the insane. 

The old catch estimating system, MuRFSS, had this estimate at 74,000. 
Our long-awaited "New & Improved" estimate added 100,000 tog. A terrible old estimate was made much worse in the new.  
Yet MRIP's new estimate stands pat, remains unchanged; will suffer no examination or test ..and nobody believes it.  

MRIP published a reply in their newsletter to my repeated requests they back-up that NJ estimate: "..With these improvements in place, we can say with confidence that we have enhanced the quality of our estimates. In fact, the cases you cite are good examples for demonstrating exactly what we mean by that." 
Pretty sure I know what kind of communication that is. 

Same kind of communication as the "economic impact assessment" RFA demanded of NOAA after the 2009 emergency sea bass closure. From regulation that very nearly destroyed my life's work, an emergency closure that forced me to liquidate my savings and cast me deeper in debt: NOAA's economic impact study held that closure's consequence in Maryland to be under $1,000.00 per boat & claimed in Delaware the closure created a net loss of $19.00 per boat.. 
Pretty sure I know what kind of communication that is too. 

You better believe I'm trying to beat the truth out of MRIP. 

MRIP's estimates not only rob us of season & opportunity; they blind management to reality. 
NOAA/NMFS must create a quick-fix for both the spikes and the zeros in the MRIP estimates. Soon they must discover a means to discern truth in their recreational catch estimates. 
Wasn't just me at the summit. Very few seemed supportive of recreational catch estimates. Discontent seemed almost universal from recreational anglers around all coasts and islands. 

I'm confident NOAA heard the complaint about recreational catch estimates. 
But, as above, they're really focused on communication & messaging. 
I wish I were confident they'll attempt a repair of MRIP & not just controlling the message.  

Because habitat contraction is inextricably tied to fishing's long-term decline, we'll require habitat expansion/creation to foster long-term fishery restorations. 
Getting habitat right is crucial. 
Assuming an unchanging percentage of fish participating in spawning: If catch over time remains steady while habitat is expanding, then a fish population must be increasing. Conversely, if catch remains steady or increases while habitat is in decline, then a fish population will diminish rapidly.

No habitat surprises at the summit. As has been my previous experience, a spokesman for NOAA's habitat branch said some words & melted away. 
At a meeting in Gloucester last year a habitat squad marched in, presented arms, and marched out. 
I have no recollection of habitat-anything at the previous summit. 

"Improved Communications," however, had plenty of air-play. 
''s better, the data's better, we're all so much happier.' 
There's no doubt – Communication Is Better. If they want to build trust, however, they'll have to begin communicating truth. 
Where communications people always want improved communications, fishers want improved fishing. 
Sea bass fishing is not better. A result of MRIP estimate-spikes no one believes: Sea bass regulation is much worse. 
Goals of the communication-oriented grow closer while those seeking improvements in fish populations watch progress slip away. 

Consider our nearshore seafloor habitat's importance from a terrestrial perspective.. 
If 1,000 acres of forest were reduced to 100 acres – even 50, should we anticipate the same number of squirrels, raccoons, rabbits & bobcats living in the now far-smaller wood? 
If tasked, how might we manage those animals' restoration? Would tree planting be seen as a vital aspect of squirrel, raccoon, rabbit & bobcat restoration? 
Bobcats & rabbits don't live in trees. What's the connection? 
If restorationists could influence what age, younger/older, these animals began to have offspring; could they envision using that management ability as part of a restoration strategy? 
..or, like NOAA/NMFS, would these woodlands restorationists only employ hunting controls & improved communication while incredibly talented habitat squads remain ignorant of the historical forest footprint. . .

NOAA has the hunting control part down-pat. 
Better go buy a fishing license. 
Mandated so MRIP would have an actual count of fishers; MRIP might begin to use the federally-mandated fishing license data in 2015. 

Habitat in the form of oyster & coral reef restoration can turn the ocean blue – will. 
Habitat can fill our estuaries and nearshore seas with clear water and boundless increases in fish. 
But not sitting on a shelf; not from the silent, unknowing, habitat section. . .

The last session before the summit wrapped-up offered, among many, a break-out group called, "Innovation." 
There I was able to delve more deeply into sea bass population expansion/contraction owing to spawning age at maturity. 
Almost felt like the idea had traction. 
There are folks in high places who would like to see experimentation with age at spawning's influence on production. 
Others roll their eyes.

Before NMFS' new CINC, Eileen Sobeck, closed the event with her encouraging words; one of the last speakers concluded: "With no more fish in coming years but a larger population of anglers, how are we going to split it?" 

There seemed to be agreement with that sentiment around the room. 

Oh man.. This is it? This is all fishery management has to offer? 
I strongly disagree with any notion that fishery management has done all it can in the Mid-Atlantic. 
In fact, I'd be more inclined to argue we've overstepped this first phase's usefulness. Catch Restriction really has done all it can. This is all it has to offer. It's now more of a hindrance. 

I believe the real magic in fishery management has eluded NOAA/NMFS thus far. 

I'm certain we can take the sea bass population to greater numbers than we've ever known. 

When finally weened from using shell for artificial oyster reef, when we're using boulder & rock as a substrate and offering natural spat lots of vertical surface away from siltation; when we're allowing oysters to make their own shell instead of mimicking dead reef with dead shell: Soon oyster reef restorationists will have begun to turn the ocean blue again. 

Those who argue against artificial reef ought seriously consider the oyster. Been using shell for about a century – no reef restoration. I hear-tell Harris Creek, however, with its many bargeloads of rock, is showing wonderful signs of success. 

I suspect the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative will demonstrate industrial reef units before too long. 

As has always been the case, there are some who believe artificial reef only "attracts" fish, that reef building only serves to make recreational extraction more simple. 
I met polar opposites in this regard at the summit. 
A legend, Dr. Bob Shipp holds NMFS' assertion we must "rebuild" red snapper in the Western Gulf as a farce. (I wrote exactly that years before reading his work) Dr. Shipp's fantastically-deep research has revealed there was no reef/red snapper fishery at all in the Western Gulf before man-made structures were built. How can a fishery that never existed demand restoration? 

I also met another fellow who was positive far-greater powers had the real control over our fisheries - a conspiracy. He thought what I considered short–sighted management response owing to bad data—and that response creating ever-worsening regulation, was really being cleverly controlled by forces we know not. 
This same fellow described how when fish spawn on artificial reef all the larvae settle to the bottom and get eaten – there's no 'production' value there. But you can go to an artificial reef where fish are concentrated and catch fish.. 
I asked him to envision removing all man-made structure from the Gulf – Where would all the reef-fish go? 
"They'd go to natural reef." 
"Wouldn't removing artificial reefs actually concentrate reef-fish then, and putting artificial reef back disperse them?" 
"Lets talk about this later." 

There's a well-populated body of science describing seafloor/bayfloor habitat damage from stern-towed fishing, oystering & clamming gear. 
While we know almost precisely the oyster bottom that's been lost in the Chesapeake & Delaware Bays; we know virtually nothing of the nearshore hardbottom reefs in our part of the ocean. 
Abundant evidence exists in fishing's history, however; tales that paint a clear picture of reef habitat lost forty & more years ago. 

We really are down to 50 or 100 acres of trees.. 
Hunting controls alone will not restore the woodland's animals.

I promise – We have the ability to create, to manage for exponential population growth in some fish populations by manipulating spawning age. 
I also promise habitat improvements from reef restoration/protection can intensify or create magnificent fishery production increases. 

To make communication resonate it has to be true. 
When NOAA Learns To Make More Fish, We'll Get The Message. 

That's communication I look forward to. 

Meanwhile, contribute to a reef program. is a great place to start. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

Blog Archive