Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fish Report 8/10/14

Fish Report 8/10/14 
Nice Bite 
Maine Sea Bass 
Coming This Week: An Opportunity For Repair

My Apologies To Those Watching These Reports For Deep-Drop Trip Announcements. The Weather Has Been Unfavorable On Sundays – Today, However, Would have Been Perfect. I Felt The Sea Bass Issue At This Week's Management Council Meeting Was More Important Than Going Deep & Enjoying A Perfect Day On The Water. 
Bringing Sea Bass Management Back On Course Is Hugely Important To Me. Sea Bass Should Be The Easiest Fishery To Manage.. 

Taking Reservations for August & September "Whatever's Biting On The Reef Trips" - We're Catching Sea Bass & Flounder. There's No Possible Way To Know Which Species Will Bite Better. Both Delicious: If you only want cbass or only want flounder you can watch the swallop-barrel to see which day you wanted to go ..that won't mean the same species will bite better again next trip!! 

Sailing Daily For Sea Bass & Flounder. Saturday's 6:00 to 3:30 - $125.00 – Otherwise 7 to 3 at $110.00..
Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - 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 always leave early! 
..except when someone shows up right on time. 
Clients arriving late will see the west end of an east bound boat. 

Sea Bass Are Closed For A Month This Fall, But Not Just October. They Close Sept. 22 & Re-Open October 18th. (Unless MRIP Catch-Estimates Again Claim Some Small Cluster Of Private Boats Caught More Sea Bass Than All Historical Recreational Landings Combined: Then, Despite Well-Understood Inaccuracies, Sea Bass Will Be Closed By "Accountability Measures" Until Our Children's Children Are In Charge..) 

Dramamine Is Cheap Insurance! Crystalized Ginger Works Great Too. It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure.  If You Suffer Mal-de-Mer In A Car You Should Experiment On Shorter Half-Day Trips First! 

Bring A Cooler With Ice For Your Fish – A 48 Quart Cooler Is Fine For A Few People. 
Bring Lunch & Your Refreshment – No Galley. Bring A Fish Towel Too.. 

Have 2 Truckloads Of Block Coming – No New Additions For Now..
10,294 Total Reef Blocks by the rail – 2,908 at Jimmy's – 2,106 at Doug Ake's – 1,063 at Saint Ann's – 548 at Eagle Scout Reef & 504 at Lindsey's Isle of Wight Reef.. 
Owing To Oyster Castle Popularity Along The Gulf Coast Where BP Restoration Dollars Are Being Put To Work – Owing To $upply & Demand - We'll Be Using A Variety Of Concrete Blocks From Here On. Coral & Fish Won't Mind A Lick.  

See "Videos" at for footage of Jimmy Jackson's Reef from 7/30/14 taken by Capt. Jeremiah Kogon while diving off my boat. Almost 3,000 blocks.. It's not pretty, Not Yet - there's no coral - but it offers proof of concept for boat-deployed small scale reef construction that grows larger. Tog, Flounder & Lobster Don't Seem To Mind Coral's Initial Absence.. 

OCRF Aims To Build Its Single Largest & Most Expensive Concrete Reef Deployment Ever This Fall. The Capt Bob Gowar Reef Will Become Home To Tautog, Sea Bass, Flounder – Coral & Mussels – Anglers Too. 

Donate - Please Sponsor Reef Building At
Thank You! 

Greetings All, 
Been some pretty fishing. 
Had a day where the flounder bite peaked in wonderful crescendo just before we headed to the barn. A steady bite all day, most aboard never imagined it could get better. 
Then it did. 

More common is a bright-spot in the day when anglers have to be in the groove & seize the moment. 
Mix of sea bass & flounder. Fishing's not unkind. 

Dropped a chartreuse flounder rig down until it was lost from sight Tuesday. Brought it up a touch until it was again visible, then measured. Forty Two Feet – That's how far down we could see..
Friend to reef building, Capt. Jeremiah's diving clients went overboard Saturday in approximately 75 feet of water. With masks on they could see the wreck from the surface, all of it. 
A persistent onshore wind has shown us what cleaned-up discharges from DE & Ches Bays could look like in the ocean: I believe oyster restoration could make this clear water event permanent.  
Recent events in Toledo show us another direction – city water unsafe to use: 
Unbelievably polluted, the Cuyahoga River fires of the 1960s are credited with creating the "environmental movement." 
Where we go with estuarine oyster restoration decides our fate at sea. Shell as a reef substrate has failed for a century. Progress is being made with rock. 
Where once marlin fed in blue ocean waters just a few miles of Maryland's coast, the ocean grows greener. Here we are offered a chance to see why blue is worth doing.  

Saw a fin the other day in this pretty water. Haven't done enough billfishing lately to recognize species. I have, however, seen innumerable dolphin & shark fins – big rays too; you can bet that fish had a very pointy nose. 
Inside twenty fathoms fish today where once there were thousands; another glimpse of what restoration will look like. 

Uh Oh: Maine is now catching sea bass. 
Some at least. This is a very new development. 
In the real-world it couldn't possibly matter. Owing to habitat fidelity our Mid-Atlantic sea bass population would not be impacted in the least if all of Maine, New Hampshire & Massachusetts's fish were completely wiped-out by commercial & recreational effort. 

But management hasn't grappled sea bass's expansion northward, not yet. In the regulatory world there's but one sea bass quota above Cape Hatteras – it's split 50/50 between recreational & commercial fishers: This New Sea Bass Production Among Newly Warmed Rocks Weighs Heavily On Traditional Areas Of Catch. 
In this world of hard quotas measured by weight when sold by commercial fishers, along with the stunningly illogical assertions of recreational catch-estimates, there is no mechanism for factoring in new habitat production; there is no method to open up new quota despite overwhelming evidence of rapidly escalating recruitment/production owing to suddenly & suitably warmer rocky habitat: this new fish production in new habitat is counted against old quota. 

How I wish there were a team of habitat/population ecologists/fishery analysts who would bring NOAA/Council/Commission up to speed on habitat production.. 
At a MAFMC meeting in December 2011 a senior Council Staffer was commenting on  my "Course Correction" piece. Concerning 'habitat production' this staffer said, and I quote precisely, "Whatever that is." 
Not a hallway conversation, this was into the microphone while Council was in session. 

It's vital that we bring real "at-sea fisheries" to the computer/paper/statistical image seen through management's eye. Theirs a far broader view, ours the hard-luck lessons of abundance turned to scarcity & vice-versa. . . 

We know zooanthellae-laden corals gain weight despite being denied food; so long as they have sunlight these filter-feeding animals become plant-like. Therefore, if rocky areas suitable for colonization by fertilized coral eggs and clear water exist where corals are spawning, one could expect an increase in coral production/recruitment owing to favorable habitat. 
If waters were instead a pea-green soup (such as we usually have in summer) and hard-surface for colonization absent, the coral population in such a location would, at best, remain constant. 

Overly-simple certainly; but because our waters are still solidly in the sea bass production sweet-spot all throughout the Mid-Atlantic, and because rocks surrounding Cape Cod & now far to the Cape's north are newly bathed in suitably warm water, we should expect sea bass production/recruitment to skyrocket in this recently-warmed & very rocky part of our ocean while ours remains somewhat more 'normal.'

The problem is, just as Massachusetts's cbass recreational catch estimates from 2009 onward created havoc in the traditional fishery's area, Maine's sea bass are almost certain to come off our Mid-Atlantic quota as well. 

Fishery science from 1977 has the sea bass fishery stopping at Block Island. 
Now it's gone around Cape Cod & keeps growing. 
No One Saw It Coming. 
Quota evaporates in catch from now-warmer waters, catch that never would have occurred when the management plan was being devised. At the same time, scientific measures of sea bass in coastwide total hide our true, management-induced, Mid-Atlantic sea bass population decline. 

A single Mid-Atlantic party boat would have easily caught what all of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire & Maine would catch annually between management's inception in 1997 to the mid-2000s or so. Despite high levels of catch, the sea bass population climbed sky-high. 
Now our cbass production is shut-down in the size-limit 'age at maturity' troubles I have so often described - science sees this diminished population and lowers quota. But they also see the population & extraction increase up north and lump it in with the New York to Cape Hatteras traditional fishery's total. The lower Mid-Atlantic's sea bass population has tumbled downward from its 2003 peak, while Massachusetts & points north climb from near-zeros with their new fishery. Escalating/increasing catch owing to new habitat production in a time of reducing quotas sets management on edge.. 

Sea bass are still doing fine along Florida's coasts. You can book sea bass trips in Georgia right now. The SAFMC has recently announced sea bass are "fully recovered." 
But, mark my words, a study with the sea bass section later withdrawn has lodged firmly in upper management's conscience. That study, whose sea bass section was based almost entirely on MRFSS catch-estimates, claimed "Sea Bass Are Moving North." 
Well, Yes; sea bass are expanding north. We can see that. Remember, however, Florida is still catching sea bass even in the far warmer Gulf.  
What top managers believe, unfortunately, is that sea bass are leaving the lower Mid-Atlantic for now-luxurious accommodations along Cape Cod. 
They are not thinking "expansion" - they have "exodus" in mind. Nevermind the solid result of habitat fidelity in every sea bass tag study; management somehow believes sea bass are fleeing the lower Mid-Atlantic sauna where we still catch some cod and never-ever catch red snapper. 

It's more convenient to believe the fallacy of exodus than dig in to discover truth.

Mahi-Mahi require almost no management around the world because "their biology makes them resilient to fishing pressure." 
Mahi (dolphin-fish/dorado) begin spawning in the first MONTHS of life. Regulators marvel at their productivity & cheer commercial & recreational effort on. 
Back when ALL of our sea bass were spawning during age-one, and some in the first months of life, the population climbed straight-up despite greater & greater recreational & commercial removals. We know sea bass, in those early years, were resilient to fishing pressure because they spawned young. THEY WERE SO RESILIENT TO FISHING PRESSURE THAT THEIR POPULATION IN THE TRADITIONAL FISHERY'S MID-ATLANTIC REGION GREW EXPONENTIALLY DESPITE RISING EXTRACTION. 
Sea bass's five-decade population high was just six years into management - 2003. We can  extrapolate a higher-still population from trawl/trap landings of the 1950s, but the early management period had our greatest population of current memory.. 
That population grew exponentially, it doubled & doubled, with no bag limit & no closed season – just a size limit that forced sea bass to start spawning young and a recreational release ratio that ran about 30%.. 

I've pointed out the exact catch-estimates that brought our sea bass fishery to its knees. Or rather, management's response to those bad estimates that drove the size limit to a point where sea bass's "habitat capacity" alarm is triggered. 
Sea bass are no longer resilient to fishing pressure because we've tricked them into a 'habitat at population capacity' spawning response. Because they begin spawning later in life they're now highly susceptible to fishing pressure: fish & fisher suffer sorely diminished spawning production. Sea bass used to spawn at age zero/age one – now it's age 3 or better. 
Really driving a stake into the fishery's heart; sea bass start spawning exactly when they become legal to recreational effort and a year after they've been legal to commercial fishing. 

Fairly prolific even in the blackest heart of overfishing, even when foreign boats towed huge nets in US waters – sea bass were available to savvy fishers year round. 
Sea bass survived, thrived even, during the height of unregulated overfishing because, like mahi, they spawned young when they perceived their habitat wide-open for colonization. Their habitat was indeed wide-open because we took every single sea bass we could catch. 
Scientific works are uniform pre-2000: sea bass are 50% mature by 7.5 inches with some mature even at 5.5 inches. 
Scientific works from 2003 on, though scarce in this unglamorous fishery, show sea bass beginning to mature north of 11.5 inches..

Tag returns are uniform too – sea bass exhibit strong summer spawning-site fidelity. 
As salmon return to their natal river, sea bass return each summer to a certain reef. Unlike salmon, they return year after year. (cbass don't die after they spawn. Our main problem now is they die BEFORE they spawn) 

I think we should be able to accurately predict a sea bass population simply by knowing it's age at maturity & available habitat balanced against regulation/extraction. 

Available habitat.. Habitat for spawning, feeding, hiding from predators & growth to maturity. 
Spawning Site Fidelity.. An annual return. 
Habitat Production: "Whatever That Is." 

Age at maturity - "their biology makes them resilient to fishing pressure."  ..on our small nearshore reefs I believe even a single large male sea bass will either kill or drive-off other males, especially the smallest/youngest. 
The primary failing of size-limit management; I believe this is why our fishery along MD's coast is condensing offshore. 
Nearshore reefs, positively thriving with cbass until the mid-2000s, have virtually no sea bass now. 

For decades management's been too busy to fuss over sea bass. 
Plug the data in, no matter how poor, & out come new regulations. That was good enough for a long time. 
Might still be. 
We have some champions in management now though: Managers who see the stain this fishery will leave on US Fisheries if not fixed, who see the fishery is badly in need of repair. 

The meeting this week could turn the tide. Management could hand New England their new fishery & wish them luck with their 3 to 8 fish limits—just a couple nice bonus fish with a load of scup. 
Management could finally ponder the Mid-Atlantic stock assessment's stunning downturn after the size-limit hit 12 inches, they could look into all the assertions I've made based on science they should be well-versed in. 

Or they could lump Maine's new catch into our quota. That and one small blip in an MRIP catch-estimate will trigger Accountability Measures. 
No Exaggeration: The Sea Bass Season Could Quickly Be Closed Until 2016.

An angler in the Mid-Atlantic will never catch a sea bass that spawns below Hatteras. Neither will this angler catch a sea bass in summer that spawns in Southern New England. 
In fact, an angler who fishes Delaware's Site 11 exclusively in summer will never catch a sea bass that spawns on the Radford or MD's Great Eastern Reef. 
Because these spawning populations are all unique in that they are isolated by habitat, so too is their production. (whatever that is..)
New England's sea bass production is all their own – let them have it to manage as they see fit. If the boys from Jersey nick a few Massachusetts sea bass in the heart of winter, it won't be too burdensome. 

If New England's fish continue to be taken from our Mid-Atlantic quota, however, no biological science will be in use. All of fisheries science will have been surrendered to rote turn of the crank numerical management. 

Unless the MAFMC recognizes these issues this week, I predict regulators who have fought so hard recently to save the fishery will at last be overwhelmed by bad data. 

We still won't recognize our reef-fish need reef. We still won't recognize each and every existing reef or reef-like habitat has a production value influenced by two primary factors: Extraction & Age At Maturity. 
We still won't realize reef production can be elevated in any given area by creating new reef – or lowered by gear impact/hurricane – by reef removal. 
We'll only have some outlandish spike in recreational catch that never could have occurred coupled with a vast new area of habitat-production burning through old, early management quota. Accused By Bad Data Of Being Over Quota; Accountability Measures Will Kick-In And The Sea Bass Fishery Will Be Lost For A Year Or More. 

Because that's far more closure than the human/economic side of the fishery can withstand – the fishery is lost altogether. 
Without true benefit to the fish  
..or their habitat. 

If habitat production's importance to reef fish were instead recognized & dealt with - while age at maturity is lowered to maximize the fishery's productivity & resilience, management could create a sea bass fishery of unimagined abundance within six years. 

This week in DC counts. Send a note to your fishery representatives. 
Sea bass ain't striped bass. They ain't flounder or scallops either. It's a very low-level fishery - unimportant.  
But management does discuss them. 
A single sentence could change the course of this fishery's history. 
Write your fishery representatives, tell them to modernize the sea bass management plan. 

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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