Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fish Report 8/19/14

Fish Report 8/19/14
Mostly Fluke 
Sun Shines On Habitat 
A Losing Week For Regulation 
Sorry Charlie 

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.. 

The OC Reef Foundation Aims To Build Its Single Largest & Most Expensive Concrete Reef Deployment Ever This Fall. The Capt Bob Gowar Reef Will Become A Cornerstone Of Our Nearshore Reef Restoration Efforts. 

Donate - Please Sponsor Reef Building At http://ocreefs.org
Thank You! 

Greetings All, 
Catching mostly flounder now, even after that surprise swell Wednesday after Tuesday's stormy weather. 
I thought for certain only cbass would bite in up to 9 foot swells; that flounder would not. The trip was mostly about flounder. 
Still seeing some, just a few, sea bass everyday. Catching flounder. 
It could change back to sea bass any time, any day & for any reason.. 

The flounder bite can be quirky. Two weeks ago I had a couple buddies, I'll call them "Donny & Terry" (to protect the innocent.) Fishing side by side "Donny" outfished "Terry" by 7 keepers. This week Terry outfished Donny by 11 ..and Donny had not one keeper. 
That, even among good friends, is fishing. 
Sometimes flounder come easy, sometimes we have to work hard for a catch. 
I'm always trying everything I know to send folks home with a good fish fry. 

Also a couple weeks back, I carried some folks from TNC who brought several reporters. I like TNC's pragmatic approach to discovery & their willingness to examine science's underpinnings for illogical conclusions based on the mere absence of knowledge. We know, for instance, that we catch red hake, tautog, lobster & sea bass; and we know these are reef species. Just because NOAA does not know about our nearshore temperate corals, our reefs off DelMarVa; regulators ignorance alone does not mean these corals do not exist & are not important. 

An environmental writer of great experience, Tim Wheeler was aboard for that trip. 
Not a great trip. I struggled to get clients a catch. We did catch a big mahi just 13 miles off the coast. I tried to make plain this mahi, caught from blue water in easy sight of the beach, offered a glimpse of restoration's future. 

If we get oyster restoration right we can have blue water species inshore every summer.  

Tim Wheeler's article is here. 
It's a good article. I hope readers will look at it.
My thoughts were a bit lost in translation when Wheeler wrote: "Hawkins said he's more worried about commercial fishing. Bottom trawling and clam dredging could wipe out shallow water coral communities, he said." 
Although I have witnessed reef loss by commercial gear impact even amidst the reef remnants of our time – those impacts are infrequent & inconsequential in the grand scheme of fisheries production. 
What I have tried & tried to convey to anyone concerned with fisheries restoration or ocean health is that multi-square mile reefs were lost in the ramp-up & heart of industrial fishing. We need to understand historic habitat loss to properly restore fisheries today. 
What was lost in the 1940s/50s/60 & 70s represents impossible barriers to overcome in reef fish restoration & reef production in general (think squid) w/o knowledge of what's been lost. 
Once understood, putting that reef back is child's play. Expensive, yes; but rolling rocks off a barge ain't hard. 

It is still true that commercial fishers landed more pounds of sea bass in the 1950s than have been landed commercially in all decades since combined. 
It's not the extraction of the 1950s that prevents us from even considering those landings as a restoration target — sea bass still spawn; it's the habitat lost to trawling and therefore lost habitat-production that keeps us from ever approaching that kind of population. 

Reef remaining today, whether deep sea coral or shallow nearshore habitat, is reef which fishing technologies could not destroy - At Least Not Yet. 
If trawling, scalloping & clamming from the 1940s to the 1970s could destroy a reef--and fish or shellfish were there, that reef was destroyed. 

Tim Wheeler's article tries to get its arms around both the recent deep-sea/cold-water coral research, the ongoing discovery and now regulation of places beyond canyon's edge where corals have survived industrial fishing, and nearshore corals I hold as valuable habitat. 
Tangled in the differentiation; deep-water coral & nearshore zooanthellae/sunlight–based temperate reef ecologies I hold to be in need of restoration are two different universes to NOAA.
The nearshore habitat has thus far eluded NOAA's research dollars. 
Perhaps now others will see our need of discovery. . . 

The party/charter industry lost an opportunity for increasing sea bass season last week. Decision on sea bass season made based on arguments given at an August Council meeting; I doubt any for-hire representatives attended. I surely could not. 
As of now there will be no Wave 1/January/February sea bass season in 2015. It sure was nice to keep the odd sea bass while tog fishing a couple years back..  
The effort, spear-headed by Maryland's Mike Luisi, wasn't an entire loss. The Feds can now open sea bass on May 15th instead of May 19th. 
That's assuming MRIP catch estimates show a compliant fishery – that recreational sea bass fishers are under quota. 

Charlie Witek seems to have written for the majority in this recent ruling. His case for keeping January/February closed & maintaining a much-delayed cbass season-start demonstrates clearly the thinking that forms today's policy – the trap MRIP's lies have laid continues to close. 

I hope you'll read his work here http://oneanglersvoyage.blogspot.com/2014/08/wave-1-woes.html and then, expressed in a letter below, examine faults in the logic forming today's sea bass regulations. 

Humanity changes little where unexamined motives hold sway. 

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

Hi Charlie, 
Your rhetoric won the day by painting all party boat skippers & all their clients with the same brush as the fellow whose clients were fined last October: "If captains have that sort of attitude, how can we believe that their trip reports will be reliable?" 
Those fish weren’t necessarily over-limit or too small – they were completely out of season. 

As an honest skipper among many who would never allow clients to land illegal fish & who reports very nearly perfect catch numbers, rest assured I resent your attitude to my core. 
I'm very glad CCA representatives from MD do not seem to have similar biases & prejudices and hope Maryland's CCA will continue to work toward making fishing better for all anglers, not just those who can afford their own boat. 

I mean really, only a champion of twisted rhetorical argument could take 819 sea bass & make that seem greater than an infinitely larger number of summonses written to shore & private boat anglers: Less than a thousand sea bass in a quota of millions turns a segment of the fishery, party boat clients, into ne'er do wells; pirates robbing every taxpaying citizen.. 

"The stock, once badly overfished, now sits right at its biomass target, and anglers generally land about all of the fish they are given. Landings were around 71% of the recreational harvest limit in in 2011, more than double—250% of the limit—in 2012 and 108% of the limit in 2013. 

Anyone who thinks sea bass populations Right At Biomass Target implies a successful restoration strategy needs to examine this graph.  
Sea bass will not show an improvement in 2012, 13 & 14 when the graph is updated.  

The caption I see in this graph is: Coastwide Sea Bass Populations, Once Growing Exponentially, Are Now Falling Like A Stone. 

Not just as liars when reporting catch, Charlie blames party boats for the decline of sea bass on "his" taxpayer funded reefs – party boats, he writes, have "cleaned off most of the large fish." 

MRIP/MRFSS has a wholly separate set of catch estimates that cover the For-Hire trade. There is some consideration given to the Vessel Trip Reports (VTRs) that Charlie implies we all lie about - but it's an estimate driven by observer coverage. 
Used to be party/charter estimates were often no–good. Congress ordered their repair; a repair of the party/charter estimates which seems to have been somewhat well done. 

Charlie quotes the data often. 
Any true consideration of the MRIP/MRFSS data sets from 2004 on, however, would allow management to return party/charter their whole sea bass fishery. 

If management were fair, sea bass fishing from private boats would be shut down. They are the fishery's true pirates, at least according to the "true" catch estimates. 
It's obvious who the villains are in the data – really obvious. 
Just last year the private boats from New York where Charlie fishes landed more sea bass that the ENTIRE EAST COAST'S PARTY/CHARTER FLEET. 
They did that in July and August. 

Here you can see what ALL party/charter caught along the WHOLE EAST COAST – ALL YEAR. 
All For-Hire
Atlantic Coast
YearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
FINAL2013BLACK SEA BASS203,08211.7333,72412

This is what NY's Private Boats Caught in TWO SUMMER MONTHS. This is THE estimate that stands in the way of putting party boat crews back to work in January & February – This Is Charlie's Sea Bass Fishery. 
YearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
FINAL2013JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS237,23933.1511,13234.7

Here's the same estimate broken down by region fished. 
NY Private Boat 
By Fishing Area
YearWaveCommon NameFishing AreaTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
FINAL2013JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASSOCEAN (<= 3 MI)109,18249.9224,86551.5
FINAL2013JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASSOCEAN (> 3 MI)104,91652.4236,69955.3
These NY Private Boat Pirates Caught Almost As Many Pounds Of Sea Bass INSIDE NY's STATE WATERS As Every Party/Charter Sea Bass On The East Coast Combined. 

Charlie! You Pirate! 
The very estimates, the brand-new & improved multi-million dollar MRIP estimates from which all of the firmnity of your conviction is based, MRIP tells us plainly that party boats aren't the issue at all. 

Each sea bass quota overage since 2009 came from the private boat sector. Every regulatory maneuver, the emergency closures, the tiny seasons.. 
Huge, HUGE, HUGE increases in one state or another's two-month catch far outweigh Party/Charter even in all-year-long & coastwide total and cause tighter coastwide catch restriction. 

If regulatory fairness were truly a consideration, I'd expect any staunch advocate of management by catch-estimate to surrender private boats' right to fish entirely. 

If these estimates are right we need MPAs zoned where ONLY party/charter & commercial trap boats can fish. 
Party/Charter & Commercial – We Need Protection From These Private Boat Pirates!
Indeed, these are Annual Sea Bass commercial pot/trap landings along the entire Atlantic Coast. 

YearSpeciesGearMetric TonsPounds$
2009SEA BASS, BLACKPots And Traps, Fish193.3426,241833,522
2010SEA BASS, BLACKPots And Traps, Fish159.6351,755725,101
2011SEA BASS, BLACKPots And Traps, Fish137.5303,140524,602
2012SEA BASS, BLACKPots And Traps, Fish120.5265,689704,295
GRAND TOTALS:-610.91,346,8252,787,520
NY's greedy, no good, private boat pirates caught more sea bass in two months than ALL commercial Pots & Traps along the ENTIRE ATLANTIC COAST! 

These private boats are AMAZING! 
Private boat effort is completely out of control and MUST be stopped.  

Wait a minute. 
If you add the coast's annual party/charter catch and the coast's average annual commercial trap landings, You'd Barely Have As High A Catch As NY's Private Boats For Two Months! 

You're not getting screwed Charlie, Party Boats Are!  

But wait another minute..

I bet Charlie doesn't believe for one second that private boats REALLY caught those sea bass. 
I doubt anyone reading this far into any of my work believes NY's private boats caught anywhere near that much sea bass. 
Spikes in sea bass are often too high by an order of magnitude. They happen all the time. 

I bet Charlie's just leaning against convenient misrepresentations in the data to ensure he is allowed to catch sea bass next summer. 
His rhetoric has a purpose, but its not conservation or restoration. 
He may even be fully aware of how MRIP misrepresents sea bass catch in NY.  

Nevermind men on unemployment, Charlie needs his pleasure. 

Charlie helps keep the myth alive that NOAA has any idea of recreational catch by using their so-excact percentages. 
Exact percentages imply knowledge. 

If the truest enemy of fishery restoration is ignorance; Charlie, and other believers in MRIP, are aiding & abetting the enemy 

Charlie cries party boats clean off all the big fish and most of the barely legal ones on his spots. 

Three years ago a commercial fisherman sees me coming from a wreck I've been fishing since 1983. Hailing on the emergency radio frequency from his 19 foot boat, he avows that when he gets his new boat he will "Fish All My Spots Off." His new 22 footer now complete, the guy is trying hard to make good on his word, he's trying to exact revenge on the party boat that caught all "his" fish of "his" wreck with his drop-pots smashing coral.  

A Montauk charter skipper complains a party boat is "Fishing All The Good Wrecks Off" leaving nothing legal.. 

A commercial fisher I deeply respect comments to other trap fishers about how many fish my party boat took one day: "He had about 40 people and they must have caught thousands." (had 22 people - high–hook that October day had 16 cbass) 

A man stands behind my boat – he's mad: "Your party boat cleaned all the sea bass off the Radford!" 
Well, I did fish it twice this spring. My boat also donated $3,500.00 to the Radford Artificial Reef Project – a 563 foot ex-Navy Destroyer. Fishing was awful up there this spring because of cold water trapped deep in a huge surrounding area.. 

Party Boats Are Everyone's Number One Enemy. 

Charlie wants to keep wave one (Jan/Feb) closed. He says it's not fair to private boats, he says we'll never know what all those nasty party boat skippers caught because they LIE & CHEAT. Everyone knows partyboat captains are going to lie when they fill out their REQUIRED Vessel Trip Reports (VTRs). Everyone knows partyboat clients will never stop catching because of a limit or pause their indiscriminate killing to measure any fish.

What's really odd, Charlie, is that half of my party boat's winter clients ARE private boat owners. 
Unlike me, they have sense enough to put their boat up in winter. 
Like me, however, most of my clients are staunch conservationists who believe only real science & true data can bring about real fisheries restoration. 
Those fellows in winter, the die-hard anglers along the coast—many who own a boat or two or three,  they're the ones Charlie doesn't want fishing for sea bass in January & February. 

My point is made more simple to see with Charlie's cry for fairness in sea bass regulation: If you ask 1,000 knowledgable people what recreational sector kills the most sea bass – 1,000 people will tell you Party Boats. 
Unless some of those people are only steeped in catch estimates. 
They'll tell you partyboats can't hold a candle to private boat catch – especially where Charlie fishes. 

Charlie's argument, based on invective, built upon layers of prejudice; formed wholly from catch-estimate data gleaned from press-releases that should never have been used as a foundation of science: Charlie's argument is nearly identical, perhaps without the hate, to thought-processes used by management to form exactly the sort of recreational regulation he was lobbying for. 

NOAA & NMFS cradle catch-estimate certainty. They INSIST management use EXACTLY the centerpoint of a catch-estimate. They DEMAND regulation from Council & Commission be based on MRIP/MRFSS's precise center-point. If MAFMC or ASMFC approved a regulation that did not fit NOAA's precise criterion, NOAA would shoot it down as surely as that passenger jet over the Ukraine - innocents be damned. 
NOAA & NMFS surround themselves, immerse themselves in bad data; They see today's fisheries and their task ahead though the lens of laugh-out–loud stupid statistics. 

Pritchard, 1837: "It has generally been supported that the chief, if not sole disorder of persons labouring under insanity consists of some particular false conviction, or in some notion indelibly impressed upon the belief." 
Fisheries restoration is made far more difficult because management holds false catch-estimates to be true & pure science – Testable, Repeatable, Verifiable & Falsifiable Science. 


Sea bass have had an unbelievable expansion of habitat in the last 15 years owing to warmer water. This year, in fact, sea bass are being caught in Maine in reportable numbers. 
That's brand new. 

But the sea bass population has only declined since 2003 when the size limit first hit 12.5 inches. 

As evidenced by male spawning color, when the size limit was 11 inches and below all sea bass in the ocean during spawning season were actively spawning. 
From 1997 to 2001 the sea bass population doubled twice despite no closed season and no bag limit.  
Also during that time management correctly attributed high levels of recreational extraction to the party/charter trade. 
Estimates were often too high, but balanced correctly. 

We sometimes had clients with close to 200 fish in the fall. The following year there would be more sea bass. Year after year, more & more sea bass. In 2003 I wrote that we were at habitat capacity.

When sea bass turned male at age zero/age one the population flourished. 
Now sea bass begin transitioning at age three. 
Despite the toughest regulation in the fishery's history & an unforeseen explosion of habitat – the population is in decline. 

Management & its cheerleaders say the fishery is restored – that biomass targets have been achieved. 
If so - if this is what management has to offer, management is a worthless endeavor. 
We were doing better from 1992 to 1996 with self-regulation. 

Call me a cheat, call me a liar. 
Party Boats Did It!  
Thank You Charlie – I know you mean well, at least for yourself, and you certainly appear to have management's ear.  
The argument from catch-estimate data leaned so heavily-upon by yourself and management is erroneous beyond belief. It's dragging science & management down, the sea bass fishery with it. 

We must search for truth. We must search for & develop a true sense of fishing's history, not one based on MRFSS/MRIP's wild-eyed estimates. 
We must again create a GROWING sea bass population. 

Fishing's true history suggests sea bass population growth has more to do with habitat & spawning production than catch restriction. 

True: During early/pre management, during all of the 1990s, my clients often caught more sea bass in ONE DAY – than they do now all summer. 
Back then the sea bass population grew each year. 
Now it declines instead. 

That's the restoration Charlie claims to be excited about – wants to protect. 

Sea Bass fishers are getting screwed alright Charlie, but not by partyboats trying to recover lost season as you allege. They're getting screwed by folks just like you Charlie – folks who know damn-well NY's private boats have never caught more sea bass than all party/charter along the whole coast. 

Fishery after fishery stands in front of a freshly dug trench. MRIP's AK-47s, loaded with accountability measures, are aimed at the back of each fishery's head. 
Very, very soon new allegations of recreational catch will be appearing. 
Which fishery will MRIP kill first.. 

My Regards,

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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