Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fish Report 12/18/14

Fish Report 12/18/14 
Fishing's Great Lady 
Some Catching 
"..pretty much tells you where the guy is coming from." 

Such sadness before Christmas.. Fishing's great lady, Sue Foster, passed on December 16th after a brutal fight with cancer. Among a few fond memories from the earliest part of my fishing career; in the fall of 1981 I saw a gorgeous blonde throwing the biggest cast net I'd ever seen just at daylight. Decades later I would attend many fisheries meetings where Sue was a strong voice for the recreational community. Sometimes she would join us on the OC Princess or Morning Star for a day of fishing. Always seemed a couple anglers would get grumpy with her aboard; perhaps because they were unaccustomed to getting seriously outfished by the amazingly talented blonde bombshell. 
Sue's Oyster Bay Tackle Fishing Reports were widely read and covered a broad spectrum of the local fishing scene. She supported reef building in a big way. Sue & husband Bob were always among the most generous sponsors for our fundraising events.  
Her service is Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 2PM at the First Presbyterian Church of Ocean City, 1301 Philadelphia Avenue. 
Here's Sue's Obituary..
Bob has asked that in lieu of flowers donations be made to OCRF or Coastal Hospice.
Promise this: "Sue's Reef" is going to be one of our best inshore spots. Guarantee it. 
If you want to help build a reef in Sue's honor, slip on over to and make a tax deductible donation.. Be sure to mention "Sue's Reef" in your donation. 

My address sometimes gets jammed up. Use if an email bounces. 

From Below: Used to be "overfishing" was represented by enormous foreign trawlers; then it was row upon row of US steel trawlers polyballed off in anticipation of a blow; now it's little plastic boats considered by MRIP to be capable of unimaginable landings. 

10,769 Reef Blocks by the rail – 3,000 at Jimmy Jackson's – 2,146 at Doug Ake's – 1,182 at Saint Ann's – 558 at Eagle Scout Reef - 557 at Lindsey's Isle of Wight Reef and, just begun, 151 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef..  

Greetings All, 
No trips offered here. Will resume fishing after Christmas. If the weather breaks, maybe we'll get one more cbass trip before New Years. If not, we'll jump straight into tog fishing come January 1st weather permiting. 
Will announce all tog trips via email. Given winter's weather cancelation rate, I see no use getting reservation staff busy or having clients make plans until a favorable forecast appears. 
Even then forecasts change.. 

Did get our two scientific tog sampling trips in. Had a light scratchy bite Monday with a handful of decent fish. Tuesday the tog bite was nearly sea bass-like; a very rare, 'That crab's mine & I'm not letting go' sort of bite. We had more tog in the first hour Tuesday than all day Monday. 
Strangely, we didn't have a single throwback both days. 
The fish we caught, of all sizes, will be entered in the ASMFC's data base. Biologists took weight, age & sex data. Later this winter they'll read operculums (a gill plate bone) & otoliths for aging. 
This from the darker side of fact-based fishery management; to read their age precludes any possibility of release.

Promised my wife I'd spend family time this coming week. 
Murphy's Law dictates the weather will therefore be nearly flat calm. Perfectly flat calm. 
If you've got the fishing bug here's a couple places to try. 

Togging's grand master & probably already booked, Capt. John is at .. If Vegas was making book on the next world record tog, Capt. John would have the lowest payout. 
Capt. Kane has a similar sized boat and knows how to anchor. Kane spent a year working deck with me and a lot of years running 1/2 day trips out of OC. Still exploring ideas on how to make fishing better, I have no doubt he'll become one of reef building's strongest voices. 
Sharing a similar career time-line to my own, Capt. Rick has been running boats up in Lewes, DE for 3 decades. Might hop on a sea bass trip with one of Parson's big boats.. 
And, new to southern New Jersey but not at all new to fishing, Captains JP & Amanda Peterson have taken up winter tog fishing. They both have deep roots in fishing's history & I enjoy their company. 

What follows is not in keeping with the Holiday Spirit.
While it often seems I'm shouting into a vacuum, there are a few folks paying attention to reef fishing's regulatory slide into oblivion. 
Unfortunately, they're not all on our side.. 

Below is such a piece, a pro-MRIP piece. Surely this guy from NY considers it exactly on target. He makes several comments about my intentions that he must also consider accurate. He writes, "Of course, then he goes on to rhapsodize about times gone by when there was only "a [very small] size limit that forced sea bass to start spawning young and a recreational release ration that ran about 30%" which pretty much tells you where the guy is coming from." 
Actually, without the sarcasm, I would like very much to see population growth in our sea bass again. 
A strictly recreational fisher who frequently writes down on party/charter, this guy thinks MRIP's doing a peachy job, and gosh, trying so hard. He writes, and I quote exactly, "Anyone who don’t want to understand, and just wants to make noise and kill fish, need to do nothing at all. 

In fact, the less that sort does, the better…"  

He sees though my clever disguise and knows anytime a party/charter operator wants anything it's only to destroy the last of fishing for once & for all. Among readers who write their legislators, this guy wishes you'd quit. 

Nevermind I had strictly enforced size limit regs on sea bass long before anyone else, long before they became law; that I had a size & bag limit on tautog 7 years before Council & States adopted any regs; that my self-enforced tog regs in pre-regulation remain stricter than today's. 
Nevermind Party/Charter operators need heathy & robust fish populations for economic survival. 

My findings on fishery restoration are based on a lifetime of factual observation. 
My plea to management is based on 34 years of noting reef-fish populations increase & decline. They're also strongly influenced by fishing's history. 
Here's his blog. Perhaps it's his way of wishing Party/Charter operators & all our clients a Merry Christmas.. 
(you'll need to know PSE is percentage standard error. Not too unlike in a political poll where +-3% is given as a 'margin of error.' Newsmen will say a race at 51/49% is therefore too close to call. In MRIP's recreational catch estimates anything with a +-50 PSE or lower is just dandy, give or take a million pounds is fine.)


Guess I'm just trying to make noise & kill fish. Guess this NY guy wants me to shut up & keep my 'foolish mistakes' to myself. 

Merry Christmas to you too NY guy. It's just that the noise I'm trying to get heard is TRUTH

MRIP, & MRFSS before it, create an excellent muffling agent. They keep the truths of spawning production & habitat production locked-away in a sound-proof box. Recreational catch estimates bounce around so much & make so much noise that people who haven't any history in the fishery, who source their knowledge only from a computer can quote endlessly from statistics until any argument for restoration requiring population biology or habitat ecology is meaningless. 

Just like this NY guy is doing. 

MRIP: All 2014 US Recreational Party/Charter Sea Bass Catch Through August - 728,000 pounds. 
MRIP: All 2014 Massachusetts Private Boat Catch Through August - 794,000 Pounds.

Rah, Rah, Rah? 

I've read NY guy's kvetching about party boats looting NY's reefs. Party boats, in fact, loot ALL the keepers before season, he wrote earlier this summer. Here's a private boat operator whining & whimpering about party boats looting taxpayer funded reefs. Who's fishing on NY party boats anyway? Illegal immigrants that don't pay taxes? 

Besides, NY hasn't had a reef program in forever. Instead they've given millions of tons of free boulder to New Jersey's reef program. Party & Charter boats use reefs. NY's vocal anglers don't need to support that. Even CCA, the strongest reef building advocate By Far from Maryland to Texas, is silent on NY's lack of reef building.  

Still, reasoned examination would have it thusly: Complaints of 'fishing down the reefs' tell me party boats are a significant, if not primary source of sea bass extraction - just like party boats are everywhere else. The other group private boaters complain about constantly are commercial trappers.  

Therefore, when MRIP claims NY & Massachusetts Private Boats caught more sea bass just in July/Aug than all US Party/Charter AND Commercial Trap caught All Year - I smell Bad Statistics. 

Here's a "fact" from MRIP & its predecessor, MRFSS, about NY's private boat sea bass fishery: 

New York Private Boats during July/August of 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 01, 02,03, 04, 06, 07, 08 & 2011 - All Added Up & All Together Caught 958,706 pounds of sea bass in those 25 years combined
NY's July/August Private Boat sea bass catch in 2013 & 2014, however, added together equals 966,553 pounds .. 
More pounds in two years than in 25? 
"Oh NO!!!" cries management. "Here comes the Grady-White Monster! Close The Fishery!!" 

Seems as though NY guy & I will continue to disagree until he can see these statistics from Mark Twain's vantage. 

Another example..
MRIP NY Private Boat ONLY 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information
This is NY Party/Charter during the same two month period.  
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information

This Shows Two Months Of NY Private Boat vs. All Party/Charter, All Year, All Atlantic Coast 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information
PRELIMINARY2013BLACK SEA BASS234,00415.4391,863160

NY's small boats catch 140,000 pounds more.. 

Looks to me as though NY's conservation minded Party/Charter fishers have sacrificed their business, their families & their crews' best interests for the sake of this very important fishery that only Party/Charter and a few commercial trap fishers seem to care about. 

NY's private boat fishers have shown, however, that they cannot and will not be controlled. 

Either that or the estimates are wildly incorrect.

At the recent joint Council/Commission meeting in Baltimore, Dr. Pierce of Massachusetts spoke of 2013's fishing year with the solemnity of a funeral oration: "We have been unable to restrain recreational catch." 

If statistics are to be considered in the management & restoration of fishes, and indeed they must, we need to have statistics represented as that science's practitioners would have.

For the whole Atlantic Coast, MRIP decrees recreational fishers have caught between 2 and 3.5 million pounds of sea bass through August with a centerpoint of 2,634,000 pounds. Yet if only MA private/rental wave 3 & NY private/rental wave 4 are modified to their lower PSE value in consideration of their unlikelihood--just two wave/mode estimates among 113 data sets; then the coastal estimate could fall by over a million pounds: just those two wave/mode estimates could cut the entire Atlantic Coast estimate through August nearly in half. 
Council & Commission members need to understand NOAA's acceptance of statistical shorthand (i.e. centerpoint) is in no way the statistician's true belief. NOAA must include PSE and encourage consideration of PSE as the only way our "Best Available Science" can truly be brought to bear given the non-scientific realpolitik of fisheries management.  

All of us, all together, need to get the best possible result from management's efforts. Instead, we teeter today on management's worst possible outcome.

As I write--right now, an upsurge of sea bass landings from the Gulf of Mexico is affecting the value of commercial landings in the Mid-Atlantic. With no recreational regulation other than a 10 inch limit & 100 pounds per day; and with no commercial quota at all yet the same size limit; Black Sea Bass population levels in the bath-water warm Gulf are increasing wonderfully. 

Funny. That's exactly what happened here before we ran head-long into MRFSS catch estimate spikes. Exponential population growth is exactly what we had before regulatory response to centerpoint estimates drove sea bass regulation to a 12 inch size limit in 2002. After all, when my boat limited-out more often than not on sea bass throughout all of 2003, the sea bass we were catching were spawned by an age-class only factually protected by a 9, 10 or 11 inch size limit and no bag limit. 

Because production exceeded extraction during early management--because sea bass spawning was creating far more sea bass than we were catching & keeping; and despite far higher landings from both the commercial & recreational sides of the fishery: the Mid-Atlantic's sea bass population grew, in precise definition, exponentially. 
Today, despite sea bass now spawning in places unsettled or only sparsely colonized earlier in management's history and with unimaginably tighter catch restrictions, the overall MAFMC managed sea bass population has diminished from 2003 on. 

MRIP says that's because plastic boats with outboard engines are killing all the sea bass. 
I say it's because MRIP is killing any managerial & scientific curiosity: Uninterested in deeper scientific investigation for truth, a very busy management community is willing to sacrifice the recreational sea bass fishery to MRIP data and not at all concerned with the fact of decreased spawning activity. 

NOAA's policy of forcing all of management to accept statistical shorthand as the whole of that science's offering blinds the restoration community to all other avenues of action. Statistical shorthand via 'centerpoint only' has perverted the system to where creating larger populations of fish is not the goal. Instead, centerpoints are expressed as fact and regulations devised regardless of a fish population's response - Regulation Is The Goal. 

Our entire system of fisheries governance needs to look much harder at "How can we make more fish?" rather than "Where is overfishing occurring & how can we kill it."
Used to be "overfishing" was represented by enormous foreign trawlers; then it was row upon row of US steel boats polyballed off in anticipation of a blow; now it's little plastic boats considered by MRIP to be capable of unimaginable landings. 

Trying to make this "..pretty much tells you where the guy is coming from." as easy as possible. 
We need management to stand back and look at what they're accepting as "fact." 
The shorter MRFSS & then MRIP's-created 'dark ages' can be made, the sooner managements's energetic pursuit of rapidly growing fish populations can begin.
Regards & Have A Wonderful Holiday,

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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