Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fish Report 1/18/15

Fish Report 1/18/15 
Going Some More 
Heart of Winter Chance To Get Bit 
Fantastic Failing Of Scientific Integrity

Skunks are always possible while tog fishing. 
Really. It's a frequent occurrence, even with a good bite. Not an easy fishery; the very best toggers sometimes get their head handed to them despite folks all around having done well. 
Then too, sometimes the whole boat can do very poorly. 
If you can't take the heat, and there ain't much of that either, stay out of the kitchen. 

But If That Sounds Like Your Kind Of Fishing, Good! Cause We're Going Toggin Anyway! Tog Only, Sea Bass Closed. 

X-Tra Long Tog - Tuesday, January 20th - 4:30AM to 4:30PM(ish..) - Very Long Ride - Higher You Reach, Harder You Fall ..But Sometimes It Works. $175.00 - 16 Sells Out. 

Backyard Toggin - Wednesday & Thursday  January 21st & 22 - 7AM to 3:30 - $125.00 - 10 Sells Out - Little stuff I like & want to try before it gets too cold.. 

Tog Trip - Friday, January 23 - 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 - 14 Sells Out..

Long Tog - Saturday - January 24th - 5:30AM to 4:30PM - $150.00 - 16 Sells Out..

Have White Crabs For Sale AT THE DOCK for the low, low price of just $5.00 per generous dozen. (they're small) There Is No Guarantee We'll Have Whites For Any Trip. Sometimes they all die. That shrinkage is why I prefer greens. We will not be bringing whites with us in the ocean. Green Crabs Remain Provided As Boat Bait.   

Reservations Required for All Trips. 
Reservations at 410 - 520 - 2076 — They Answer 24/7. 
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.. 

We provide green crabs. You're welcome to bring any kind of crab you like – even lobster, even plastic. 


No Live Tog Leave The Boat - Dead & Bled - Period. (I Believe The Live Tog Black Market Has Hurt This Fishery ..But Nowhere Near As Much As Bad Sea Bass Regulations)
Agreed With Or Not, All Regulations Observed – Maryland: 4 Tog @ 16 Inches – Sea Bass  Closed On Jan 1st Because Of Rotten MRIP Catch Estimates. 
If You Won't Measure & Count Your Fish The State Will Provide A Man With A Gun To Do It For You. We Measure & Count — ALWAYS — No Exceptions! 

It's Winter! Wear Boots, Not Sneakers! Fingerless Wool Or Thin Fleece-Lined Waterproof Gloves With Handwarmers Tucked Into The Palms Make For A Comfortable Day.. 

Dramamine Is Cheap Insurance! Crystalized Ginger Works Great Too. It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure.  

Bring A (not terribly big) Fish Cooler With ICE (or fresh snow) For Your Party.. A 48 QT Cooler Is Good For 2 Guys. Even Now You Should ICE Fresh Fish.. 
Be A Half Hour Early - We Like To Leave Early.
Clients Arriving Late Will See The West End Of An East Bound Boat.. 

Please believe Sue Foster's contribution to our fishing community will be remembered in a memorial reef. Help Make That Happen. 

Very Good Things Are Happening With OCRF Reef Building. More To Follow In Coming Weeks..

Unchanged - 10,802 Reef Blocks by the rail – 2,146 at Doug Ake's – 1,200 at Saint Ann's – 558 at Eagle Scout Reef - 557 at Lindsey's Isle of Wight Reef and, just begun, 166 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef.. 
Our block pile is being reloaded courtesy of Potomac Valley Brick, Inc. of Salisbury. 

Greetings All, 
Thursday, Friday & Saturday offered three different bites but ended with about the same result. Everyday we had some limits & many more releases. One thing that hasn't happened in a while, Stelly put a 27 inch male back Saturday & won the pool. 
Yup: a fine looking bull of about 14(+-) pounds swam away.  
I run a "by length" pool for tog. If a fish swims away with a tag, length listed on the card counts the same as a fish in the boat. 
Stelly's fish also had a "third fin rip" - our poor man's tag. Simply tearing the soft filament between the 3rd & 4th dorsal bones with a hook, careful not to get any more than about 7/8s of the way, leaves an easily noticed mark when recaptured. 

Had a rail full of NY talent Friday. Guys were good at toggin. Ended with a fair number of limits but no outrageously big fish; it was a good day with only one legal fish released. 
The further north you go, the more rocks there are along the granite coast. The tog bite that's been described to me from up there is something I've seen very few times off Maryland's coast. A cbass-like "drop & reel" tog bite that happens quite often in, say, Rhode Island, is rare here: as rare as a billfish grand-slam north of Hatteras.   
We don't have that big, boisterous New England rocky/bouldery habitat along Maryland's coast. Descriptions of bottom so rocky that finding sand to anchor is the hard part are very much the exact opposite of our experience. Along DelMarVa finding tog habitat is the hard part of anchoring. That's why we use very precise double anchor sets; a slight swing can put clients in the mud. 

So, one of these very skilled NY blackfishers is offloading at trip's end. I think he & his buddies were limited.  
"Nice trip, Capt. Too bad they just didn't chew.

Oh Boy.. 
Looked like they bit to me. One of my better days lately. 
Guy wasn't whining, he wasn't complaining; he was making an observation based on his experience with the northern fishery. 
I have no idea when or where the best RI/CT/LIS/SNE bite is, but Maryland ain't it. 
I'm not selling "a hot bite," I'm offering a chance to get bit. 
It's heart of winter toggin..  

The dumbest MRIP catch estimate ever--the NJ shore estimate where guys caught more from New Jersey's jetties in March/April 2010 than all US commercial effort for that year; that overestimate, along with a slew of other bad estimates in 2010,   allowed/forced regulators to adopt tougher regulations on tog. 
Had it not been for this egregious overestimate, the estimate I've made so much fun of, tautog would have been been hit much harder in successive sea bass closures. 

In Maryland tautog are almost back to my pre-management boat regulation. We're currently allowed 4 fish at 16 inches. I started in 1992 with 3 at 16 inches.. 
I think 4 is sustainable given our increasing habitat - maybe. 
I like a 16 inch limit. 

I very much believe if sea bass production can be reinvigorated, if management can find a way to surmount catch-estimate dictated regulation and again lower the spawning age of sea bass via size-limit regulation, in 5 years we'll have far better tog populations as a direct result of effort shift - of more people sea bassing & fewer people togging. If sea bass populations can again be set on an upward trajectory, with a corresponding increase in creel & season, the resultant decline in tog fishing pressure will allow marine stocks of both tog & cbass to flourish -- again. 

Yes, we're catching fish - sustainably. 
It's definitely not red hot. 
This fishery is not an example of what fishery management could do, not yet. For now it's just another example of how bad data erodes the Mid-Atlantic's potential & possibilities. 

In a recent letter to management I insisted that today's tog population wouldn't be remotely possible w/o man-made habitat. 
Not surprisingly, there was some push-back on that. 
I'm standing by my assertion. If we pulled up all the rip-rap, bridge armor, rock jetties, shipwrecks & artificial reefs - tog would be hard-pressed indeed to find suitable habitat for feeding, avoiding being eaten, growth to maturity & spawning. 
While I'd trade all our modern creations to have natural oyster & marine hardbottoms back in historical proportion, there's no possible way today's tog population could survive on what remains of our region's natural habitats. 
It's huge. Maybe not one tog in 20,000 could survive on our natural habitat. 

How in blazes can there possibly be an "attraction vs production" debate about artificial reef building when the tautog production we have couldn't possibly exist on our remaining natural habitats? 

This modern tale of state & federal tautog "restoration effort" illustrates how profoundly ignorant management & NOAA are of benthic habitat's essential need in reef-fish production. 
No one familiar with the "bait 'em up & drop 'em in" side of our region's tog fishery would dispute habitat's importance: we fishers easily see the benefit of more reef - we live it. 
Persons only familiar with MRIP's wild ups & downs, however, only see regulation's need on a computer screen and do not dread going to the tackle shop for more sinkers. 

Just as habitat capacity, or "K" in their equations, is a hypothetical - nothing that could ever actually hamper restoration in the modern era; so too is their idea, "Diminished habitat creates diminished production" a couple chapters in several college texts. 
Basic biology, these things are taught in every class on fisheries. 
There's an awful lot of arm-waving over lost habitat by big enviro & NOAA too - but no marine connection. Oh sure, if it's something you can see with waders on: estuarine water quality, subaquatic vegetation, oyster bars, dams blocking river access to anadromous species; that resonates somewhat as part of fisheries restoration. 
In the ocean we've not yet penetrated to the, "Oh, they have that too?" stage..
If a manager believes habitat impacts have diminished a fishery's restoration potential, then that manager ought to believe increasing habitat would aid in it's restoration. 

Instead we have stymied reef building efforts because management's unsure about "Attraction vs Production." 
I'm currently selling trips for a fishery that could not exist today, for a species we might have called 'oyster wrasse' had we not borrowed the indian 'tautog,' a fishery wholly unsupportable by remaining natural hardbottoms; and upper management would rather bucket-out a latrine than be heard supporting artificial reef.  

Believe this: Regardless of their stance on habitat, some in management are doing all they can to keep us alive. 
Tog & sea bass would both likely be closed -period- and sea bass positively, without the efforts of a few managers and Council/Commission members. 
Our battle is 100% about what NMFS says we're allowed in quota & what NMFS says we took by MRIP catch estimate. 
(We don't see government tasks Federalists Madison & Hamilton would have surely have split apart in their thinking. We'd be better off if the US Fish & Wildlife Service were responsible for estimating our catch & NMFS our quotas.
Battle over MRIP reported landings fully joined in Council & Commission, there's no time for anything so esoteric as allowing the thoughts of habitat ecologists to be brought into our restoration efforts. 
Worse still, population biologists won't even come forward. It's possible there are none in fisheries. 
Management: "So what if sea bass now spawn 3 years later. Look at these catchesHead for the shelters! The Little Boats Are Coming!! Help!!

Sea bass stolen by bad data, stolen with MRIP's assertion that Private Boats take far more sea bass than Party/Charter; the fishing effort cascade mostly effects tautog, but it certainly adds to recreational pressure on summer flounder & scup as well. 

Needs Fixing. But no fix will be/can be forthcoming without relaxing policies that dictate management's use of MRIP catch estimates. 

Though far too slow for some businesses now absent coastal communities, now lost to one cash-flow crisis too many; and certainly too slow for millions & millions of sea bass lost in accumulated years of reduced spawning capacity, here there is hope: 

Not only is NOAA contemplating its own policies, but I understand both the House of Representatives and Senate included language in their Appropriations bills requiring NOAA/NMFS to explain spikes in MRIP - particularly for sea bass - as a condition of their funding.. 
I'm sure this won't be anything a seasoned NOAA-aucrat can't double-speak their way around. I'm positive it won't keep them up at night or drive them to the edge of insolvency. An explanation to Congress won't drive them to drink or force their best employees to find steadier work, but at least the requirement lets NOAA know Congress is hearing from constituents. 
It may help force NOAA to allow managers the freedom to bring a lot more biology to this battle. 

MRIP's attempts at guessing recreational catch, combined with management's insistence they only use an estimate's centerpoint, leaves the fishery restoration endeavor no more effective than depression-era "cloud seeding." 
Biggest difference with MRIP is fishermen, not farmers, are getting ripped off. 

NOAA's long-standing insistence recreational catch-estimate centerpoints be weighted far in disproportion to their accuracy introduces a fantastic failing of scientific integrity to the management process. 
Let us hope for swift repair so that we may begin to grapple reef-fish restoration from new angles. 
Not only has catch-restriction done all it can, it's constant over-tweaking is now a hindrance in our battle to make temperate reef fishing's future much better than today's reality. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

Blog Archive