Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fish Report 1/31/15

Fish Report 1/31/15 
On Reef 

Water Temp Is 38 Degrees Fifteen Miles Offshore As I Write..
No Trips Offered Here. Am Watching Sunday, Feb 8.. Will have to be fit for a 14 hour trip. 

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. See Below.

Changing More SuperBowl Sunday - 10,820 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, 184 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef.. 
Our block pile has been reloaded courtesy of Potomac Valley Brick, Inc. of Salisbury. There's another truckload of 100 pound blocks courtesy of PVB on its way too.  

Below: If habitat loss could even theoretically be an insurmountable burden in the restoration of a reef species, then it must also be true that habitat creation would aid in their restoration. 

Greetings All, 
I truly dropped the ball last Thursday. Rode up to Baltimore Wednesday to look at three different pre-fab concrete plants & an old concrete pipe storage yard/boneyard. Got jammed-up securing reef building materials and didn't notice Thursday's calm. Wish I'd gone fishing. 

Some winters we fish a lot, this winter not. Can't fix wind & cold. On my "backyard trip" 10 days ago I had one client with either 3 or 4 keepers, another fellow w/one & deckhand Wes caught one too. Then the current switched & the bite, which wasn't much to start with, went dead. Did have some limits on the super-short notice 12 hr trip. One fellow thought he had a lock on the pool with a tog of maybe 10 or 12 pounds when a Connecticut sharpie caught an 18 pounder. At first I though it another 20 pounder; it was at least another personal best. We tried in vain to release the fish. Tagged it and snapped pics quick, but she couldn't find the energy. Dinner instead. 
Lot of cold north wind since then. I fear only long trips lie ahead. 

So; toured several Baltimore concrete plants & confirmed there's a lot-Lot-LOT of reef material available for the cost of trucking. That's a good thing because when I tried to get a big barge-load deployed offshore last summer/fall, and this is just a coincidence I'm sure, I never heard from the reef building company again after I revealed where the concrete boneyards were. 
Funny. I learned that same company has been "in touch" with these same concrete sources.. 

Cat's out of the bag now. Have to use it or lose it.. 

The men I spoke with at these concrete plants sure seemed pretty keen on having their scrap become reef. 
We have an ex-Army Corps 103 X 30 foot boat chartered for early spring. While wharfed in Ocean City this rig will haul between 8 & 10 truckloads of pre-fab concrete (such as pipe) offshore at a time. 
Pending proof of insurance: we have a wharf. Now we need to secure a "lay down" - a place to stockpile pipe for faster boat loading. And trucking. Lots of trucking.. 
Working on all of this. Working on Sue Foster's Reef. Working on Capt. Bob Gower's Reef. Working on Brian Sauerzopf's. Working on leaving our reef fisheries a dern-sight better than we found them.. 
Owing to many donors, to so many truly generous donors & a $50,000 State Grant, I believe the Reef Foundation will be able to site around 80 truckloads of material. 

Barring a class 6 hurricane, most of it should still be producing fish in 500 years.  
Concrete's more cost effective but I bet boulders would work too. Need deep pockets to try it in the ocean though. 
The boat we have chartered can deploy boulder, but the real money wants to either stay on the sidelines or opposes growing coral because of the "Attraction vs Production Debate." 
Seriously; nearly everyone at the top of management will tell you they're unsure if artificial reef building is a good thing because "we know artificial reef 'attracts' fish" and they're not at all sure coral/mussels/oysters growing on artificial substrates are capable of fishery production. 

Here's a photo by Nick Caloyianis of a clammer sunk in 1979. It was a wooden boat. We're not allowed to sink wooden boats anymore. Please note the 'bad' corals & sponges. One wonders why fish would be "attracted" to this reef over destroyed natural reefs - now just barren sand. Judging by management's concern over the "Attraction vs Production Debate" there must be reef scholars who hold reef-fish production is occurring on long lost trawled/dredged-flat reefs, but those fish (which can only be 'produced' on natural reef?) are then 'attracted' to artificial reef and overfished by clever anglers such as myself who build these "recreational fish traps." 
I'm serious. 
PS - That crevice is a very toggy place. 
Fishery management's lost their dagoned minds not to support the heck out of building this sort of habitat.

Boulder or not, NOAA or not, Production or not; if donations increase so will the amount of reef. 
Given time, concrete we throw overboard turns into coral reef. You can't stop it.  
No office, no staff, no payroll. Every penny goes to reef building & fund raising. 
More Coral, More Fish. 

It ain't all about the big projects though. We continue with our more routine reef building as well. 

Capt. Jeremiah Kogon, a dive boat skipper out of OC and supremely helpful to the Foundation, announced a reef building trip on the Foundation's facebook page. 
Email's enough for me. I'm a flip-phone guy in a iPhone world.. 
Anyway, he swiftly rounded up 6 volunteers, all divers this time, for a reef building trip Super Bowl Sunday. 
Tow Boat US Ocean City might also get underway with a truckload of concrete pipe. 
We'll be back long before the game. . . 

For the most part, regulators have treated seafloor habitat study/restoration theory as a bastard redheaded criminal stepchild they'd prefer to keep behind bars. 
Coastal states each have large "Dept. of Fisheries." You can see where the emphasis is by the amount of staffing. Maryland & New York each have one person in fisheries devoted to reef building. I'm pretty sure NY's guy must spend most of his time working on something else. 

New York is where US reef building began. Really. The McAllister Grounds was the very first 'official' artificial reef in the US. I understand it's still fished heavily. 
Odd that no group of men has convened to inform NY state government of reef building's continued usefulness and nearly unlimited potential. Even a fly-fishing striper guy ought to recognize reef's potential as he's fishing a rock jetty built of giant boulders. If stripers feed at jetties, then that same habitat fully submerged would also serve as a feeding ground. 
"Oh No! If we build artificial reef we'll 'Attract' stripers and make catching them easier.

I'm sorry. While "Attraction Is Bad" does represent current thought at the highest levels of management, at least in simple fashion; I think it's time the recreational community forces reconsideration of the theory's illogical foundation. Here using the striped bass example above: If artificial reef builds more feeding grounds, then habitat expansion must thin fish populations that use new reef habitats for feeding. Because some fish will certainly continue to use the old feeding grounds, density is reduced. 
The idea reef building 'attracts' & concentrates fish for easier harvest is illogical. To concentrate fish we'd have to remove habitat. Boy, history shows we're really good at that.. 

This "attraction is bad" theory, from inception, has been about larger fish. Whether gag grouper or striped bass, it is possible to create feeding grounds for larger predators. In my observation you could include sharks in this category. 
Whether ill-considered or simply unconsidered, what reef building opponents are missing is this: reef building creates so much new habitat production that large predators are able to feed in an area that was previously barren - a feeding ground created where there was none before. 
Because locations where feeding had previously occurred are not lost, because they continue as feeding areas also, habitat is increased.  

The Chesapeake is missing 99% of it's historical oyster biomass. Should we halt all efforts of re-reefing the Chesapeake because new reefs will "attract" fish & promote successful fishing? Or should we simply accept oyster reef restoration increases fishery production; accept oyster restoration as a vital component of both estuarine & marine fisheries restoration.. 

Some fish, such as our region's tautog & sea bass, are not so different from mussels, oysters or even temperate corals. Any reef species first colonizes new reef as it becomes suitable habitat. For mussels the primary need of colonizable hard-bottom habitat is rather simple, "Is it wet?" If yes, then: "Is it in salt water?" Once a reef species has successfully colonized new habitat, spawning is only a matter of time. From this initial colonization, production must follow. 

If a species lives & feeds for most of it's life cycle on the same reef habitat, then top scientists assert an increased habitat footprint will create new fisheries production. Here Dr. Bill Lindberg, a professor at the University of Florida with a lifetime of marine study writes: Small fishes that are highly sedentary and highly site attached, meaning they get their shelter, get their food, and complete their life cycle essentially at the same place, for them an artificial reef may very well lead to new production. . . .
Hmm.. That sounds like a description of tautog. 
The ASMFC has a management plan to "restore" tautog. If we took all the man-made rock, shipwreck, artificial reef, pier, bridge & rip-rap habitat away; virtually no tautog could survive in the Mid-Atlantic given industrial fishing's 70+ years of marine habitat damage and almost two centuries of estuarine hard bottom impacts. Because the remaining natural reef habitat would support very, very few tautog; an argument against habitat construction as vital in tautog restoration owing to fears of "attraction" must yeild to the certainty of today's tautog production taking place almost exclusively on man-made habitats. 

Very soon big bridges will fall. It's about the only thing everyone in Congress can agree on. We need to get to work on our infrastructure. 
One of these bridges will almost certainly be the Tappan Zee Bridge. That's a big son of a gun. It would cost about the same, or perhaps even be less expensive, to recycle the concrete as artificial reef than to landfill or crush it. It's a big bridge over big water. Barges can get there. Lowering material down to barges is easier than lifting up to trucks. 
If just a few New York anglers write letters to their Governor, Transportation Secretary, Natural Resources Secretary & Head of Fisheries - even their MAFMC & ASMFC reps, they might build reef with these old bridges; they might save their state money while building a LOT of new reef habitat. 
If not, maybe New Jersey will get that NY reef material too. 

I know Maryland anglers have to get going on this too, and we should know better.

Every coastal state, save perhaps Alabama with their well-respected "Roads to Reefs" program, ought to take a lesson from Maryland's Chesapeake Bay reef work of the mid-2000s. We had to raise millions to reef the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in the Chesapeake. It would have been nearly as cost effective to have reef building built into the bids, into the contract - with us paying for towing beyond some number of miles if we wanted to reef the material further away. . .

I have had people at the TopTopTop of management tell me they cannot support reef building until the "Attraction vs Production Debate" is settled.  

No one in fisheries would claim habitat loss makes fisheries restoration an easier task. Not unless it's to throw their arms up and say, "We're done. We can't restore these fish because their habitat's been lost.
If habitat loss could even theoretically be an insurmountable burden in the restoration of a reef species, then it must be true that habitat creation would aid in their restoration. 

No fish fall from the sky. All fish are a product of habitat. The only reason there's a "debate" at all is because we're ignorant of habitat. 
Our "Best Available Science" in the form of recreational catch estimates isn't believed by anyone but used by everyone. 
Whether coral habitat produces fish in the nearshore water of the Mid-Atlantic is in "debate" and defunded permanently while the US spends millions to conserve, protect & enhance the pretty corals where more people swim. 

Where "conservation" implies knowledge of inventory; "restoration" conveys the impression we know what's been lost. I can assure readers that although NOAA & NMFS are assigned both tasks in the Essential Fish Habitat clause of Magnuson; so far as our nearshore coral habitats are concerned NOAA has no inventory of seafloor habitat and therefore no possible means of conservation. Ignorant even of habitat that remains, we can give no thought whatever to Mid-Atlantic coral restoration. NOAA hasn't any knowledge of historical reef loss and therefore no possible means of creating a restoration policy. 

Our recreational reef fish restoration plans stem 100% from catch estimates no one should believe. 
That's the state of reef-fish restoration in 2015.   

While management's debating, I'm going to throw some concrete overboard. 
Tomorrow in fact. 
Go grow some coral. 
More Coral, More Fish. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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