Monday, April 20, 2015

Fish Report 4/20/15

Fish Report 4/20/15 
Toggin Past
Fishing's Future 
Eight Deployments So Far

Now opening June to sea bass reservations under standard reservation policy. 
Opened Reservations For First Two Weeks Of Sea Bass Season Back In February. Long Cbass Trips - 6AM to 3:30PM - $125.00 - All Saturdays Plus The First 3 Days Of Season Are Long Trips. Regular Trips $110.00..

OC Reef Foundation's Largest Concrete Project Ever Is Happening Right Now. As of 4/18/15 we've put eight 100+ ton loads of precast concrete on various reefs sites & have numerous more trips to run.  
We've built a very fine reef in memory of Sue Foster.. I should say "we've begun building a very fine reef.." It's one heck of a nice start!  
We've also begun building a reef in Capt. Bob Gowar's memory. If he'd seen all the concrete pipe & pre-cast cement boxes & manholes we had stockpiled three weeks ago, it seemed a full city block; Capt. Bob would have said, "You gotta better chance of seeing Christ ride through this parking lot on a unicycle than getting all this on the bottom before sea bass start!" 
Instead, folks that really miss Capt. Bob are ensuring I'll have to order even more reef material. 
Both long-time & dear friends, I'd have rather not built either reef. . . 

Small-scall reef building that adds up over time; on my last fishing trip (March 25th - Ugh!) we dropped reef-block number 11,000 - now 11,018 Reef Blocks by the stern-rail  – 2,146 at Doug Ake's – 1,218 at Saint Ann's – 558 at Eagle Scout Reef - 557 at Lindsey's Isle of Wight Reef and 322 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef. 

See if you're interested in learning more.  

Our annual reef dinner is being hosted again by the Ocean City Marlin Club on May 17th from 4:30 to 7.. They specialize in delicious. If you have items to contribute for any manner of live/silent/Chinese auction, please shoot me an email. 

Greetings All, 
I apologize for the long delay between reports. Please believe my crew & I have been extremely busy building reef. We tried to get the project going in late February, but the deployment rig (the ex-Army Corps of Engineers dredge "Fry" and now renamed "Iron Lady") was ice-bound over in Salisbury. I joined her crew Saturday, April 5th and got underway a touch after lunchtime. Easter Sunday's sunrise was perfectly timed at the Bay-Bridge Tunnel. Freighter lights glistening in peaceful reflection; the ocean was as calm as I've ever beheld.  
A half-hour drive by car from OC to Salisbury, it took 33 hours from Salisbury to OC aboard the Iron Lady. Made lines fast to the old clam dock in Ocean City at about 10PM Easter Sunday & had our first load of reef material on the bottom at Purnell's Reef by 6PM Monday. 
Deckhand Tyler, at 19 year of age, is truly a master of the telehandler forklifts we're using to shuffle pre-cast around and vital to setting the 100+ pound double-danforth anchor sets we're making with inch and a quarter nylon rope. Wes has been hired as crew aboard the Iron Lady & is also cabling together multi-pipe units for OCRF. I'm supervising the yard, accurately anchoring for each deployment, (the accuracy required is a lot like tog fishing..) & monitoring deployments. 
There are very few times in my life I've been busier. 
(Pic is a 6 pipe bundle over 5 feet tall held together with donated steel cable. If the bottom pipes scour in a bit most of the unit will still be exposed. In the background OCRF's little barge is loaded again with six large pre-cast pipe junctions for another run to Kelly's Reef just 2.5 miles south of the inlet.  The pipe bundles are something I've hoped would be used in the Chesapeake. Where the cable passes thru a bag of spat could be wire-tied creating a very sheltered brood stock preserve. The founder of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, R.V. Truitt, envisioned cement oyster broodstock preserves in 1920..)  

Been fishing the ocean 35 years now - I'm positive. Building reef is a simple way to not only increase fishing & diving opportunities, but reef-fish & coral populations as well. More Coral, More Fish. 

Managers at the top, however, wring their hands.. "Oh, we're not sure whether reef building just 'attracts' reef fish from nearby natural reefs, or if artificial reef 'produces' reef-fish like natural reefs do." 

My guess is corals & reef-fish cannot tell the origin of a substrate. They cannot determine: "Oh, these corals are growing on an artificial substrate. Well! No spawning here! No Feeding Either! We are only allowed to be "attracted.

I think instead when juvenile reef-fish fail to be 'attracted' to reef habitat (accidental, natural or artificial; it makes no difference) they are never given a chance to contribute to production. If juveniles cannot feed, avoid predators, grow to maturity & spawn, that fishery's production stops. 

Honestly. The real question about reef building's attraction vs production is, "Why can't we attract management to methods of fishery restoration that actually work?" 


I last slipped offshore for some fishing on Wednesday, March 25th. Put a few miles between us & the inlet in a very cold ocean. Told everyone long-long, plus an extra-long; the run offshore was as advertised. Wish I'd scheduled that day's 4AM departure a bit earlier. 2AM would have been better.
First tog over the rail was right decent - about 17 pounds. Many sea bass up to 4.5 pounds followed. Had to de-gas sea bass with a venting needle to get them back down even though water depth wasn't all that. Sometimes feeding behavior, whether up in the water column or not, is the determining factor where release of excess gasses is required to prevent baurotrauma mortality. 
Calm seas, well-rested clients with plenty of fish and tales of a late-winter adventure: wasn't much else I could ask of the year's last long tog trip. I will positively be doing that trip again whether anyone buys a ticket or not. 

While on this distant wreck I'm fairly confident we were about 6 miles from the next- nearest structure. Management's pause, their utter lack of support for reef building, is formed by the logic these sea bass & tog were 'unfairly' attracted to this artificial reef (here a shipwreck but certainly not a natural rock formation..) They're concern is that these tog & sea bass had been attracted away, siphoned off of, some as-yet undiscovered natural bottom. 
Nevermind I haven't had any interest in our natural reefs from NOAA Fisheries. Some managers believe artificial reefs only 'attract' fish from natural reefs for easier capture.. 

Far to sea on Wednesday, March 25th - exposed to only a sliver of the true vastness that is our Atlantic Ocean - I knew a boulder strewn reef a mile wide by five miles long would, though artificially sited, soon create an explosion of life. The fish, lobsters & any of a multitude of animals that grow on rocks would blossom: a quantity of life far, far beyond what we witnessed upon that wreck lies latent in Maryland, Virginia & Pennsylvania rock quarries  ..yet reef building's an unwelcome idea in a system slowly strangling recreational for-hire access in fishery after fishery. 

Soon, I hope; soon we'll begin to grapple habitat's role in our fisheries. Today's method, "It doesn't matter if fish fall from the sky so long as we harvest in accordance with MRIP's catch estimates" clearly isn't working. Well, it is working if you read NOAA's press releases. It isn't working if your livelihood depends on maintaining fisheries production; maintaining access to abundant fish for steady client satisfaction. 

I thought sure we'd have begun inshore tog fishing by now. 
Pretty doubtful at all now. I suppose readers in the construction trades are accustomed to project delays.
Might roll right-up to sea bass season before we've gotten the Morning Star ready for summer season. She has no lipstick at all. Not even a salon floor..
As my friend Dave Sikorsky recently noted of his volunteer work at CCA Maryland, "Once you've said yes, you can't say no." 
I've envisioned this reef project for many years. One percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. Not about to say no.. 

I'd well and truly appreciate your donation while we have everything in place. Money raised right now can be made into reef that will last at least centuries..

No one's trying to keep this coral habitat a secret from NOAA.. No, "Shhh! Don't tell the guvmint!
Mussels & most other growths we paint boat-bottoms with anti-fouling paint to prevent; they all colonize new reef constructions quite rapidly. 
As in the successionary stages of a forest's growth; in time much of the fastest reef growth is pushed aside by corals. Corals will win in the long run. 
Because fish living on a reef at any stage of coral/mussel growth succession neither starve nor get eaten by predators--including us by regulation: reef fish then grow to maturity & spawn. 
Hmmm.. building habitat where reef-fish can FeedShelter from PredationGrow to Maturity & Spawn. Verbiage sounds mighty familiar..
In fact, Congress wrote almost exactly that about fish habitat in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. 
That same law, Magnuson, is used to close more & more fisheries with catch-estimates no one believes, while being soundly ignored where Essential Fish Habitat is concerned, at least for the Mid-Atlantic's seafloor. 

NOAA: "Nothing to see here. All just normal process. Move along now" ..but MRIP is going to be scrutinized by the National Research Council - see article:  Much more on that trial to come. Not to be pre-judgemental, but I should like to be a witness at the execution

It's really not funny. MRIP & MRFSS before have had a crippling affect on numerous fisheries. Regulatory economic death sentences are being issued even though almost no one actually believes the witness. The US Government is using bad data in closure after closure of recreational reef fisheries.

ALL the Gulf States are asking Congress they be relieved from their requirement to use MRIP data in the red snapper fishery. 
Maryland is creating its own catch-estimating program. Rhode Island & Connecticut are too, I understand. 
Perhaps now is our best chance ever to set NOAA Fisheries on a new path. Recreational fisheries from Maine to Texas are all suffering needlessly because of bad catch estimates. Some fishers have written. Congress is hearing about it. If we will demand NOAA's dismissal from the recreational catch estimating business and ask US Fish & Wildlife Service to take up the task, the future will look brighter no matter how much more difficulty we suffer in the short term. 

Perhaps you'll remember this from a recent Louisiana State press release: 
Federal managers set fishing seasons using imprecise estimates of recreational red snapper landings from the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). Using these faulty data, they inaccurately estimate fishing quotas and are forced to set overly restrictive seasons. 

Management is presently allowed no choice between "lies, damn lies & statistics." 
Because they must use MRIP's estimates 'as is,' MRIP is destroying recreational fisheries one estimate at a time. 

Write a letter. Send it. Ask your representatives that fishery management be based on true science. 
Please - Write to your state's fisheries department & members of Congress. Tell them MRIP has to go. It's bad data being used in a bad way. MRIP's overestimates of catch have gutted the economic vitality of many recreational fisheries while doing little for our fish. 

Tell your representatives in DC & at the state level that you'd like to see Biology & Ecology brought back into fisheries management. 

Why in Billy Blue Blazes we squander the lifetime earning potential of today's For-Hire crews - even forcing bankruptcy by MRIP-based regulation - while the actual task of reef-fish restoration is so very basic..
Boulder, concrete, heavy steel; it is simple beyond belief to create reef habitat necessary for reef-fish to begin & complete their life cycle.

Make a contribution to OCRF -  - NOAA will catch up eventually. 
"Oh Look! Here's a press release showing NOAA has discovered corals off DelMarVa in 75 feet of water!"
That PR could be years from now. In just 7 or 8 years what we're building now -this week- will already be on it's 4th tautog spawning cycle & have soft coral, sea whip, colonizing in good numbers. 
Long before that, in just the next few months flounder & sea bass will spawn at these new reefs....

Maybe this summer MRIP will estimate canoes & kayaks caught more sea bass than all commercial & party/charter boats combined. 
Really. With no changes MRIP could easily do what they've done 4 of the last 5 years - invent fantastic sea bass catches. Managers have used every possible means to keep us in a viable fishery despite MRIP's assertions of gross overfishing. One day those managers, the ones on our side, will have no tricks left. 

Write a letter - Tell Congress to fix MRIP & Find Our Corals! 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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