Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fish Report 6/27/15

Fish Report 6/27/15 
Fine & Enjoyable  
Survey Boat Blues  

Sailing For Sea Bass & Flounder (called Fluke from NJ north). 
Absolutely Cannot Predict Which Species Will Bite Better On Any Given Day. Very Firmly: If you positively want one species & not the other you can watch the gut bucket to see which day would have been best for you. Fishing has not been great, but is better than not fishing at all. Sending almost every party home with a fish fry's worth at least - but it requires work. We cannot know what will bite better on any given day until the bite is over. 

Saturdays 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 – Otherwise 7 to 3 at $110.00. Sundays Off Through Summer. 
Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - On My Rig You Can Reserve What Spot You're In. Please See For How The Rail's Laid Out..
LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - Weather Cancelations Happen - 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. With a limited number of reserved spots, I do not refund because you over-slept or had a flat..

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! (Wockenfuss Candies sells crystalized ginger locally - Better is Nuts.Com.. Chewable Meclizine is a good pharmaceutical with Scopolamine Patches the gold standard.)
Honestly - If you get to go on the ocean once month, once a year, or even less; why risk chumming all day? Similarly, if you howl at the moon all night, chances are good you'll howl into a bucket all day.  

Bring A Cooler With Ice For Your Fish – A 48 Quart Cooler Is Fine For A Few People. Do Not Bring A Very Large Cooler. We DO have a few loaners - you'll still need ice. 
No Galley! Bring Food & Beverages To Suit. A few beers in cans is fine for the ride home.  

Small-scale reef building that adds up over time; on my last fishing trip we dropped reef-block number 11,466 over the stern rail. Now 2,226 at Doug Ake's Reef – 1,311 at Saint Ann's - 424 at Al Giles’ Barge - 624 at Eagle Scout Reef - 384 at Nichols' Concrete - And, newly begun, 38 at Sue Foster’s Drifting Easy Reef.. 
Please Sponsor Our Larger-Scale Reef Building At - Thank You! 

Greetings All, 
Great Scott! Fishing has been all over the place; from among my toughest days ever, to very fine & enjoyable. 
"Fine & enjoyable" should not to be confused with 'freezer-filling.' Fishing isn't what it could be if management would ever focus on the possible. 
We're catching sea bass & flounder. Have not had anyone limit on flounder lately & have not had a boat-limit of sea bass yet this year. 
How sad that management marches forward clutching their MRIP catch-estimate driven method of restoration so tightly. Where history's darkest hallways are lined with actions taken in certain knowledge, the regulatory death of our sea bass fishery won't even be a footnote. 

I did see a leviathan, a monstrous sea creature in the biblical sense, on my way home recently. I watched for 20 seconds or so as the enormous fish exposed its upper tail while swimming down-sea, body submerged in a swell, & crossing my bow within 10 yards. It was far & away the largest tuna I've ever seen  ..and just 14 miles off the coast. 
This tuna joins a swordfish I saw in 1979, several species of dolphin in fantastic behaviors, a basking shark cruising the surface in April, 1983; an albatross, a pair of skua, (both with dates logged but not handy) & from among several whales & pods of whales; these are sights permanently held in memory..

Unfortunately for fishers today, the Leviathan envisioned by Hobbes, his work published in 1651, had better become a greater concern than happy-hour specials at local waterfront establishments. 
Hobbes' Leviathan philosophy was foremost in mind as our founders crafted what would become "The United States.." Rather than a goal, however; Hobbes' vision of a Leviathan form of government was what our founders sought to avoid. 
Hobbes, you see, explicitly rejected the idea of 'separation of powers'..
That very separation obviously integral to our highest governance; at lower regulatory scales such as NOAA's management of fishes, however, courts have repeatedly held, "the agency is the expert." 
NOAA, under the last re-write of Magnuson, has now become our modern-day Leviathan. NOAA rules our fisheries with absolute & unquestionable authority; wields a sword of recreational regulatory closure with greater & greater swiftness and frequency. 
For recreational fisheries this sword is crafted solely of data so bad it would never be used in any other endeavor. Because they are "the expert," however, whatever science NOAA declares best is just that. It's inarguable. 
The Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics program (MRIP) is precisely this - putrid science. If you leave a one-pound box of squid in a tackle box out by the garage for almost 2 weeks in July; that stench, an inducement to vomit, is what real science would think of MRIP's catch estimates. 
Coupled with pay-back measures or "Accountability Measures" when recreational anglers exceed quota, MRIP's vastly too high (and also too low) recreational catch estimates assure all recreational fisheries will experience needless regulatory closures. 
In 2012/13 a band of Council members wrote a new amendment that prevented NOAA from suddenly closing sea bass. We might still be closed without that effort. I fear their heroic efforts will not hold much longer. Any estimate now could be the end for my boat & business.

When the previous method of estimating recreational catch (MuRFSS) showed Maryland's shore-bound anglers had caught 15 years worth of party/charter annual landings of flounder in Sept/Oct 2010; we were actually discussing alternate days of fishing as a method of 'pay back.' If a boat was titled with an odd number, it could fish odd calendar days.. 
But the motion was shelved for a 19 inch, three fish limit and lengthy closure. Later dropped to 18 inches, it was "obvious" that the real problem with flounder was neither habitat, spawning success, nor foreign trawler; but bridge, jetty & beach anglers with bloodworms, spreader rigs & a thirst for cold beer while filling new freezers full of shore-caught flounder. They were the trouble! 
Oh wait. 
No one actually thought shore anglers honestly caught that many, that was just a number regulators had to respond to - By Law.. 

Our Leviathan has grown far, far more powerful since then. 
And the catch estimates they use, "repaired" they say, are far worse.

At a recent Advisory Panel meeting Professor John Boreman was almost giddy when he told us about a sea bass 'consulting' deal with SMAST (Massachusetts School for Marine Science & Technology) because, as he said, "sea bass may require regional management"..
The Professor's no joke. He is undoubtably among the world's finest in fishery management. I wanted to puke when he said, "We're getting mixed signals from our sea bass data..
I'm sure his 'mixed signals" are because our lower Mid-Atlantic sea bass fishery is dying, while the Cape Sea Bass, Massachusetts (used to be Cape Cod) fishery flourishes today some 15 years after ours did. 

Whether government or private industry: when there's going to be news no one wants to hear, you hire a consultant. 
SMAST, once outspoken on NOAA's mishandling of cod restoration, has now become an integral part of NOAA's echo chamber. After funding was cut-off and amid fears the school might close, today SMAST knows what kind of science NOAA wants to read. You can bet your last dollar their scientific findings will be whatever NOAA wants. 
I'm guessing sea bass will be shown to have speciated. That is, those sea bass recently declared 'fully rebuilt' in the South Atlantic below Hatteras, and also the sea bass population presently growing exponentially in the teakettle-warm Gulf of Mexico; those sea bass will now be shown as different species from ours. And, gosh, our Mid-Atlantic species is soooo much more sensitive to climate change; why the poor things never had a chance! They HAD to swim north!
You watch.. 

Our region's sea bass reached an all-time recorded high in 2003, just 7 years into management. Catching atlantic cod this year, clearly a cold-water species, is almost a certainty on every trip aboard my boat. Yet "climate change" & "too warm" will be NOAA's excuse for our region's sea bass population crash. (I've written about our region's sea bass decline for years & years. This Fish Report goes into it a fair bit - )

In the late 1990s I would catch in a day what clients have caught so far this year - before we even had a bag limit  ..and the sea bass population continued to double. Now we have multi-month closures, a far larger size limit, & a small creel limit: yet sea bass in our region are at their nadir, perhaps even their lowest population ever. 

Is NOAA actually using their "Best Available Science" to drive our sea bass into the dirt ..or is NOAA's true concern just "science we paid for that's handy & conveniently fits our regulatory model." 
Tag returns have always made clear spawning site habitat fidelity (as a salmon returns to its natal stream) would dictate regional controls, (as Alaskan salmon have regulatory controls down to "river by river" because of natal fidelity) but NOAA would not allow even large regional management zones for sea bass because 'we don't have the data.' 
If there were speciation, however, perhaps regional management would be required. . . .

A number on a computer screen that no one actually believes; an MRIP or MuRFSS catch estimate is far more powerful in today's management than any real biological effect 
..especially an effect on reef-fish feeding behavior from acoustic surveying that NOAA does not want to stop: an effect caused by bottom mapping equipment NOAA does not want to believe. 

I've told various agencies about the effect of sub-bottom profiling several times in writing and in-person at meetings. The unit is not so different from a regular depth sounder - just BIGGER. A sub-bottom profiler reveals the substrate's composition even to 30 & more feet below the bottom, depending on type. If there's a layer of rock 15 feet beneath the sand, a sub-bottom profiler will show it instantly. With wind power & oil exploration a greater concern & coming to the Mid-Atlantic, we've had survey after survey after survey for years now. 

I don't know whose job it is to know what biological effects are occurring because of these acoustic surveys, but the immediate effect on fish is blatant & unmistakable.  
If what happened to reef fish happened to piping plovers or spotted owls or any kind of marine mammal - law suits would be flying. 
Instead, the fact that sub-bottom profilers cause bottom fish to instantly stop feeding is just a yawn.. 

Allow me to tell you what I know. I think it's either a lot more than the government wants you to know, or simply more than they know too. 
No aluminum-foil hat, just facts: 
When Maryland's R/V Kehrin was doing survey work for the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) prior to deployment of NYCTA cars at Jackspot Reef in, I believe, May 2007; Capt. Rick Younger did not seem surprised in the least that his sub-bottom profiler had the instantaneous effect of shutting off what-was a magnificent sea bass bite. The Kehrin's unit was turned on just several hundred yards from my boat. It positively & instantaneously shut-off the feeding of sea bass. 
Capt. Younger, of course, turned his unit off and the fish resumed feeding. 

Survey boats for wind energy will not. 
In recent years surveys have been relentless. There is no variance. The effect to flounder & sea bass is 100% predictable.
Another illustration: on July 31st, 2013, I was fishing the Great Eastern artificial reef about 18 NM ESE OC MD in the southern-most portion of the wind lease. I could see the Scarlett Isabella closing and watched my clients' success diminish to absolute-zero when she was approximately 3NM N our position. As my nearest reef that might provide suitable success was either 8NM south or 13NM ESE, I waited for the survey boat to turn north and move its equipment out of range (about 5 to 7 miles).
Closing to 2NM ENE my position with survey gear in use, no fish at all bit while the Scarlett Isabella was so near. None. 
Then, at 10:15, she came full-stop and the bite went 'wild' (comparatively). With flounder & sea bass coming over the rail, clients cheerfully exclaimed; "Don't move Captain, they're here!" (I, of course, had kept clients over fish all the while.) 
A helicopter approached the Scarlett Isabella and landed aboard ship. That's why she'd stopped. When the helicopter left a while later, the ship came-about and began a new survey leg. 
The bite, of course, died completely & at once as they re-started their survey gear. 
At 10:40 AM I hailed the Scarlett Isabella on VHF 16 & asked to switch to channel 10. I questioned if they had turned off the sub-bottom profiler while the helicopter was aboard. A few minutes later I was told, "Yes, the sub-bottom profiler was off then."  
The Scarlett Isabella was back again last year. 
Now yet another survey has been undertaken, this time by the Shearwater and Global Explorer, a drilling ship. They can scarcely be troubled with recreational fishing concerns. The Global Explorer would not speak with me on the radio after I revealed I was a recreational boat. What they are doing is "important." 
Recreational fishing businesses, apparently, are not. 
Impacts to reef-fish feeding behavior remain 100% consistent. Survey equipment turns the bite off. Unfortunately, the ships this year seem to have a broader, more pervasive effect - their effect on feeding covers more area. 

Two million to fund a passive acoustic study for marine mammals; millions & millions & millions more to look at the bottom for the best windmill sites. 
Go spit on a sea bass. 
NOAA has never made any issue or shown any concern for our natural reef ecologies - it's pretty plain where their "best available science" will lead. 
Scarcely a dime for discovery of our reefs, and not one cent on discovery of what our reef ecology once looked like. NOAA's going to restore fisheries production on our reefs by taking WAGs about our catch if that would restore lost habitat's fisheries production.  

Long before wind was anyone's concern, I bought my own underwater camera gear for a couple-hundred bucks and a $100.00 WalMart TV to record with. & earlier, - Can you believe it? There's coral down there. 
In 2001 I thought simply showing NOAA & then-Congressman Gilchrest these reefs even existed would cause Essential Fish Habitat provisions to kick in. The very same law that allows NOAA to close fisheries with putrid data also demands they "protect, enhance & conserve" Essential Fish Habitat. It's in the Magnuson Act.
Naw.. Ain't the best science! Ignorance is better! Aren't no reef-fish habitat we know of!

I believe sea bass in our region are at their lowest abundance since 1992 and could possibly be at their lowest abundance ever. The habitat we have; whether natural, artificial or accidental reef, is no longer 'full to capacity' with sea bass as it was in 2003. 
While I strongly suspect diminished abundance is mostly due to 'age at maturity' shift in these protogynous hermaphrodites (sea bass all start life as female;) it could also VERY EASILY be that relentless, absolutely UNENDING survey work during prime spawning season over the last few years has had an equally negative effect on sea bass spawning production -- AND NO ONE HAS A CLUE - NO ONE!!!!

I am absolutely positive survey equipment causes our reef fish to cease feeding. I do not know if this equipment also impacts fish at larval stages or at spawning.
And those big hammerheads, one seen swimming even into the inlet and several apparently seen along the beach; aren't sharks pretty keen vibration receptors?

We have no Essential Fish Habitat, no reef of any sort in the science; yet we have many corals & reef species. NOAA sees no need to protect, enhance & conserve our reef habitat - it aren't in their good science. 
We have recreational management of reef fish by computer-generated MRIP catch statistic in coastwide application (and never-ever biology or ecology.) NOAA finds the approach suitable for a reef species with absolute spawning-site habitat fidelity even though logic would clearly demand regional quotas & regional regulatory controls. NOAA shows a clear disdain for creating new fisheries production via artificial reef. They claim there's an 'attraction vs production' debate. 
Now we see too that recreational fisheries are of no consequence to our new wind "partner." 
Silly recreational fishers.. Don't matter whether fish bite or not. Maryland has studies funded under Pete Jensen's guidance that show recreational fishing is more about 'camaraderie' than catching anyway.

NOAA tells Congress, "sea bass in the Mid-Atlantic are fully rebuilt.
I think that charade will soon end. Then SMAST will tell everyone: "Gosh, who'd have guessed there could be three species of sea bass that look EXACTLY alike! Who knew?!"

More now than ever before, I fear for my business. 
No recreational fishery managed by NOAA is immune to MRIP overestimates. Any fishery could find itself closed with just one or two bad recreational catch estimates. Look at cod, look at red snapper - look at blueline tile. 
With Accountability Measures & MRIP we've gone from fisheries restoration to economic Russian Roulette. 
We need relief. We need representation. 
We need the commercial & recreational reef fisheries to matter as much as wind energy. We need marine fisheries restoration to move way beyond putrid catch-estimates. We need managers to embrace ecology & population biology as well as extraction based restoration theory. 

We know enough to take our region's reef species to all time population highs, but that science isn't in MuRFSS/MRIP catch estimates. Right now, so far as NOAA's concerned, catch estimates are the only science that counts for recreational management. 

Take a minute to write your Senators - ESPECIALLY if either she or he is a democrat - And ESPECIALLY if you live in New Jersey because your freshman Senator, Cory Booker, is on the Senate Fisheries Sub-Committee. 
As these things happen in sharply divided politics, we may not even see HR 1335 come to life in the Senate. Unfortunately, the House's reauthorization of Magnuson (HR 1335) only brushes against MRIP's catch estimates. Accountability Measures will remain in play during the years & years of coming debate over recreational catch estimates' usefulness. 

So long as Accountability Measures are applied with MRIP's data, any fishery could be closed for any length of time. 

There are powerful environmental organizations whose knowledge comes entirely from a computer screen that want to see HR 1335 dead. They KNOW recreational fishing is WAY out of control. They can see it plain as day from their office on their computer screen

..and they are not afraid to write to our Senators. 
Are you? 
See below.. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

Dear Senator ______ , 
I'm writing to ask your support for a new Magnuson re-write. While HR 1335 recognizes the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) was probably a gigantic waste of federal money, the House version does not prevent further economic damage & loss of fishing opportunity to recreational anglers as more & more Accountability Measures accrue. 
Because of Accountability Measures begun by the previous Magnuson re-write; MRIP's very poor, scientifically indefensible recreational catch estimate data has beaten down some fisheries to the point of despair. Overestimation of catch has reached all-time highs just when repercussions for exceeding allowable quota are at their worst.  

Spikes in recreational catch estimates such as New Jersey's shore-bound anglers having caught more tautog in two late-winter months than all commercial effort landed all year are causing Accountability Measures to come into play across many recreational fisheries. With seasons already tight, Accountability Measures create more & more closures; often with estimates that no one involved with a fishery--including scientists & managers--believes in the least. 
As management struggles with the demands of Magnuson to use bad data with no flexibility, concepts in management such as 'age at maturity shift' & sea floor habitat restoration/creation escape notice. 

Cod, Haddock, Black Sea Bass, Tautog, Summer Flounder, Red Grouper & Red Snapper: Anglers From Maine To Texas Need Your Help. 
Please Help Rid Accountability Measures' Brutal Economic Effects Until Recreational Catch Data Occurs Nearly In Real-Time - Use Rhode Island's SmartPhone App.  
Please Also Demand Of NOAA They Examine Habitat Production In The Reef Fisheries. 
Fantastic progress in fisheries restoration awaits. 

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