Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Fish Report 2/16/16

Fish Report 2/16/16
Went (a while back) 
Going (in the near future) 
Things On My Mind (a lot of things - heavy)

Going Toggin: 
Friday, Feb 19 - 5:30AM to 5:30PM - $170.00 - 16 Sells Out (Warning: Swinging For The Fence Increases Odds Of A Strikeout..) . 
Saturday looks too windy to get offshore comfortably on my boat. 
Sunday, Feb 21 - 7AM to 3PM - $110.00 - 16 Sells Out. (Iffy Forecast)
Monday, Feb 22 - 6AM to 2PM - $110.00 - 16 Sells Out. (rain late)
Reservations Required. 

Keeps Snowing. Water's Getting COLD. 
One Day Soon Our Tog Will Go Into What Is Essentially A "Hibernation." (So far as I know, no science has ever studied such. We do have many reports of tog deep in wrecks & even more reports of tog 'buried' in the bottom with just a gill & eyeball exposed. Lots of great fishery science awaits in the Mid-Atlantic---is needed actually.) 

All Winter Trips Posted Via Email. There's just no use trying to go everyday in winter...

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

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. 

Going Toggin Anyway! Tog Only, Sea Bass Are Closed Because NOAA Has Accepted Poor Statistical Catch Estimates As If They Represented 'Certain Knowledge' For Decades. NOAA Has No Idea How Best To Manage The Sea Bass Fishery. (yet) 
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 

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! 

Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - On My Rig You Can Reserve What Spot You're In. Please See http://morningstarfishing.com 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! (Meclizine's Better!) Crystalized Ginger Works Great Too. It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure.  
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.   

Now Out Of Block - Rats! Working On More.. (Have a little MONEY now - that helps!) Will Accept Even Small Donations Of A Few Blocks You Have Cluttering Up The Yard..
(Still) 12,593 Reef Blocks Deployed at numerous sites. Active presently are Doug Ake's Reef with 2,394 - St. Ann's 1,459 - Al Giles Barge 653 - Eagle Scout Reef 756 - Sue's Drifting Easy Reef 147 - Nichols' Concrete 540 - Upside Down Tank 132 

Please Support the Ocean City Reef Foundation!
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential. 
Thank You! 
(Photo Nick Caloyianis)
Report after report details how nothing grows on tires. (Yes, those are tire in the pic above)
The tire reefs of the 1970s were 95% mosquito control & just 5% "good for fishing." Maybe it was 90/10. If you think there was genuine concern for recreational fishing, you've not been following along..
This pic & others from 8 miles off MD's coast show how if there had been more effort to engineer tire reefs to stay put, to resist wave energy and NOT BREAK APART, coral growth on them would have been amazing. 
Unfortunately, tires are STILL washing ashore..
No - I do not want to go back to using tires. The anger & resentment poorly engineered reefs have caused, however, are what prevent logic from becoming part of an argument for increasing marine productivity by building artificial reef. 
Off our coast millions & millions of reef fish have spawned amid thousands & thousands of tons of corals growing on reefs that are not 'natural.' 
Only a substrate is artificial: all growth & fish occur via natural colonization & spawning as if a storm had swept the sand from a patch of rocky bottom. When a hard substrate is exposed, whether we put it there or shifting sands revealed it, nature leaps at the chance to thrive. 
Because so much of our natural reef bottoms were clay or soft sandstone, one could reasonably argue had it not been for horrific shipwrecks---completely uncleaned & 'unprepared for reefing' catastrophic losses prior to artificial reef building; entire fisheries would have been lost as impacts to natural hardbottom reefs increased after WWII & into the 1970s. As more & more bottom was lost--forever; wrecks & then artificial reefs became habitat's backbone . . . .  

Greetings All, 
Nothing like a little reef-rant to get the blood flowing. Wes, Danny & I just did 3 days at the Ocean City Boat Show's OCRF booth. Dern near talked ourselves horse. Two-Drop Terry stopped by to help a couple hours. Probably felt guilty for eradicating so many fluke last summer. 
Lots & lots of folks stopped by to say how they appreciate what we're doing, and then helped OCRF do still-more with a contribution. 

Because of that enormous gale a few weeks ago, the blizzard some call "Winter Storm Jonas," a lot of trash washed up on the beach, including tires from reef building back in the 1970s I discuss above. 
There have been mistakes made in selecting reef building material, no doubt. But even mistakes in reefing have added more to marine production than ignorance. 
NOAA & NMFS have yet to recognize any type of growth, or any area of growth, anywhere in the shelf-waters of the Mid-Atlantic, as Essential Fish Habitat. These temperate corals I've videoed & shown pictures of for almost two decades have not been studied -- at all. 
Not At All. 
That orange soft coral, the sea whip you'll often see in pictures I send - that's NOT fish habitat. 
Not according to .guv anyway.. Actual fish seem to like it pretty swell.

Hard February. Was looking like a mild winter back in December into January.. Did sneak a single tog trip so far in February. 
That day a fellow caught a double right out of the gate. One was about 8 or 9 pounds & was sporting an ALS tag we'd put in some time ago. That fish was released. The other was a thick, bull-headed rascal of about 17 pounds that went home for dinner.. 
Some pretty fish caught. Others got away plain as day. Some skunks. 
It's the hardest bottom fishing I know of -- in the hardest time of year. 
Can't wait. Let's go.

Did I mention we saw a right whale a few weeks ago? Reported it - but didn't get a pic. There's only about 400 left. Researchers know each one. 
Funny coincidence.. Regulators long ago, early in the era of whaling thought "whales are moving north" - up to the ice - to move away from the hunters. 
Of course, those whales 'up north' had been there all along. This new absence of whales where hunting had been unrelenting was simply the effect of harvest. The presence of whales where no one had yet hunted meant just that - virgin habitat. 
It did not mean whales were 'moving north.' (but population had certainly 'shifted north' regardless of cause..) 

When we had a croaker kill 15 years ago or so, MD DNR said: "A pocket of cold water stunned the fish." Their argument from authority was soon joined by a more plausible bit of work from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) who, through testing, had found an infection was raging in the croaker population. 

Today we have "sea bass are moving north" in the Mid-Atlantic. That's "why" our catch numbers have fallen off a cliff
..even though Georgia and both coasts of Florida are catching cbass to this day. 
A genetic study showing separate/isolated populations has been grasped like a life-ring by NOAA to show how our sea bass must have developed an affinity for cooler water than those far to our south in much warmer water. 
Sea bass are a poster child for funding climate science in fisheries - star in a paper called Climate Velocity where sea bass populations shifted FAST. "Yeah! Climate Change Did It!"
This other new guy on the block, regulation, couldn't have anything to do with it. They can tell because catch bounces around regardless regulation's influence ..and catch is made plain on computers using MRIP's catch estimates. 

Simple plausibility, even if complete fable, always precedes true understanding. 
The philosopher Kant urged thinkers: Sapere Aude, which loosely translates: Have The Courage To Use Your Own Reasoning.

In Fisheries, long use of bad catch estimates has made such a mess of rational scientific expectation from regulation that courage is in short supply. 

For instance, in this article we see Rhode Island anglers will be allowed 8 flounder & 3 sea bass. 
What a strange, strange place regulation has come to when such as that could ever be a consideration. What this regulatory pairing shows is how far from biological realities bad catch estimates can take us. 

Then too, why in the world aren't our temperate corals, in any collection, considered fish habitat? Why are these places, so very well-known to hold reef-fish for nearly every life stage, completely ignored in all attempts of "fishery restoration" in the Mid-Atlantic? 
I think seafloor habitat has been ignored because regulators see catch & populations jumping around like grasshoppers on hot pavement. With swings such as are represented in the MRFSS/MRIP catch estimates, habitat seems a small influence - if any influence on populations at all. 
To see those sorts of swings in real life, out in the ocean, takes a real event. (Something like a sub-bottom profiler running for several years would work..)

At this stage--where we are today, warming pushes cold ice melt waters south along the NE & Mid-Atlantic coast via the Labrador Current. How, I wonder, did we come to a place in 'science' where global warming is blamed for our warmest-water reef fish "moving north" while cool-water tautog remain firmly rooted; and a far-colder water species, Atlantic cod, begin returning south to long abandoned habitat, the exact habitat sea bass are said to be 'abandoning' because they've grown too warm.. 

I think the correct understanding of sea bass population shift north in the Mid-Atlantic--and it has shifted--should be seen as an effect of management only diminishing populations in the southern/central Mid-Atlantic. This 'shift north' is not at all applicable to warming because bottom temps are as cool or cooler over the last 20 years. However, the very shallow & rocky area just below Cape Cod, which is trapping warm surface waters blown in by summer southerlies, has indeed seen an elevation of 10 to 12 degrees fahrenheit in summer. 
That warmer, rocky-reef area has increasing sea bass numbers. An area without any recreational sea bass fishery during regulations' dawning -1997- and remained without in those years when their size limit was 12 & 13 inches, now has sea bass flourishing with a 14 inch limit. 

But we couldn't call it a "Fishery Restoration" because 'fishery' describes the human side, describes human use of a fish population. 
For instance: every fall I used to have clients from Massachusetts flee their scup to come fish off Maryland's coast for unlimited sea bass. Many of those clients from up north stopped coming for the fall cbass run immediately after the 25 fish limit was enacted in 2002. 
Therefore, it's unlikely anyone following the letter of the law will be going north to fish for sea bass with Rhode Island's 3 fish limit, or MA's 8 fish. 
Although the region now has enough cbass to create a legal fishery, sea bass remain primarily a bycatch in the scup fishery even if targeted by some with artificial lures.   

Regulations based on impossible assertions of catch which allow only small bag limits do not restore a fishery - they choke it to death. 
(I should remind readers that the period from 1992 to 2001, a time with no recreational bag limit on sea bass, was also a time when the population doubled many times -- sea bass fishing got better & better until we went to a 12 inch size limit. Unforeseen by anyone, that size limit increase shifted the age when we first see the blue "nuchal hump" on male sea bass - what we call a 'knot head.' Apparently driven only by what size cbass they see around them, cbass now spawn years later than they used to. In all of 2015 I saw one sea bass under 9 inches with a blue head. We used to see hundreds every day..
Every species above the lowest orders displays changes in 'age at maturity' according to biological pressure points we do not fully understand. Sea trout (weakfish), for instance, were known to spawn at age 4 in the 1970s, yet today all weakies spawn at age one. Clearly this has not been a good development for trout - but we certainly should have learned how to manage for 'age one maturity' in sea bass to propel populations upward.... See a piece I wrote in Dec/2011 Course Correction: On Revitalizing the Mid-Atlantic's Recreational Black Sea Bass Fishery.   http://www.fishingunited.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=11052 ) 

Of far greater immediate consequence than warming: the greening of the Mid-Atlantic ocean escapes notice, while convenient (yet illogical) inventions of fish population movement garner headlines. 
Our "Deep Blue Sea" is turning green - has turned green. NOAA: "OMG - would you look at that temperature??"

I too have been guilty of grasping at convenience. When our sea bass population began to tumble in 2003/2004 there was an incredible by-catch of sea bass in Feb/March/April 2004 in the just-loosening summer flounder commercial trawl fishery. 
I've heard numerous stories from guys in the fishery--even of many boxes marked 'squid' that maybe weren't--but heard on my radio, in my wheelhouse, as trawl skippers begged anyone who had a sea bass permit to come get his bycatch lest his crew shovel them over dead. One captain was literally begging..
In good weather, trap boats & conch boats with a permit (who hadn't set any sea bass gear for the season at all) were "catching" sea bass like crazy. 
In bad weather & on trawlers more willing to accept the realities of regulation; well, those sea bass just got shoveled back dead. 
I'd predicted such an event in my 11/07/03 fish report in a comment on sea bass management I'd submitted to NOAA about their need to use habitat fidelity in quota management.  "If a subset of a coastal stock were targeted, though unintentional, with heavy pressure, then fishers on that stock in the other parts of the year would see greatly reduced landings."

Six months later, in May of 2004, my clients caught just a touch better than half the sea bass they'd caught the year before. 
I thought then the sea bass population would quickly correct. After all, I'd just witnessed year after year of population doubling. 
I thought sea bass would spawn like crazy 
..but they didn't. Still haven't. 

Then I thought it must be madly increased recreational discard mortality that was causing our sea bass diminishment. In all our thousands of tags I had noticed how larger sea bass always seemed to have greater difficulty than sub-10 inch fish at release. I continue to think larger sea bass have greater difficulty with release; but it certainly isn't the cause of our region's sea bass dropping back to pre-regulatory populations. Very little fishing occurs where depth would play any role. On my boat we have it dialed in to where release mortality is much, much less than 1%.. 

Oddly enough, today there are probably more large female sea bass off our coast than ever in history, yet those Big Old Fecund Females (BOFF) create the least amount of sea bass production in history too.  

Sea bass production tanked in the central & lower Mid-Atlantic right the heart of this grand experiment called 'fishery restoration.' The easiest plausible idea to offer Congress & the public is "climate change".. 

Yes - ice is melting. Big time. It's warmer. 
Most deniers are people who have no issue believing science which asserts temperatures have changed many times up & down over many epochs; who are glad to quote 'ice age science' as an explanation for warming we witness today. Yet these folks are somehow certain those same scientists who assert temperature change happened at all, and now assert warming is happening faster, incredibly faster, than ever before: they got that part of the science wrong. (but the rest is right?)

What I believe is a well-known current, the Labrador Current, is carrying ice melt cooled waters south. 
I believe scuba divers who tell me it's chilly down there. I believe cod, true Atlantic cod (and not 'ling cod' which is a whole 'nother story..) are more numerous than ever in my 36 year career, while amberjack & spadefish are fewer. 
I'll tell any who will listen: our troubles with sea bass lie in spawning production and not from water that's suddenly too warm. . . . .

Years and years of telling .guv there's seafloor habitat off here have fallen on deaf ears. (Consider: sea bass restoration has never been troubled with habitat considerations, yet every description of cbass has "reef" somewhere in it.) 

Now here comes BIG BOEM DOT.GUV telling little NOAA.guv to get the hell out of the way. BOEM wants wind power. (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, BOEM, used to be a different dot.guv {Mineral Management Service} before the Gulf BP disaster.) 
One last-minute survey by NOAA showed sea bass & reefs. 
Too late. 
NOAA has no issues with wind power. 
OK good. Wind power's good. 
And it is. 

The windmills I've heard & felt, however, will be as welcome as a kid on either side of you at a redlight having a bass speaker contest. Those big blades rotating ain't like a Walmart fan. It's a deep rumble that vibrates to your core. Whether they'll be pleasant to fish around, or even if we'd be allowed to fish around them; we do need to move forward with renewable energy. 

Windmills! Suddenly there was money for ocean work and lots of meetings. I told all these agencies, "Hey, there's coral off here. It's where we fish." 
They seemed to say, "We hear you." 
Then, later, I told 'em about how survey boats are a big pain in the neck because they turn the bite off. At a meeting a couple years back it was a funny story - they laughed. Humor, unfortunately, proved a poor teaching aid. 

Here's what I wrote in my 6/27/15 fish report:
...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 sub-bottom profiler 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 when asked. 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. . . (end of content from 6/27/15 Fish Report)

I went and filmed several reefs impacted by survey boats in September of 2015. The effect surveys had is plainly cumulative & catastrophic. I made a 4 minute video and released it a few weeks ago - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46ahNqo8geE .. We were late getting out there to film. Really late editing it.. Do have to make a living. Weeks after the survey boat was finished--had left for survey work elsewhere, there remained no sea bass on reefs in & near the Maryland Wind Energy Area..

Last year, in 2015, we had no spring run of sea bass. I'd never seen such a thing. Used to be I would presell all of May starting in the first week of December. (e.g. If you wanted to book a Saturday spot in May right now, in February, fugedaboutit - All Sold Out.) Sea bass fishing was great & clients knew it. Now I'll open the last two weeks of May sometime next month and warn clients it won't be what we used to have. 
Having thought long & hard, I attributed the 2015 spring run failure to there being so few spawning sea bass that any impetus--any race among them to be first to claim the best spawning spots--is now gone. 

But I wonder if instead year after year of surveys has taught our sea bass NOT to spawn here, not at all.. Spawning site fidelity is everywhere in the animal world. Similar to salmon, sea bass return to exactly the same spot to spawn. Except, unlike salmon, sea bass survive to spawn again & again. (if we don't catch them!) We've shown spawning site fidelity in cbass with tags hundreds of times.  
What's going to happen now that we've forced them --year after year by sub-bottom profiler noise impacts-- to leave the only spawning ground they know? 

I think what's going to happen is all that bottom in the Maryland Wind Energy Area (MD WEA) will become as if it were a brand new artificial reef - a huge new reef spread out in fantastically greater area than we could ever hope to permit for reef building ..with no fish on it. 
With it's previous spawning population having vacated the premises over what I calculate to be about 500 square miles of seafloor; a new spawning population will take a while to rebuild. 

BOEM sez: Nothing to see, No Effect From Survey Equipment AT ALL. Fish can not even HEAR it. Move along now. Oh, by the way, we'd like to use a more powerful survey equipment, equipment we actually admit does affect marine mammals & fish for oil exploration. You won't mind, will you? 

There are very, very few who feel any real effect when Big Dot.Guv screws-up in the ocean. Unless it washes up on the beach; who's to know? 
I'll tell all who will listen - this business is bad getting worse. All of it.
NOAA tells Congress sea bass are 'restored'  ..yet I anticipate the worst spring run in the history of evers, and still another summer with fewer sea bass caught across months than we used to catch in a day. 

Hey Big Dot.Guv, I think you're screwing this fishery restoration/habitat thing up big-time.. 

Lots of people, townships & municipalities are fighting the idea of oil wells off our coast -- beginning with oil surveys. Coastal residents feel safe from oil spill without oil platforms off our coast ..but we have huge oil tankers, bigger than the Exxon Valdez, off our coast all the time. They feed crude to refineries in Philly & Delaware along the central Delaware Bay. 
They also bring crude to Upper Jersey.. 

Have to have the crude - no doubt. No gas, no go.

I'm concerned we have precious little in the way of response ships handy in the event of a calamity. Our "plan" in the event of emergency for this region is to do what BP did in the Gulf -- disperse it. Sink it out of sight. Mix it with chemicals and 'wash' it from the surface. 
Starting to look like maybe that's not such a good plan.. 

I'm just beginning to learn, to research. There's a lot of noise to filter about dispersants. 
Here's a lecture by a Ph.D. in California where he claims to have signed a document promising not to study toxicity in the #1 oil dispersant used in oil spills. 
At 32:44 minutes Dr. When-Chin Chun says scientists have to sign a form not to study toxicity in Corexit.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF0gPIjE6M4 The video is only a couple months old. How is it possible? Is it also true that even the US Government cannot study toxicity? 
I'm just beginning this study and recognize I will never understand it as a chemist or biologist might. 

Here's a story about the Gulf BP oil spill by 60 Minutes in Australia. (Never miss 60 Minutes, yet I'd never heard of them in Australia. They check out..)

I do not have to wonder what would happen if an enormous tanker full of crude strikes a windmill sticking hundreds of feet up. 
I will have lost. 
We all will. 

Like the lady in the 60 Minutes story says: "Don't stay & fight. Just take your family and leave." 

This is not the legacy I intend to leave: First we turned the deep blue sea green, then brown. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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