Monday, April 25, 2016

Fish Report 4/25/16

Fish Report 4/25/16
Opening June Sea Bass 
Catching Tog (no really, there's a description below of our toggin lately. It's just way down there..)
BOEM's Blind Eye To Habitat
Cobia: A Counting Catastrophe

Below on Cobia: Either way - it's crazy to close off all angling, & all commerce associated with that angling, on such a thinly supported number. 

Opening June to Sea Bass Reservations. It is also possible flounder (fluke to you northerners) might come in early--arrive on our reefs and wrecks in force by late June. 
So: You can now reserve spots from the May 15th Sea Bass Opener to the end of June.
For trips this coming weekend see two tog trips below.

Going Toggin: Getting a lot more bites & throwbacks, tagging more. We catch more tog in a day now than in two weeks this past winter. (ouch) 
Some anglers will do from OK to very well - but not everyone.. 
Dagoned wind's coming east again. No trips this week - do have extra sanders & paint rollers! 
Next weekend looks great.
Going Saturday, April 30th - 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 - 14 Sells Out  
& Sunday, May 1st - 7AM to 3PM - $110.00 - 12 Sells Out. 
Reservations Required

Be a half hour early! We (almost) always leave early! 

Going Toggin? 
Skunks are always possible while tog fishing. Sometimes these bucktoothed scoundrels do not bite!

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.   

Until May 15th: 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 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.   

12,797 Reef Blocks Deployed at numerous sites: Doug Ake's Reef 2,431 - St. Ann's 1,459 - Al Giles Barge 725 - Eagle Scout Reef 768 - Sue's Drifting Easy Reef 147 - Nichols' Concrete 578 - Upside Down Tank 132 

Please Support the Ocean City Reef Foundation!
Reef Dinner May 15th At The Marlin Club! 4:30 to 7:00 - Tickets $25.00 at the Door..
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential. 
Thank You! 
This pic was taken from my boat with a GoPro by Capt. Rick Younger at 1:02 am during the summer solstice, 2011. 
I've shot a fair amount of drop-camera footage; we do not see lobster during the day. They were crawling this night.. 
When we first dropped a camera to the seabed in 2001 it was because our bottom sampling PONAR Dredge was coming up empty--with what we called a "water grab." (A scientific seabed sampling instrument, think of a small steam shovel that takes a grab-sample of the bottom - only we hauled it by hand..) Though marking good bottom sea bass on my electronics, we often would get no sample with this mechanical device. 
The u/w drop camera showed why -- Rock, many types of rock it would turn out, doesn't sample well by hand. A PONAR grab only works in sand or mud.. 

Lots of stuff grows on rock though that doesn't grow at all on sand. Collected together, most folks call this growth, "Reef."
Hiding in between & under rocks---hiding amid the reef growth too---offers a great way for animals & fish not get eaten. 

Those first camera drops were amazing. No one thought sea whip could form habitat. One of the coast's top ecologists actually laughed at the idea. No one thought we had hard coral. Indeed, no one thought rocky bottom played a role in Mid-Atlantic anything.. 
They still don't! 
Somehow "important reef habitat" has to be large in human scale. Nevermind most inhabitants are easily held in the hand, sometimes by the dozen.  

A very small group of scientists have long understood habitat's importance to fishery restoration efforts. More properly perhaps, they've understood how ignorance of seafloor habitat could retard restoration efforts. 
One such scientist is Vince Guida from NMFS Sandy Hook Lab, now retired. He was aboard when we took the pic above. 
He also did a small sonar survey that found numerous "hardbottom reef habitats" along the DelMarVa coast near & in the Maryland Wind Energy Area

..but BOEM must have decided science from NMFS Sandy Hook Lab don't count. 

In the 2015 "Annual Issue" of Habitat Hotline, published by ASMFC, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) chose 'other' science in their 9 page article on "Public Engagement with BOEM's Processes in the Atlantic" - not Sandy Hook's work. And certainly not mine. 
Under, "Case Study: Report on Benthic Habitats {benthic = bottom} in the Maryland Wind Energy Area" (MD WEA) BOEM reports that MD WEA seafloors, and I quote, "are heavily dominated by mobile sandy bottoms although small patchy hardbottom cannot be ruled out." 
This powerful .guv agency, BOEM, further reports, "the most prominent fish encountered was sea robins, however, the report notes that this is not entirely consistent with with previous fishery independent and fishery dependent data trawl data which had far more Atlantic croaker, spot, and weakfish." 
The old saying, "when you find sea robins, you're near the flounder" apparently just isn't true. (actually, it is..) 

For YEARS I made comment, offered video evidence, & attended multi-day .guv meetings -- pounding on the reefs -- tied my boat to the dock trying to get our marine reality into focus with all the MARCO business. 
Nothing seems to have gotten through. 
In actuality, Maryland did a thorough job of investigating use. That's how the boxes were drawn. 
But BOEM is ignoring Essential Fish Habitat in federal waters because there's only one single work on it; Guida's work I mentioned above. It's pretty much true, at the moment, that coral doesn't count north of Georgia. 

BOEM's only interested in types of fish seen for a short while & then gone in a few weeks, and not reef residents. Atlantic croaker, spot, and weakfish; these transients over open bottom are the only fish that matter to BOEM. 

Fishing's Reality: "A big heave {storm-driven swells} moved them croakers in the deep. {Including the MD WEA.} Them big croaks stayed a few days until the swell died, then they tightened back up under the beach and mixed with the squeakers a bit. Was a handful of trout in with them." 
BOEM's Computer-Driven Reality & doubtless now our "best available scientific information," 'This area is primarily croaker habitat.'

BOEM found no reef & no reef resident fish with trawl surveys. (Here, at least, is government consistency. Maybe they should try a camera where their captains are afraid to trawl?) 

Errors, collectively & compounding like interest, carry us further & further from needed truths of restoration..

I believe until we understand hardbottom habitat production's importance to fisheries restoration efforts, we'll continue to spin our wheels in today's regulatory quagmire. Losing recreational fishery after fishery while NOAA pats itself on the back before Congress; NOAA gets the intricacies of estuarine life where dams, bay grasses & oysters count -- but has only stumbled where the seabed is concerned.
BOEM has now turned NOAA's stumble into US Policy. 

What's it going to take? An Act of Congress? How about the, "Fighting Ignorance in US Fisheries Restoration Policies Act" or the, "Oh Gee, Maybe Temperate Corals Are Essential Fish Habitat Too Act."  

Fishing's being attacked from many angles; BOEM's willful ignorance of obvious fish habitat is only one.
But at least it's straightforward. 
When we can broadly equate reef-fish production with actual measures of reef -- when any agency can calculate expected production of X species per cubic measure of reef, then discovering how much reef has been lost will also reveal the value of putting it back as an important aspect of restoring fisheries..

Find out what's missing & Put It Back. 
Of course catch must be regulated. However, Biology & Population Ecology must also be brought to bear. 
Catch restriction has done all it can. Now regulation is killing fisheries with peyote-driven madness. 

Here's what's true today: Catch estimates that couldn't possibly be correct are in charge. 

Greetings All, 
Tog bite's been OK to excellent our last few trips. 
Tuesday we could have taken a heck of a lot more tog but chose to tag & release them instead. Of 20 possible tog allowed--we held more in our hands that we could have legally taken--we took 6. Tagged them. 
Thursday we did take a client limit. We also tagged & released 16 legal fish to 10.7 pounds. Danny & I each took one. Had a client demanded our limits in return for his patronage, I'd have gladly lost his business.  
Saturday we had dead current most of the day. A few weeks ago that would have meant a skunk, but we picked along fairly well instead. A couple guys could have limited but chose to release large females instead. 
On tog trips we count tagged releases the same as fish in the boat for the (biggest fish of the day) pool. Our tog pools are by length. Tagged length counts just the same as one in the bleed-bucket. Sea bass or flounder pools are still weighed with a traditional balance.

Really glad to see an old-timey bite. 
That blizzard, Jonas, knocked-down the African Queen wreck & two other wrecks that I've found so far. 
Tog fishing since the blizzard was so bad, I was starting to think we'd lost a lot of tog to the storm. 
Now I think not. 
Definitely not a winter I'd care to repeat. 

Promise this - when we get sea bass production right, our tog population is going to shoot for the moon. 
That's because great sea bass fishing is, to most folks, more fun than togging's hard trials. 
Yes, I know, some of us prefer a slow, challenging tog bite to a hot partyboat sea bass bite best measured in "fish per minute." 
Because economics will win, repairing sea bass policy will allow tog to win. Selling more tickets to more happy sea bass clients will allow lots & lots of tog to evade fate's hot oil or sushi board. It would help blueline tile too..

We're already catching (and tagging) sea bass way inshore - it's early. I intend to keep an eye on our MD WEA area seafloor. I have a scuba trip coming up & have enlisted the aid of a trap fisher that uses that seafloor too. I bet the "Spawning Site Habitat Fidelity" we see so plainly in sea bass will also run the other way: Because we taught sea bass not to spawn in the wind area three years straight -- I believe this spring that giant area of bottom will have virtually no spawning sea bass.  
Soon Find Out.  
If unfamiliar with the effects of a sub-bottom profiler survey, here's video we filmed in the last days of August, 2015.  This was already weeks after the last survey boat had left. There were no sea bass back in the MD WEA until November when they would normally be pressing offshore anyway. 

BOEM's "nothing to see, everyone move along now" where survey impacts are concerned stings; but NOAA's long-continued use of MRIP catch estimates as if they offered a pure truth is deadly. Many recreational fisheries may not survive. I think it safe to say every fishery has been negatively impacted by bad recreational catch estimates. 

"It's Not Our Fault! We Have To Use These Estimates Exactly As Published."
The latest fishery being led up to MRIP & NOAA's gallows is the cobia fishery down in Virginia & along coastal North Carolina. 
I touched on the impending cobia closure in my last report (4/15/16) & have since gained deeper insight from a MD DNR insider who provided me formative data making up VA's Private Boat catch estimate. 

Publicly available at we can see the NC Private Boat cobia estimate for May/June 2015, at 588,000 pounds, is higher than May/June for the whole Atlantic Coast combined in 6 of the last 10 years. 
More pounds of cobia for just NC's Private Boats during May & June than all the states put together for 6 out of 10 years.. It's a big number in the cobia fishery. 

In fact, from among perhaps 7,000 possible state/wave/mode cobia estimates from 1981 to 2015, that 588,000 pound estimate is one of the top 4 highest from Louisiana to Virginia since 1981. 
At 561,000 pounds, Virginia's June/July Private Boat cobia estimate is also in the top 4. 

The highest two-month estimate is Florida's Private Boat in 1989 with 680,000 pounds of cobia in January/February -- what MRIP would call "wave 1 in the Private/Rental Boat mode." 
Next is South Carolina in May/June (Wave 3,) 2004 with Private Boats landing 610,000 pounds. (which is higher for 8 weeks than in 16 previous years of SC cobia landings combined..)
Then NC & VA from this year. They're the third & fourth highest two-month recreational catch estimates for cobia.  

From over 7,000 possible estimates in an imperfect system, two estimate spikes from last year will close cobia in the Mid-Atlantic. 
(the hangman is booked solid.. From Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles..) 
(To paraphrase.. Now, yer honer, we got data showing these folks done kiltt way too many cobia. Could you please find it in your heart to hang this fishery by it's neck until dead?

I was curious about how many cobia had been seen by field interviewers to form the also-quite-large 262,000 pounds of cobia in wave 3 (May/June) for VA's Private Boats. MRIP has the "average size" of VA's cobia in that period as 48 pounds.. 
Yes, the AVERAGE size of a cobia caught in VA last spring was "48 pounds." 
WHAT?? That's like saying because Joe Bonamassa & Derek Trucks had both played guitar with headliner bands by the age of 13, most 13 year olds play guitar. 

("Fishing Mode" 5 = Charter & 7 = Private Boat.)



Fishing Mode

Average Weight (Pounds)

Number of Observed Fish











































It only takes two fish to calculate an average. 
From there they can calculate total weight. 
15 cobia became 561,000 pounds in July/August. 
And it's not just the weight of fish; I'd bet almost anything that MRIP completely disregarded VA's salt water fishing license data in favor of their own estimate of how many folks went fishing. They "can just tell" not even half of recreational fishers bother to register or get a required license and INCREASE the number of anglers at will...

Here are the exact weights of the 18 cobia found in Virginia last May/June as shown to me by someone who very-much ought to know. 
Weight (pounds)- 69.6- 78.8- 78.8- 22.6- 22.6- 69.6- 78.8- 69.6- 22.6- 52.3- 17.2- 17.2- 48.7- 48.7- 17.2- 52.3- 48.7- 52.3

I noticed a pattern & then rearranged the numbers so anyone would notice. 
17.2 - 17.2 - 17.2 || 22.6 - 22.6 - 22.6 || 48.7 - 48.7 - 48.7 || 52.3 - 52.3 - 52.3 || 69.6 - 69.6 - 69.6 || 78.8 - 78.8 - 78.8... 

Now THAT's a strange coincidence. Eighteen fish with only six weights..
Friend of mine retired from MD State Police Homicide: "I don't believe in coincidence." 
Was it 18 cobia? Or 6 cobia keypunched three times each? Was it on purpose???
Either way - it's crazy to close off all angling, & all commerce associated with that angling, on such a thinly supported number. 

In the 22 years from 1981 to 2003 Private Boats fishing along NC's coast (from shore to 3NMs out) caught 426,000 pounds of cobia -- all those 22 years, all put together, 426,000 pounds. 
Then, in 2015 alone, they caught 472,000 lbs.. 

A huge spike in coastal NC's & VA's Chesapeake "catch" ..& then this set of individual fish weights that cause the 'average weight' from VA's wave 3 private boat to go screaming up to 48 pounds. These estimates threaten to close - will close - the cobia fishery this summer. 

It's always the spikes - the outliers. 
They've taken my business to the edge of bankruptcy twice with absolutely NO real biological need. 
This pain has got to stop.

Closing cobia won't be the dumbest thing NOAA/NMFS ever did, but it will be noteworthy. 
You should write Congress. You should write the National Academy of Sciences too. (see Fish Reports 4/3/16 & 3/23/16)  
Congress hears from lobbyists all day long. A real letter, from a real constituent, can be a relief sometimes. 
Tell 'em we need to fix MRIP. 
Tell 'em but first NOAA needs to STOP using bad data to close fisheries. 
Right now would be good. 

Overfishing is no longer an emergency. Hasn't been in a very long time. 
Regulations, especially these many closures, based on MRIP's catch-estimate madness? 
..yes, they're an emergency. 

This giant system of federal & state agencies should be worried about the ocean turning green. Instead, they have no real idea of any change in marine water quality. It's not in the science. 
They should be able to calculate how many fish per acre a restored oyster reef would produce - and that reef's contribution to water quality improvement. 
They should have a sense of how much hardbottom reef was lost in the post-WWII era as trawling/clamming/scalloping laid into a virgin seabed, and have a plan for putting it back.
Production in every aspect should be key where elevating--while controlling--extraction is the goal. 

Instead, and not so different from the Greek myth of Ajax when Athena clouded his mind, fisheries today suffers computer madness. 
Close - Close - Close.

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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