Thursday, January 31, 2019

Fish Report 1/31/19

Fish Report 1/31/19 
More Tog Trips Up Top 
(even an UnAmerican Trip!) 
Then below: Blackfishing Made Incredible? 
..& MRIP laid open

Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - Staffed 24/7 (Asking me for a
reservation via FB or Email is a guaranteed way to miss a chance at a spot - I rarely check FB messenger - I do ck email but Use The Reservation Line if you want a spot)
On My Rig You Can Reserve What Spot You're In. Please See For How The Rail's Laid Out.. 
I run Tog Trips light so anglers can move to the bite - or try too!

Weather Cancelations Happen - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients
Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way..

Yes - we just had another one of my best trips in YEARS. That DOES NOT MEAN IT'S ABOUT TO HAPPEN AGAIN!! ("Ah, Capt., I thought we'd catch 20 pounders today?") Oh Mercy!

Tog Trips Only: (No sea bass allowed. NOAA seems more & more clueless as to our actual recreational catch. Could very well flare-up in
coming regulations. That is to say, MRIP could, again, really worsen
sea bass regulation..)

Friday, 2/1/19 - 10 Hour Tog Trip - depart 6:30AM to 4:30PM (so leaving as early as 6:00 if all are aboard..) $130.00 - 16 Sells Out
Saturday, 2/2/19 & Sunday 2/3/19 - 11 Hour Tog Trips - Depart 6:30
to 5:30 - $150.00 - 16 Sells Out.. (Yes, Super Bowl Sunday! Why, it's downright un-American! But the ocean's supposed to be flat-flat.. Pigskin, Togskin.. It's all good!) 
Monday 2/4/19 - 10 Hour Tog Trip - 6:30 to 4:30 - $130.00 - 10 Sells Out (there will be other guests, however. No, not the Hawaiian Tropic Suntan Team..)  

Trips Also Announced on Facebook at Morning Star Fishing & my personal FB page..

Tog trips thus far were hardly world class affairs. Catch? Yes, Usually. But not great. Some double digit fish.. Two of my Best trips in years recently as well, but that was two days among many.. Otherwise a few guys have limited.
Lots of great tags in jumbos. This is a fishery for the passionate...

Bait is provided on all trips: green crabs for tog. (Whites MIGHT be
available from crew for a reasonable cost..) Our Tog Pool Is By Length:  A Tog That's Been Released Counts The Same As One In The Boat.
Rental Rods are $7.00.. Each A Rod I'd Use Myself.
Wear Boots! Sneakers this time of year can ruin your trip.

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..

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 Regulation)
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

It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure. Bonine
seems best because it's non-drowsy. Truly cheap & effective insurance.
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.

In winter waterproof boots are almost a necessity - sneakers can ruin
your day. While some rarely, or never, wear gloves for fishing, you'd
not likely see me fishing this time of year w/o at least the half-finger wool gloves. Tuck a "hot hands" warmer in the palm and life is good..
Layers are best because, believe it or not, sometimes it can be very
pleasant offshore--especially when the wind lays down. In winter it's
warmer offshore owing to warmer waters. In summer it's cooler..

Sponsor the Ocean City Reef Foundation!
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential.

If you have concrete blocks in the backyard taking up space and just
making snake reef, bring em. We'll toss em overboard with the rest.

24,000 Reef Blocks have been deployed at numerous sites. (Site totals not updated) 
Here are sites currently being targeted: Capt. Jack Kaeufer's Reef 680 - Doug Ake's Reef 3,755 - St. Ann's 2,234 - Sue's Block Drop 637 - TwoTanks Reef 432 - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 900 - Benelli Reef 746 - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 1,274 - Wolf & Daughters Reef 688 - 56 at Al Berger's Reef.

Greetings All, 
After last week's phenomenal bite; well, a single day with 42 double-digit blackfish, (plus three much more normal trips!) we had 5 days of wind. Only had an easterly for about 12 hours, but the swell began sooner & lasted far longer. Left the dock Friday after that blow thinking the bottom would have been unaffected with such a short easterly. By day's end we'd only caught 5 throwbacks in as many spots - a keeper skunk!
Happens. I've seen worse. This fishery is for the passionate..
It must have been enough east swell to roil the bottom - to stir up layers of dead algae which obscure light & scent in the bottom layer of our ocean.. I call it 'black water' - it's getting worse, not better. And this event so very minor; after a truly tremendous blow the bottom can be dark for weeks..

Frequent readers will know I believe the only way to fix our blackwater situation is to restore our estuaries' oysters in amazing number. With each bivalve capable of filtering/straining up to 50 gallons of water a day, they're our best shot at controlling overnutrification & resulting algae that today darken the Mid-Atlantic's marine waters. (see Fish Report 12/17/18 for more detail on blackwater. )

Saturday we began with three whales. Never did get close enough for a positive ID, but I thought them humpbacks by their behavior.
Anchored atop a piece where clients have caught many tog over the decades - even 4 at 19 pounds - and caught just one tog, a fourteen pounder.
Left that and tried a little deeper, over 90 feet, and found a sweet pick of double digit tog that soon sputtered.. A few nice fish on an otherwise slow day.
Sunday, however, that sweet pick stayed almost all day. Almost.
James Kim released a 29.25 inch 18.5 pound female - another, slightly larger, was boated. A couple 14s, a 15.......
So Friday we were keeper-skunked. By Sunday tog were obliging. Monday the weatherman pulled a fast one on us - a complete 180 degree difference in wind direction. Got out a mile and turned around..  
I'll tell all who will read - this fishery is for the passionate. If you can't handle a skunk, stay away! There have been, and will always be, some absolutely terrible days when tog fishing. (Any fishing I suppose, but in my limited fisheries experience, tog are the hardest..)

I've written many times about how we drove a nearly virgin tautog fishery to nothing; how we caught ALL the tog off every piece we knew of; drove 'em right into the dirt in two and a half years during the early/mid 1980s.
Sea bass weren't all that. We had some blue crab. BAM! 
..and never backed the pressure off. 
No creel limit, no size limit.
Over the rail, into a pail.
Pressure stayed there too.
Didn't bleed them.
Didn't ice them.
Took pics & ate them.

When our tog fishing quickly died we couldn't blame trappers, trawlers; no hurricanne - was us. We wiped out the tog on those wrecks/reefs..

Thankfully, we didn't know where every tog lived.
I was working deck then. Even built a gaff with a hook on each side to gaff doubles. (Yeah, that didn't work. As soon as you stroke the second one, the first pops right off..)
In the 35 years since I've done all I can to make our toggin sustainable; am certain we can leave it better than we found it.
Lots of folks of a similar mind these days. I'm confident we're well on our way. 
Were sea bass spawning production brought to higher levels we could raise the tautog size limit in the ocean by a half inch every two years until it was 18 inches. 
Shore fishing could never accommodate such increases, but we could on offshore reefs - would take 8 years. 
Again, the main thing would be easing pressure on tog by increasing pressure on sea bass. Equally important is reef construction. Every reef we build becomes colonized by tog after 3, sometimes 4 years. They're spawning hard as they can to increase their population..
This is pie in the sky regulation for now. You see, managers "Can't" break regulation at the inlet. Law has to be the same at sea as in the back bay. 
But they used to say that for years about splitting sea bass and tautog into regions. Owing habitat fidelity, sea bass demand regional regulation. Managers would do backflips to avoid it. Now we have regions.. 
Our nations best funded fisheries management is in Alaska. There habitat fidelity (natal fidelity) in salmon is so important each river has separate regulation. 
Maybe one day we'll make tog the fishery it could be. I know what my clients want to catch! 

Be a lot easier if the management community had a factual picture of these fisheries; if they weren't so distracted by NOAA's impossible assertions of catch - recreational catch data held like a coach gun—both hammers cocked—held against regulators foreheads.
NOAA: 'See them MRIP recreational catch estimate numbers right there Mr. Fishery Manager? Don't matter if no one believes it. Thats what those boys caught & That's overfishing. Only thing you need to fix. NOAA won't sign off on your annual regulations until those numbers and that overfishing's been accounted for.'
Not a direct quote, of course. However it's very much exactly what's happening..

The 2007 re-write of the Magnuson Act demanded MuRFSS be repaired; the predecessor to MRIP's recreational catch estimates had to be repaired. With this "Vastly Improved" catch data supposed to be in place swiftly, managers would have to enforce "Accountability Measures" or AMs.. From then on if we go over our "Recreational Harvest Limit" (RHL - a quota by any other name..) then we must Pay Back that overage in subsequent years via AMs via much stricter regs or closure.
The repair to MuRFSS was MRIP. It came out in 2012. 
Accountability Measures began in 2009. The year sea bass were closed by 'emergency' because MuRFFS showed us far over quota. 
Not only was MRIP far too late to save us from AMs, it stunk too. 
Now it stinks worse. 
Will get worse still.

Here's a hint of how MRIP's doing. 
From 1981 to 2015 New York's Private Boats are said to have landed 1.2 million pounds of sea bass during Nov/Dec -- that's 1.2 million pounds across ALL of those 34 years combined - much of it wholly unregulated.
MRIP now shows NY's Nov/Dec 2016 Private Boat catch shooting to 2.8 million pounds - more than double all of the preceding 34 years tallied all together. 
In 2017 it was worse still at 3 million pounds. Just in Nov/Dec. The entire Recreational quota is only 3.6 million pounds..
Men factually fishing that time of year, Party/Charter operators, they did not notice Private Boats in such profusion that they were suddenly catching 120 pounds of sea bass to each pound For-Hire clients caught. In fact, they report seeing very few Private Boats during Nov/Dec in the offshore sea bass fishery. 
It's COMPLETELY cooked up. 
Absolutely garbage. 
In comparison, NY's Party/Charter Boats are reported to have landed 25,000 pounds of sea bass in Nov/Dec 2017. It's a certainty that NY's Private Boats landed a small percentage of that figure. Probably not 10% .. 
It's also a certainty that NY's Private Boats did not land more than 3X as many sea bass in two rough & cold winter months than all Party/Charter north of Cape Hatteras landed ALL YEAR! 
Yes - MRIP demands managers believe the couple private boats still fishing cbass from NY in just Nov/Dec caught more sea bass than the entire ANNUAL catch of the For-Hire fleet from Cape Hatters to Cape Cod - by THREE TIMES!

This is EXACTLY how recreational harvest limits are exceeded - We blow through our quota, not with actual fish thrown on a dock, but with wildly inaccurate guesses of catch  ..that are somehow not scientifically supportable.   

In early summer MRIP announced Massachusetts (MA) Private Boat sea bass anglers fishing from May 19 to the end of June, with a five fish limit at 15 inches, had again demolished a large portion of the coastwide recreational quota.
MRIP asserts Massachusetts Private Boaters caught 13.6 pounds of sea bass to every one pound by MA Party/Charter in May/June. In fact, MRIP asserts - and NOAA DEMANDS regulators factor in this astounding catch: MRIP shows Massachusetts' Private Boats landed 5.6 pounds of sea bass for every pound caught by ALL Party/Charter from Cape Hatteras north in May/June.. 
When I've spoken/written with skippers up that way they seem to think Party/Charter might get outfished a bit on Saturdays, but during the week? No. 
If true, even a spread of 40% Party/Charter - 60% Private Boat would likely be too generous. Here MRIP is claiming ALL Party/Charter landed only 15% what MA Private Boats did, and MA Party/Charter caught only 7% what their own state's Private Boats landed.. 

Essentially MRIP is saying (assuming equal catch rates/skill) there are 13.6 times as many Private Boat sea bass anglers as For-Hire carries.
Sakes - I know there's some money up that way. I've heard if you flip a quarter in the air in Cape Cod, it'll come me down a half dollar; but dang: Does Everyone up there have a Boat? Do Party/Charter operators suffer because so many anglers own their own rig that For-Hire services are unneeded?
A look at this numerically: (& again assuming equal catch rates)
If a party boat and 3 charters are fishing a large area of natural rock bottom and catching very well, and if the Party Boat has 75 aboard plus the 3 charters' 18 souls — then there must be an accompanying fleet of 361 Private Boats Fishing to even-up MRIP's assertion. (93 Party/Charter clients on one day X 13.6 = 1,265 Private Boat anglers that same day.. 
1,265 anglers divided by 3.5 anglers per Private Boat = 361.3 Private Boats per very small fleet of Party/Charter effort)
Moreover; because far-fewer Private Boats are factually out weekdays - this number would have to decline weekdays and skyrocket on Saturdays.

I know folks who enjoy Massachusetts' nearshore sea bass fishery on charter boats - a blast on light tackle with jigs. Yet fishing pressure is never described this way -- where an enormous number of Private Boats exist for each Charter or Partyboat. 

MRIP's recreational catch estimates ought to be easily supported by observation of those who are out most often, especially For-Hire Party/Charter skippers who need to understand fishing pressure on each area of reef-like bottom if they are to consistently catch sea bass for clients.  
In my queries no one is seeing boats on the water to equal MRIP's assertions of Private Boat catch.

Another example: From 1981 to 2017 Massachusetts Party/Charter is estimated to have landed 3,000 pounds of tautog during Nov/Dec -- All those years combined, three thousand pounds. 
In Nov/Dec 2017 MRIP, NOAA's "New & Improved" method of estimating recreational catch - MRIP claims Massachusetts Private Boats landed 1.6 million pounds of tog just in Nov/Dec.. 

Summer flounder, scup, red snapper, cod, haddock - doesn't matter. All recreational species have these statistical spikes in them. I've detailed them for years & years. 
What a shame managers are forced to push this data through our regulatory processes. 
This is where recreational "overfishing" comes from. Not coolers & frying pans; just computer screens. This is why some states are only allowed 2 sea bass in summer, or 7 during high season. 

There is quite a bit written about recreational data in the new "Modern Fish Act" that recently became law. 
I asked readers to write their DC Reps many times over the last few years - to comment on the new legislation. It was ALWAYS about our catch data. Now to see if we've gotten through. 
No. Now we need to make SURE we get through: Hey NOAA! Hey Mr/Mrs Congressman! MRIP Stinks! 

On the other side, however, MRIP's creators are positively CONVINCED they're STILL underestimating recreational catch. That's what they're telling Congress. 

We're allowed 3.6 million pounds of sea bass - that's our RHL (recreational harvest limit - our quota.) 
In 2017, our last fully estimated year, MRIP said we took over 11.5 million pounds of sea bass. (With only 900K by For-Hire clients) 
If management does as it always has, they'll average Nov/Dec from the last couple years to estimate 2018's landings - especially because the gov shutdown must have MRIP backed up. 
Should be about 11 or 12 million pounds in 2018 -- we'll be WAY over quota. 
And not a bit of it true. 

Today we have the harshest regulations ever on sea bass, yet MRIP sees overfishing everywhere it looks. 
Except Party/Charter. When regs tighten, our catch drops. It should. 
Inexplicably - Private Boat Catch often explodes when regs tighten..

We need to devise truly accurate Party/Charter estimates. And No, even though we tell NOAA what we've caught everyday by filling out an electronic "Vessel Trip Report" they've not a very firm grasp of For-Hire catch either. 
Hey NOAA: Sit down with folks who go fishing a lot and you'll pretty quickly devise "Percentages of the Fishery" .. For instance, where  Party/Charter and highliner Private Boaters think a state's sea bass catch is 60% For-Hire & 40% Private Boat - then a firm Party/Charter estimate will give managers a much more accurate Private Boat catch estimate. With a fair percentage split agreed upon by those engaged in the fishing, it's simple math to devise the entire recreational catch if one side is a known value. 
Then we can move on to daily reporting for Private Boats too if we must. 
We really don't need that much accuracy though. We absolutely need to get rid of estimates that could not possibly be true. 

Our restoration efforts must turn away from "Catch Restriction Can Do It All" to a much closer look at habitat's changes over time and how spawning success can be manipulated through regulation. 
Catch restriction had already done all it was able to years ago. 
Unless we keep shutting recreational fisheries with putrid data, we'll need habitat ecology & population biology brought to the fore to restore fisheries to true historical levels.  

Should we achieve actual historical populations, I have no doubt - none - that sea bass & tautog can be made more prolific than they've ever been. Habitat construction & restoration are key. We will not find that path, however, if we keep accepting MRIP's fraudulent assertions of recreational catch; catch that could never have happened. 
It distracts the entire process. 

A bit of winter tog fishing for now. 
See if my clients can outfish Massachusetts Private Boats recent 1.6 million pounds of tog. 
Shoot, maybe we can catch that in one day! 
I bet MRIP would buy it... 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star OC MD 

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