Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Fish Report 4/28/20

Fish Report 4/28/20 
Opening Sea Bass Trips at 36% of my already reduced fishing clients capacity—For now just 9 clients 'sell out'—that's only 22.5% my legal max passenger load. We'll have ample spacing to allow anglers a safe buffer as we sustenance fish for sea bass come mid-May.
Reef Building! 

We Could Do So Much Better With Rebuilding Sea Bass.. 

Reservations Required at 410-520-2076

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

May Trips Are NonRefundable! Reschedule in event of bad weather? Of Course! But no refunds.. 
Opening May 16 to May 31 for sea bass trips. Size limit 12.5 inches - 15 per person. 
Opening Weekend - May 16/17 - and Memorial Weekend May 22 thru 24 - Sailing 6am to 3:30pm - $155.00 - Nine Clients Sells Out! 
Otherwise - Sailing Daily - Saturdays 6:30 to 3:30 at $155.00 — Weekdays & Sundays 7 to 3 at $135 - All Trips Sell Out at 9 Anglers until the "All Clear" is given. 

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
overslept or had a flat..

Trips Also Announced on Facebook at Morning Star Fishing
https://www.facebook.com/ocfishing/ & my personal FB page along with after action (or lack thereof) reports..

Bait is provided on all trips.

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!

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.

Wishbone doesn't replace backbone.. Have to keep a shoulder into reef building to make it happen. 
Donations help too! Ocreefs.org  

Sponsor the Ocean City Reef Foundation!
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential. 
28,911 Reef Blocks + 79 Reef Units (170lb Concrete Pyramids) have been deployed at numerous sites as of 4/28/20..  
Here are sites currently being targeted: Capt. Jack Kaeufer's Reef 1,287 Blocks (+41 Reef Units) - Doug Ake's Reef 3,956 blocks (+11 Reef Units) - St. Ann's 2,387 (+5 Reef Units) - Sue's Block Drop 1,422 (+16 Reef Units) - TwoTanks Reef 1,043 (+ 8 Reef Units) - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 900 - Benelli Reef 1,145 (+ 6 Pyramid Units) - Rudy's Reef 209 - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 2
2,464 (+34 reef units)  - Wolf & Daughters Reef 713 - Al Berger's Reef 373 (+1 Reef Unit) - Great Eastern Block Drop 513 (+6 Reef Units).. 

Greetings All, 
Working on the boat - still have to haul out, lots of painting to do after a somewhat successful winter tog season. Also doing reef monitoring & reef building. 
Here a couple selections I thought might interest regular Fish Report readers including a recent barge sinking report &, perhaps soon more evident, our need of doing more with fisheries restorations — especially sea bass!

We press ahead with reef building off the coast of Maryland. Here from Reef Report 4/6/20.. 
The Ocean City Reef Foundation deployed the D.P. Bishop Barge today (4/6/20). The donated barge sank immediately adjacent to existing reef at the Bass Grounds Reef Site 9 miles east of Ocean City, MD.   
Many thanks to Doug Whittington for the 52" barge, Sunset Marina for launching it, Hugh Cropper for slips to tie it up in while we worked on it, Absolute Demolition for helping to load it, and Tow Boat US Ocean City for her final tow! 
Jonah & Vinnie set a mooring off my stern (from the Morning Star.) The anchors bit in perfectly. Then we did a bit of toggin as we awaited the tow to arrive. Jonah had a nice 22 inch female we tagged (Dern sure would have loved some fresh fish, but we'd like abundant tog even more!) Vinny tagged a short female too, while I goose egged 0 for 5 bites!) 
After a while TowBoat Rob laid the mooring buoy right in Tanner's hand & took his towing bridle free. 
Tanner then cleared a dozen plywood hatch covers & discharged 120 rounds of 7.62 x 39 down through her hull - all equally split between six compartments. (Yes, any rifle round would easily penetrate that steel.) 
She sank exactly where I wanted a few minutes later. 
The D.P. Bishop reef will teem with life this summer. Triggerfish, sea bass, & a few fluke these first few months; as growth matures and the reef's food web production ramps up, tautog too will use it.
Oh will they—in four years this reef will be a fine five-star bit of tog lodging..
As more time passes we'll begin seeing corals. Eventually, perhaps 20 years out, corals will own any substrate exposed to sunlight..
If today's youngest readers witness 20+ lb tog and a return of inshore jumbo sea bass, it will have happened on substrates such as this. 
Support the Ocean City Reef Foundation at ocreefs.org .. 
Every non-profit is dead slow in donations during this difficult & stressful period.
We'd appreciate any help at all! 
Next up - 500 tons of precast concrete in late May/early June!

I've noted my thoughts on sea bass spawning and how we might get the best 'bang for our buck' from management. Regulation today is based on the farce of management's 'knowing' what recreational fishers have caught from NOAA's catch estimates; regular readers know I believe all of marine recreational management is a crap shoot. 
What I witnessed from the time of self management of sea bass in 1992, to fed/state joining the effort in 1997, to 2003 when I was convinced DelMarVa sea bass were at "Habitat Capacity" - That There  Simply Wasn't Room For More On What Reef Existed and therefore the only way to create greater populations still was to increase our region's reef footprint  ..all that came crashing down when sea bass "age at maturity" shifted from age zero/age one to age three or more... 
Here in far greater explanation is a piece I wrote a couple years back. 
Whether management's intent is to begin restoration of yesteryear's populations, bolster economic stability/even prosperity in commercial/recreational fisheries, or simply make use of an ocean of potential to help feed a nation, their result would be incredibly better were ALL marine-found sea bass in the spawning population, as opposed to today's 20% or so.. 
Here from Fish Report 12/11/20:  
..I remain
convinced size limit's ability to alter 'age at maturity' in sea bass
is management's most powerful, if completely unrecognized & unused,
Have written about it many times - deeply researched it. Where all the
scientific literature on sea bass before 2000 have some females
switching to male at age one - & even in their first year of life -
since our size limit went to 12 inches in 2002 virtually no sea bass
switch sex until age 3 - sometimes 4.
Indeed, in the 1977 "Biological & Fisheries Data" Sandy Hook 'Blue
Book' on sea bass it claims (P 15 - 4.11) "Nearly all sea bass over 25
cm (9.8 inches) are male."
Those measurements--though certainly true in their day, are no longer
valid. Today we can catch hundreds - even a thousand 11 inch sea bass
and not see a male. From 1994 to 2001 we'd see 100s of under-9 inch
males on any given day with a good bite. Now we see virtually none..
An entire year can go buy with less than a dozen under 9 inch males
being spotted.
This variance, to me, signifies virtually the entire marine sea bass
population from May to August was once in the spawning population. If
numerous age 1 sea bass (5.5 to 9 inches) were already transitioned to
male, then there was a reason - they were spawning.
Today we see some transitioning males as small as 11.5 inches, more
often a shade over 12. A 12 inch male sea bass in May/June will be
legal that summer - soon. (over 12.5 inches & age 3)
That means in today's fishery - We catch our spawners..
When I had a self-enforced 9 inch size limit from 1992 to 1997 - all
out throwbacks were in the spawning class. We'd see males as small as
7 inches everyday - sometimes smaller still. When real regulation
(fed/state regs) first began in 1997 it was just a size limit at 9
inches. Even in 98 not every state was enforcing federal regs. In
1999/2000 the size limit was 10 inches - still no bag limit..
From spawning which occurred ONLY in an era with no bag limit -
spawning while there was no limit to how many sea bass clients could
carry home - our sea bass population became larger every year - far
I believe this was because all the fish we were releasing were in the
spawning class. Fish spawned in this 'no bag limit' era would become
the greatest sea bassing I've ever experienced in 2002/2003.
By fall of 2003, however, I was wondering where all the smalls were..
Fishing was incredible - yet because the fall run had always been
partly/mostly comprised of that year's marine-found juveniles, they
were noticeable in their absence.

I believe the affect of shifting sea bass age at maturity out 2 years
and more on spawning production has been significant. Though we have
many more large female sea bass than ever--females so large the
scientific literature once held they did not exist-- (we often see
even 17 to 20 inch females today, yet in the 1977 Blue Book it has
'largest females' at 34 cm ~ 13.4 inches) ..although now large female
sea bass make an amazing proportion of the population ----- spawning
production has tapered significantly since 2003.
It strikes me that with no smaller females switching to male - at all
- in a population where once fully 25 or 30% would have already
switched at age 1 & 2 - those younger cbass are no longer spawning -
just some age 3 & all age 4 cbass are. (I have no observations above
the southernmost point of NJ -- all my observations are off

Some claim this is entirely because of warming. Yes, it's true that no
one, despite many lives lost, was able to "Find The NW Passage" around
the Americas before 1906 when Amundusen made the first transit. Where
Cabot lost 5 ships and 200 men in 1498 looking for what did not exist
at that time - a way around the top of Canada to Alaska - today that
passage is fairly routinely transited by ships. It was during the
summer of 2012 that the passage was ice-free for the first time in
recorded history..
But sea bass are still COMMON all the way to at least mid-Florida!
They haven't "shifted north" in such fashion as to lessen spawning
production in the Mid-Atlantic.

Regulation has the fishery in a vise up north. Fifteen inch size
limits are common.
Down here I absolutely believe the reason sea bass were still a viable
fishery even in the unregulated period's darkest hour is because they
spawned young - and I believed they responded best to management when
there was an 11 inch size limit... (maybe 10!)
It is vital that we understand how to maximize a spawning population..

An experiment on this theory of shifting 'age at maturity' was
recently concluded off the coast of Maryland. It wasn't planned for,
nor recognized as such. I complained bitterly about the complete
evacuation of sea bass and flounder as sub-bottom survey work went on
for years in the MD Wind Energy Area. (See a video I made in Jan 2016
showing the absolute absence of sea bass in the wind area -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46ahNqo8geE- The comparative footage
was shot in the end of August 2015 at the conclusion of survey work,
and from the VERY SAME REEFS in May/June 2004. A sub-bottom profiler
is NOWHERE NEAR as loud & powerful as deep sea bed "Acoustic
Surveying" for oil/gas with air cannons..)
At the MD Wind Area's mid-summer 2015 completion, all manner of reefs
in and around the huge survey site were again recolonized by sea bass
by May 2016 - and for the first time in well over a decade I saw
numerous under nine inch males..
Because those reefs were completely devoid of sea bass, there were
therefore no large males delaying the start of younger females
switching to male in younger fish.
This experiment also occurred at our African Queen Reef Site when for
two years a vessel under charter to the Navy also drove away sea bass.
Though not nearly as complete (perhaps owing to a shorter time span) I
have been told there were smaller males at the Queen Reef this past
summer than there had been in years.
Speaking of the Queen Reef - while we had smaller sea bass size limits
& no bag limit I could fish the Queen Reef (12 NM SSE OC MD) with 50
and more people on the 90 foot OC Princess & did so frequently. When I
began sea bassing with the 55 foot Morning Star in 2004 clients could
sometimes fish the Queen & nearby wrecks/reefs with NO BAIT - Just
Bare Hooks! - and catch sea bass incredibly well.
Nowadays I cannot fish the Queen Reef for cbass. It doesn't hold
enough fish to keep clients' interest. (nor mine!) The size limit is
bigger, the bag limit smaller, seasons are shorter -- there's just a
dearth of production. Spawning is compromised by fishing pressure.
Another example: Capt Ricky (huge Lewes partyboat at Parson's) & I on
the OC Princess would often target sea bass at the "Old Grounds." Atop
these small patches of natural corals spread across more than 200
square miles, sea bass were so plentiful in the late 1990s that large
crowds could be kept busy all day.
For nearly 15 years now that's no longer the case. Flounder? Yes. Some
sea bass? Yes. Large schools of sea bass worth anchoring on? No. Not
since sea bass "Age At Maturity" shifted fully 2 to 3 years out.

You see, today's marine sea bass population must have, by my
estimation, 70% or more NOT in the spawning population. Today it's
also true that JUST as sea bass grow INTO the spawning class, they
become legal...
When regulation forced sea bass to spawn younger - they did. (indeed,
all throughout the era of No Regulation sea bass spawned exactly as
described in the science -- age 1 & even age zero..) When there were
not males greater than 12 inches on nearly every reef of any type -
smaller fish were somehow instinctually signaled to spawn (and for
some females to transition to male) at age one. Back then (until
2002/2003) we had what must have been nearly 100% of the marine
population in the spawning class. ALL our throwbacks -- All summer --
were spawners.
Their population climbed despite far higher levels of both
recreational & commercial catch.
Today we box up the spawners and leave just enough large males to
stifle the instinctual urge to rebalance the spawning population with
small males - Its those large males which, I believe, control 'age at
maturity.' (relatively speaking.. A 7 inch sea bass perceives a 13
inch male as 'large' - but you're not going to win the pool with it!)
They no longer transition at age 1 or age zero as they once did.

Now, of course, this effect was greatest where fishing pressure was
highest. Where fishing pressure was low - mostly outside of 12 miles -
you could tell how much fishing was occurring on a reef by the size of
it's smallest males. Forcing cbass to spawn at age one worked because
even our most heavily fished reefs had fantastic spawning production -
spawners were being thrown back! And boy did it show. In 2003
sometimes even 1/2 day boats could catch 25 fish-per-person cbass
limits within 12 miles of Ocean City, MD.
Now it's pretty good to have 25 keeper sea bass on the whole boat on a
half-day trip. A lot of days they won't do even that...

I've never had any luck getting federal/state regulators to bite on
this "Age At Maturity" work of mine.
Nor the idea our remaining seafloor hardbottom habitat (natural reef)
might be important(!) - Or any consideration our natural hardbottom
habitat is at but 15% or so of it's historical footprint when
considered from 1950 or so.
Then too, NOAA apparently does believe Private Boats targeting sea
bass from one state can out-catch all Commercial Trawl/Trap AND All
Party/Charter -- All Combined.. (That's the MRIP issue I always write
about - Specifically Here & A Matter Of Import To Today's Sea Bass
Management - NY Wave 6 (Nov/Dec) Private Boats in 2016 & 2017 landed,
by MRIP estimate, vastly-incredibly more sea bass than ever before.
Those Gradys & Boston Whalers landed more sea bass in two really cold
rough months than ALL Party/Charter along the WHOLE COAST in the same
period -- AND ALL COMMERCIAL TRAWL/TRAP!!! Combined!
What a farce.. People are getting PAID to destroy fisheries science &
management. Because harvest numbers are KEY in any fishery management
scheme - here we have GIGO...)

To try and convince management a smaller size limit in sea bass is, by
far, their most powerful tool in elevating sea bass spawning
production has, thus far, been a hurdle too high.

So now on to tautog. I've long advocated a 16 inch size limit based on
the mammoth increases in egg production from a 14 to 16 inch
blackfish. We ought to want to maximize spawning production..
But what if altering age at maturity also comes into play with tog?
We'll never know unless we first discover whether or not some actually
do switch and at what age....

Just some winter thoughts on past and ongoing work.
Going Fishing Too!

Capt Monty Hawkins 

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