Monday, November 22, 2021

Fish Report 11/22/21

Fish Report 11/22/21 

Just Two Fishing Trips Here (& a reef block trip)


Dagone It! there may be trouble brewing at the federal level in way of tighter regs for scup and sea bass (at least.) It is, after all, the start of 'Regulation Season'.. 

Oh Mercy. 

NOAA has taken recreational catch estimates that couldn't possibly be true and used them to create the illusion of massive fish populations. Using MRIP's private boat catch (where private boats from one state often out-fish/out-catch all commercial & party/charter effort from that state - and sometimes out-fish all professional effort all together(!) along the whole coast! management, with the logic: "Gee, if there's THAT many fish, if private boats can catch That Many, then we ought to give commercial fishers a hefty quota increase. 

And so they did. 


Recreational? Yes, us too. Maybe someday? Buuuut it's not official yet — So, guess what my rod bending friends! We're Overquota! 

And that may trigger Accountability Measures (AMs). You know, where seasons shrink, size limits go up, and bag limits go down — if not outright closed! — because MRIP's wild guesses at catch have us harvesting enough fish to stretch to the moon and back… 

I swear.. 

What could possibly go wrong in a natural resource management regime that refuses to accept historical habitat as anything important or worthy of repair, and uses the very recreational catch data that I've been able to get 200+ managers in a meeting laughing out loud with - data so bad it's funny to those who use it …….yet use it they do. 

Grind bad recreational catch data through the system as though sacred. 

We're getting further & further from the truth of fisheries restorations, that much I'll promise. 

I've begun a work the size of which I've not published in years. 

What a mess. 

This really should be a simple effort. Reduce catch, improve habitat - off we go. 

Instead habitat is left for someone else to worry with - they just haven't been assigned that task yet—(if anyone's been tasked with discovery of lost marine habitat and it's repair, derned if I've bumped into em yet..) and recreational catch estimates are worse, far worse, than a group of tenth graders who actually fish could concoct. 

Some old thoughts on habitat and sea bass spawning production below block count. 

Opening Sea Bass Trips -  Wednesday 11/24/21 (Day Before Thanksgiving) 8am to 5pm (lets wind die off in morning. Forecasted beautiful by afternoon.) $155.00.. 

And Sea Bass Sunday - 11/28/21 - 6:30 to 4 - $155.00 

And! A Block Trip Thanksgiving Day!! 

Start loading at 8 - should be done before/by noon. Will take about 7.5 tons wherever weather allows. Maybe Kelly's, hopefully Nana Daub's at Russell's Reef.. Sue's Reef? Best/Safest Course for weather conditions.. Stong back? Blocks will run 60lb or so. Email me at mhawkins@ocreefs if you'd like to pitch in with this.

Have to run a fair piece to get on sea bass. Result has been excellent fishing—all "Boat Limits" of late. (7 in a row.. Warning! The bigger they are, the harder they fall!) 

All cbass trips now from 6:30am to 3:30pm at $155.00 & sell out at a nicely spaced 18 Anglers...

Boots! If anywhere near the stern - wet deck - wear boots in winter. (At least bring em. If flat calm you may not need them..)

Reservations Required  For All Trips - Call Anna (and sometimes daughter Hanna!) Reservation Line is Open 8am to 8pm at 443-235-5577 It always jams when I first open. Sorry!

As ever, 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. No Refund or Reschedule for a missed trip! 

Ticket Sales Limited To Four. (Let your friends take care of their own reservations!) Will sometimes sell all spots to one company on a weekday—as in a charter. Has to go through me and not terribly likely. I've built a livelihood carrying individual anglers and enjoy their company. 

Trips Also Sometimes Announced (but later - email is always first) on Facebook.

My personal and Morning Star FB pages get daily 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. This is 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

Two 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.

As of 11/16/21 we will have 35,268 Reef Blocks & 412 Concrete Pyramids (170lb ea) deployed at numerous ACE permitted ocean reef sites - and, also as of 11/16/21, we have 312 pyramids at Chesapeake Bay oyster sites working to restore blue ocean water…

Currently being targeted oceanside: Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 99 Reef Blocks (+53 Reef Pyramids begun 8/18/20) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 1,856 Blocks (+44 Reef Pyramids) - Doug Ake's Reef 4,174 blocks (+16 Pyramid Reef Pyramids) - St. Ann's 2,797 (+8 Reef Pyramids) - Sue's Block Drop 1,582 (+20 Reef Pyramids) - TwoTanks Reef 1,223 (+ 11 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 912 - Benelli Reef 1,491 (+ 15 Pyramids) - Rudy's Reef 465 - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 3,623 (+60 reef pyramids) - Wolf & Daughters Reef 734 - Al Berger's Reef 1,049 (+11 Reef Pyramids) - Great Eastern Block Drop 1,134 (+10 Reef Pyramids).. And a soon-to-be-named reef at Russell's Reef 30 Blocks & 49 Pyramids - We've also begun work at Capt Greg Hall's Memorial Reef with 92 Tog Monster Blocks & 2 Pyramids… 

Greetings All, 

Pulled Dan E for a decoy I made about 30 years ago. The cork gunning bird had been donated to OCRF by Maggie M from her rig. 

Dan won a few weeks earlier too; a travel rod that

looks mighty fine for our reef fishing. 

Great weekly prizes & the grand prizes too — go to for online sales (we'll email you a pic of your stubs) or visit Lighthouse Guns & Gear or Raceway Citgo (next to Crabs to Go at corner of 589/Rt 50) for in-person sales. 

One Ticket $10 - Six for $50 - Fourteen (not 13!) for $100! (add one for every hundred. eg: $300 = 16x3 tickets) 

It all builds reef!

And, in case you need a read on sea bass spawning production.. 

Being resent 11/22/21 - 

From Fish Report 12/14/15 (when I had 12,500 blocks over - 35,000 today..) 

After two years of wind energy surveying, in spring of 2015 we had The Worst sea bass fishing EVER. (new survey equipment does NOT have the same effect.) I had described recolonization of the MD Wind Energy Area at surveys' conclusion as likely giving us a huge boost to science & management and was trying to tie forthcoming massive increases in production to tiny sea bass rejoining our regions spawning population - at least across the 500+ sq miles where survey boats had run all sea bass out of.. 


I was correct. My argument for age at maturity being key to manufacturing abundances of sea bass has only strengthened: Make em spawn young—force them to via size regulation—and sea bass fishing becomes great for commercial & recreational fishers alike — and has been. 

Greetings All, (here a prelude for a bunch of scientists & regulators)

Some thoughts on sea bass below.

The Sandy Hook Blue Book has "Females mature as 2 year olds at a length of 17 cm. (6.6 inches) Generally, males tissue is first seen in fish 3 years old at about 18 cm (7.08 inches).

I would suggest from Gary's work, however, that both measurements are solidly age one.. 

Here too from the Sandy Hook Blue Book 1977: (page 15) 4.1 Structure - 4.11 Sex Ratio - Since black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites (3.11) sex ratio varies with age & size of the fish. Larger fish are all males. Nearly all fish >25 cm (9.8 inches) are males. Thus catches of large fish will consist of males. 

A little different today.. A catch of cbass even 15 inches wouldn't be all male. 

I believe a vital key to restoration & eventually bioeconomic stability in the commercial & for hire sea bass fisheries can be found in understanding sea bass from 1990 to 2010.. 

We ignore early exponential population growth at science's peril.  

Thank You All For Your Many Efforts. 



(And here the essay section from Fish Report 12/14/15) 

A sea bass resides on the cover of AFS "Fisheries" November magazine. 

Dr. Olaf Jensen & Mikaela Provost seem to be looking into (or around) thoughts on 'age at maturity' as a necessary management tool for sea bass restoration. This is really sticky stuff --

These two have done experiments which affirm extreme habitat fidelity and are now contemplating when sea bass switch sex. 

I think what's absent is when sea bass USED to switch sex. An easy find - it's everywhere in pre-2000 work on sea bass. Where one scientist (from memory,) in 1977 thought a catch of "all large sea bass over 10 inches would be all male" to Mikaela's observation of sea bass switching at 13 and even 15 & 17 inches today would be irreconcilable with scientific measurements taken before the regulatory period began. 

Where sea bass used to switch to male as young as 7 or 8 months of age, now they're age 3 or more..  

It was when I witnessed what I believed was our sea bass at habitat capacity in 2003 that I realized habitat expansion was the only way forward from that point. The only way for management to increase a population of fish already at habitat capacity is to increase habitat. 

Prolonging marine fisheries restoration & management's odd journey, folks at the top of management today were taught in school 'artificial reef only concentrates fish for easier extraction'

Published in 1980, a well-worn college text in my possession by Nielsen & Lackey, "Fisheries Management" (p. 259) has, among many gems, "Sportsmen clamor for a bigger share of the catch, usually referring nostalgically to their remembered catches of years gone by. Commercial fishermen are disinclined to spare 10 fish so that anglers, in their hilarious ways, may catch five."

Science in unbiased form? 

Perhaps not. 

Still, from before MuRFSS recreational catch-estimates' creation, these editors recognized management had tools at hand aside from catch restriction. 

On page 279 in this 1980 text we find: "Carrying capacity, the long term maximum biomass (of fishes) which a habitat can support is dependent in large part upon the food resources available."

Written just past the peak of US commercial fishing--just as fishing businesses were failing more frequently owing to collapse of target species; these editors of yore inform students about a special fresh water problem: "Artificial spawning structures may be necessary because of deterioration of natural spawning grounds in natural lakes or their tributary streams... Frequently, amount of suitable substrate for spawning is insufficient."

After WWII, surplus diesel engines & even boats were cheap as Uncle Sam looked to reduce inventory. Post 1950 stern-towed gear affects to ocean seafloor habitats were the greatest in history as boats powered by these surplus engines put to sea. 

Habitat loss grew far worse as precise LORAN C navigation became widespread in the 1970s. Where once an area would have been steered clear of altogether by skippers operating towed fishing gear: as precise navigation became possible, stern-towed gears were pulled as closely as possible to any remaining hardbottom habitats. Where a cluster of boulder was avoided at all costs because it would snag any towed gear, it was also true that very close by were fish to be harvested. 

If seafloor habitat out to 100 fathoms held fish or shellfish and could be towed - it was towed.

If towing damaged or destroyed that habitat either temporarily or permanently least there was a paycheck in it before production was lost. 

Throughout the restoration community even today, no recognition exists for Mid-Atlantic seafloor habitat, and especially not for any habitat loss of such habitat. 

We cannot apply Nielsen & Lackey's sweetwater commonsense restoration philosophy: "Artificial spawning structures may be necessary because of deterioration of natural spawning grounds" because no recognition exists we ever benefited from spawning occurring upon now-lost habitats, or "spawning structures." 

In reference to artificial reef, Nielsen & Lackey also held that: "Although provision of (artificial)reefs in moderate amounts may effectively concentrate fish for harvest*, reefs in excess have much the same effect as submerged vegetation in excess. That is, prey fishes (like sea bass?) may become overabundant and game fish will be so widely scattered that they are difficult to locate. Few data currently exist on optimal size for artificial reefs. For some species, small artificial reefs which provide cover for only several game fish are adequate since new individuals inhabit the reef almost immediately after any fish are removed by harvest.**

(*That's what artificial reefs were for - to concentrate fish for harvest.)

(**Wow.. with reefs capable of spontaneous fish creation, it's a wonder the idea didn't catch on sooner.  Then too, overabundant prey fish would be a real headache & I'm sure all the Chesapeake .orgs would hate having too much submerged aquatic vegitation..)

Lesson Learned: Artificial reefs concentrate fish for harvest while thinning gamefish so harvest is difficult & create magic habitat where new individuals move in immediately after harvest..  

Awwww: Too Confusing! Better not build those reefs.

My experience has been rather different. I believe every artificial reef ever built off Ocean City, Maryland; or any area of natural reef that has ever re-grown after storm or commercial gear impact of Ocean City, MD, has contributed to reef-fish production - each & every one.  

I believe because fish cannot tell the difference between naturally exposed rock on the seabed & rock humans have dropped to the seabed (or any artificial reef mimic;) fisheries production occurring on natural reef is identical to an artificial reef's given an equal exposed surface area suitable for growth of hard-substrate colonizing animals such as corals, mussels & fish. 

In other words, when considered by cubic measure, so far as fish are concerned, reef is reef is reef..

Building places where fish gather for protection, to feed, grow to maturity & spawn has helped enormously with keeping our fisheries viable--"so that anglers, in their hilarious ways, may catch".. 

Each reef in existence, no matter whether natural, accidental or artificial; each reef is part of an important bioeconomic engine. Each new reef we build bolsters that engine's power. 

When management at last grapples the as-yet unrecognized force found in their ability to control some reef-fishes' age at maturity, habitat increase will then become singularly important in restoration. For when a species is at 'habitat capacity' -- when management has done All It Possibly Can -- at that point only addition to habitat, or improvement of habitat, can raise the population further. If x amount of habitat can support XX amount of fish, then xxx amount of habitat must hold more. 

Managers of today, people working incredibly hard to leave a legacy of improved fisheries, see themselves as having three tools - size limit, creel/quota limits, & season. 

True advances in fisheries will come when those tools are recognized for their role in managing for increased spawning production. 

While we can still readily notice tautog & summer flounder's positive response to increased habitat; it's also true that artificial reefs built in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, & early 2000s were swiftly colonized by numerous spawning sea bass. 

Reefs of today are only colonized by a few spawning cbass  ..but they're a lot bigger. 

I guarantee we have a greater percentage of FEMALE sea bass in the spawning population than ever before, and those females are bigger than ever before  ..yet production languishes. 

Why do sea bass of today evidence a negative population response when they should be, according to management's pet BOFFF theory, hitting new highs. 

BOFFF is shorthand for Big, Old, Fat, Fecund, Females (fecund = lots of eggs) make for great spawning production. 

With sea bass we witnessed fantastically better spawning success when there were incredibly more numerous small males.

When management began, 100 out of 100 ocean-found sea bass in June were in the spawning stock. Today I'd estimate that number at around six or eight out of 100 ocean-found sea bass in June to be active spawners. 

When management began it was not unusual to catch & release hundreds, even a thousand, under-9 inch males EVERY DAY. 

Today we see between one and 6 under-nine inch males A YEAR. 

I believe a direct result of that change in undersize male population has been a spawning population decline. Despite ever more restrictive regulation, we have lost all management's earlier gains. 

With management officially begun in 1997, sea bass along DelMarVa soared to new population highs by 2003. They were already at new highs before a bag limit or reduced seasons were ever employed in 2002. 

Today we have fewer sea bass than perhaps ever in history. Ever. Since sea bass first colonized the Mid-Atlantic, EVER

By lowering the recreational size limit to equal the commercial size limit (eleven inches,) we can force nine & ten inch sea bass back into the spawning population. 

Now, with management's "three tools" growing more & more restrictive, we see the sea bass population steadily shrinking. (except for one heavily regulated rocky area about 90 miles long)

With shorter & shorter seasons; fewer & fewer fish allowed; & lengthening size limits - what manner of "tools" does management employ that drives a population downward? 

(Readers will, of course, be aware management's primary concern is their federally required response to MRIP recreational catch estimates...)

The one tool management actually used that drove sea bass upward in the mid/late 1990s was the species' spawning response to what size other sea bass were on our reefs. 

When biologists claimed, "Every 9-inch sea bass has spawned once, some twice" it was true. Those fish were age zero & age one. It was very common for sea bass to spawn in the first year of life. 

Now sea bass must survive to age three or more before joining the spawning population. 

No one realized it was size limit, and size limit alone, which created such increased spawning production early in the regulatory period. (that's still true)

Yes, management will concede sea bass quickly grew to new population highs in the late 1990s & early 2000s. 

But that was an accident......

Management thinks of "Habitat Capacity" as a theoretical - yet the "K graph" showing population rise and then oscillating along a top is commonly seen in fish population charts. 

In the case of sea bass we swiftly achieved habitat capacity - then screwed it up by valuing recreational catch estimates far more than any science or observation.

If management does not soon recognize this early management response of vastly more numerous spawners, of benefit from an "all hands on deck" at spawning time response, a response commonly seen in early restoration efforts; I fear the economic pummeling in the partyboat trade along our coast will continue.. 

"But," NOAA cries, "it's the "best available science." 

Was a time when taking mercury, bloodletting, & lobotomy were all thought the newest wonders in  science. Even tobacco, LSD & thalidomide were once touted in the Best Available Science. 

Management of today, as those doctors who once prescribed lobotomy, risks killing the patient. 

I'll tell all who will read: The sea bass fishery is being squandered. 

Management must learn to use every tool at its disposal to enliven spawning production. All tools useful to regulating harvest are as nothing when there is no population from which to catch. 

Now over a decade, I'll keep trying..



Capt. Monty Hawkins 

Partyboat Morning Star 

Ocean City, MD

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