Monday, February 28, 2022

Fish Report 2/28/22 - On the Theft of Marine Recreational Fisheries..

Fish Report 2/28/22 

Opening One Open-Boat Tog Trip. 

Have Spent 120+ Hours Writing & Researching a Problem on Recreational Catch Data - Made it as simple as I could - Included a sample letter at the end. 

Private Boat Owners and their Guests MUST delve into this. Private Boats - not trawlers, not trappers, no Party or Charter boats - Private Boats, according to NOAA, are an uncontrollable sector capable of incredible overfishing..

From below:

If we don't soon stop this Private Boat business, sky high MRIP recreational catch estimates will make commercial trawling for fluke look like a few fellows prancing around a field with butterfly nets, while the real summer flounder slayers trailer up and hide their overfished bounty in a home freezer.. 

It's a huge report. Maybe my biggest ever (& that's saying something..) Starts below the Reef Block numbers. 

Recreational Fishermen need to write their state's DC reps and fisheries staff - Council/Commission members too. 

Is it complex? Yup! 

But you can sure see it in tightening regulations. What frightens me is the end game - What happens when the computer says we caught em all while commercial guys were well behaved? 

Recreational Closures & Increased Commercial Quotas, that's what. It's happening now in pieces. 

Whether you can read the whole report or not — Write! 

Have a tog trip. 

NEW: Boat Regs 3 Tog @ 16 Inches - only one can be a female. 

Honest truth about Tog Trips!

Do you like a good old fashioned 'drop and reel' sea bass bite? Like steady action? 

Yeah, umm, toggin/blackfishing ain't that. (Except in the rarest of occasions!) This fishery, tog fishing, is the hardest from among my target species. Skunks can and do happen! Even skilled tog fishers, and I mean from among the very best, can get their head handed to em. Worse still - I've even been completely skunked while tog fishing! (Whoever said "A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work" dern sure didn't carry fishing parties for a living!) 

Still, because the challenge of catching tog is both our test & attraction - we go! 

Like Tommy said; "The Tug Is The Drug."

If you're this guy: "Ah, Capt, I thought we'd catch 20 pounders today?" Oh Mercy! I'm just glad if clients get bit!

I'm telling you here - I had many, many anglers get skunked last winter & this - on my last trip! 

This fishery is tough getting tougher. Those 'dinner fish' kept 10 & more years ago would have been today's jumbos. 

I run Tog Trips light so anglers can move to the bite - or try too. 

For those in need of the blow-by-blow catch reports, I post after every trip to facebook..

If you want a spot call the reservation line! Emailing me is no good - service handles reservations. I do ck email for questions - sometimes ck FaceBook messenger.. 

Tog (Blackfish) Trips Only - allowed zero sea bass. They're closed now because of bad MRIP catch estimates. (MRIP's now worse than ever!) 

My crew do have a FEW whitelegs for a very reasonable price.. 

Not Swinging for the fence. Still a fairly long run though. It's what we do. I suspect some clients will get skunked. 

3 Tog @ 16 Inches - only one can be a female. 

Tog Trip - Friday, March 4, 2022 - 6:30 to 4 - $175.00 - Fourteen Sells Out. 

Reservations Required at 443-235-5577 

Anna is all alone here. Line sometimes jams when I open. Leave a message. 


Weather Cancellations 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

overslept or had a flat..

Trips Sometimes Announced on Facebook Also - at Morning Star Fishing & my personal FB page along with after action (or lack thereof) reports. Email is always first. 

Bait is provided on all trips: green crabs for tog. (Whites Are

available from crew for a reasonable cost. A lot died though!!) Our Tog Pool Is By Length: A Tog That's Been Released Counts The Same As One In The Boat.

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: 3 Tog @ 16 Inches - only one can be a female. 

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.

Except in high-summer, waterproof boots are almost a necessity unless fishing the bow - sneakers will ruin your day when the water is cold! 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..

As of 2/28/22 we have 35,793 Reef Blocks & 433 Reef Pyramids (170lb ea) deployed at numerous ACE permitted ocean reef sites - we also have 312 pyramids deployed by MD CCA at Chesapeake Bay oyster sites working to restore blue ocean water…

Currently being targeted oceanside: Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 99 Reef Blocks (+55 Reef Pyramids begun 8/18/20) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 1,888 Blocks (+44 Reef Pyramids) - Doug Ake's Reef 4,174 blocks (+16 Reef Pyramids) - St. Ann's 2,817 (+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 3,723 (+70 reef pyramids) - Wolf & Daughters Reef 734 - Al Berger's Reef 1,109 (+14 Reef Pyramids) - Great Eastern Block Drop 1,384 (+20 Reef Pyramids).. And a soon-to-be-named reef at Russell's Reef 30 Blocks & 49 Pyramids - We've also begun block drops at Capt Greg Hall's Memorial Reef with 212 Blocks & 2 Pyramids.. 



On the Theft of Marine Recreational Fisheries by MRIP Recreational Catch Data.. 2/28/22

Capt. Monty Hawkins 

If we don't soon stop this Private Boat business, sky high MRIP recreational catch estimates will make commercial trawling for fluke look like a few fellows prancing around a field with butterfly nets while the real summer flounder slayers trailer up and hide their overfished bounty in a home freezer.. 

120+ Hours Writing & Researching on the Future of Marine Recreational Fishing.

Any Estimate Now Could Be My Business' Last, So I Write.

Will you write too? 

It's really hard to post about statistics and keep readers' attention. But everyone can see NOAA's estimates are forever constricting recreational catch. Small private boats, kayaks even, with a 5 fish bag in Buzzards Bay Massachusetts 'catch' 2X more sea bass than all the Party/Charter boats from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras.. 

Will anglers get mad enough to write?  ..or simply quit fishing when the regulations finally shut us down.

Greetings All, 

A huge problem has wormed its way deeply into marine fisheries management and restoration. We're on course to re-collapse several important fisheries. Soon we may have to press the 'start over' button.  

In the short term recreational catch estimates have often caused undue economic distress to recreational businesses. But in the long term catch these estimates have become so bad they'll soon have disastrous biological affect on several fisheries and all businesses associated with them. It's already begun. 

A coastwide catch estimate example: Combine All Commercial Trawlers & Trappers, plus All Recreational Party/Charter guys from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod— Now combine all the sea bass those mariners caught in 2021 all together (5.3M lbs)  ..NOAA's official "Peer Reviewed" catch estimates show small, mostly trailerable, Private Boats caught 2X as many sea bass (10.4M lbs) mostly with 3 to 5 fish limits. 

That's crazy. 

Every time 'overfishing' has been mentioned since the mid-2000s or so it's nearly always been about small private boats that suddenly shot up hundreds of thousands of pounds - or even a million - "they did it" (on a computer) and recreational businesses paid for it in lost sales when regulators tightened seasons, lengthened size limits & reduced bag limits in response to overfishing. 

Owing the above estimates we're about to see sea bass regulations tighten again. I'm a partyboat owner/operator that specializes in sea bass. Been fishing Ocean City MD 41 years. Was the first skipper to put regulations on sea bass in 1992 - fully 5 years before state/fed law began and have spent decades improving our marine seafloor habitat. 
I watch fish closely. 

With absolutely no change in our recreational regulations off DelMarVa over the last decade we've had the worst spring run of sea bass ever in 2015 because of three years of survey noise in sea bass's summer spawning season (which BOEM & NOAA swear didn't happen) and the very best sea bassing since 2003 as hundreds of fishless natural coral bottoms in and around the MD Wind Energy Area recolonized with little sea bass who exuberantly began spawning at age one. 

Off our coast Private Boats rarely account 25% of a day's sea bass landings. On the single busiest day it may approach half. 


But NOAA says Private Boats outfished MD Party/Charter by 11.4 sea bass to 1 in 2021.. It's much more the case that MD Party/Charter outfished Private Boats 5 to 1. 

Big difference between their reality & ours. Almost always is. 

Overestimates are everywhere in the data - I'm an expert at sea bass so I focus there. 

Yes, bad catch estimates have cost me plenty; have cost everyone in the recreational fishing trades really. But the catch estimate problem about to  reveal itself is much larger - a monster. 

No matter how dire, I cannot seem to convince anglers, especially Private Boat owners and friends  fishing with them, that NOAA believes they catch more sea bass than everyone who earns a living at sea. 

When I speak with these boat owners, and I often do, they're incredulous — "That can't be right." "No one would believe that"

And maybe managers don't believe the data anymore, but use it they will. 

It's policy. 

Many days off our coast—and a universal situation in other regions I'd expect; Party/Charter guys are "it" on the fishing grounds, or nearly so if it's a bit windy or just the wrong weekday—if mahi or tuna or fluke or stripers are biting then sometimes there are no Private Boats at all targeting sea bass off Maryland. 


This is not unique. 

I've asked skippers up and down the coast to estimate  what percentage of sea bass they think their state's Party/Charter boats catch and compared it to NOAA's recreational catch estimates. A concerned NJ angler volunteered to spend many days making tables of "Percentage of the Catch." I can send a full set to any who inquire. Similar to my hand calculated/written efforts of over 15 years, it was a lot of work but far more complete. Save precious few sets, the 'corrected' numbers are uniformly  smaller than NOAA's estimates. After examining every state at the two month 'wave' interval, my method showed 7.4M lbs less sea bass in 2021 than NOAA's official estimates. Party/Charter didn't vary much - I'm convinced it was all overestimates in the Private Boat mode that have created instances of 'overfishing' since 2002 or so. 

Now I want to examine this catch estimate problem from the 'effort' side (where effort is simply the number of people fishing.) It's really the same thing I've been doing but using MRIP's numbers. What professional anglers perceive as private boat fishing effort must be based on what they see—the number of boats fishing. 

Indeed, MRIP's catch estimates are also formed from their effort calculations. They have to compute, "How Many People Went Fishing" for each species. It's further broken down by shore and private/rental boat. I will use those same numbers, especially the private boat numbers, to show how ludicrous their estimates are. 

This whole exercise should remind older readers of the old Wendy's hamburger commercial, "Where's the beef?" 

Except I mean boats.. 

Hey NOAA! Where's the  boats? 

If catch estimates assert vast numbers of anglers on Private Boats with catches of sea bass, then there must be congruent numbers of Private Boats - actual fiberglass. No? 

It's unassailable logic. Where there is catch there must first be effort. If NOAA claims one state in two months had 200,000 anglers on Private Boats, there'd better be an awful of fiberglass & outboard engines at sea to match or the estimate is wrong. 

The Marine Recreational Information Program (NOAA's 'MRIP') is where all recreational catch estimates source from. So far as MRIP is concerned catches can stretch to the moon with not a bit of concern for veracity. So long as the statistical formula is correct - the number it produces must also be. 

Even if it isn't. 

Although there are indeed more Private Boats than Party/Charter vessels — a fact MRIP staff pointed out to me as though I had rocks in my head — it's also true most people cannot afford to own an ocean going private boat. More to the point, many more anglers can afford a partyboat fare or even a charter. There's a much larger client pool for Party/Charter boats than people lined up to drop nearly six figures or more on a private boat.. 

Never mind that a second, chew on this: according to NOAA's official catch estimates, Massachusetts' Private Boats caught 2X more sea bass by themselves in May & June 2021 than all the Partyboats & Charter boats from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod caught all year. Amazingly, they did that with a 5 fish limit. 

Shoot, they did that in about 35 days of May/June against all Party/Charter's entire year. 

Here by annual measure: in 2020 Massachusetts Private guys caught more sea bass than all Party/Charter by 732,000lbs. In 2021 those MA Private Boats outfished all recreational professionals by 1.6million pounds. 

That's just Massachusetts' Grady Whites & Boston Whalers from Cape Cod to the Rhode Island state line that caught 2.5 million pounds of sea bass in 2021. All Massachusetts Party/Charter only caught 40,000lbs in 2020 and 70,000 in 2021.. 

70,000 vs 2,500,000...  

Fishers do not believe that. It's getting to where dern few managers and scientists do either.

They ought to throw it out, really. 

NOAA's statisticians and top brass apparently like it though. 

Stifling debate instantly, the Regional Administrator says: "It's peer reviewed." 

Picture rec fish at a Council meeting with dozens of fisheries staff and state representatives; among whom not one soul believes Massachusetts Private Boats caught that many sea bass, it's not a great comfort to see argument instantly shut down with, "It's peer reviewed." 

Lots of statisticians think MRIP's pretty peachy too. Peer review after peer review of late gushes glowingly about these estimates.

Wasn't always so. 

Used to be Party/Charter catch would swing by millions of fish. Our first two week sea bass closure in 1998 was because NJ Partyboats had 'caught' 4.2M sea bass. (Just the regulatory savings in NJ partyboats should be enough to fill the sea with sea bass..) My work in the late 1990s/early 2000s was part of an effort to get Party/Charter data tightened up. We even asked that NOAA require daily log books that are now electronic. Party/Charter catch estimates went from wild swings to mostly steady with an occasional spike. 

By the mid-2000s, however, Private Boat catch began to escalate under the MRFSS system and has continued climbing—even much more sharply—under MRIP. 

Following the Party/Charter correction (a 'seperation' really,) a few of us lodged complaints about the sudden jumps in Private Boat catch. This caused NOAA's rec estimates, MRFSS back then, to be looked at by the National Academy of Sciences. In 2006 the NAS said MRFSS estimates were in need of a major overhaul. I was trying to point out how inflated recreational catches were actually upping commercial quotas by massively inflating recreational catch on computer screens. This was and remains "ghost catch" of fish that never saw a hook or inside of a cooler - it's not real. 

Consider a fish population analyst's (stock analyst's) position. His/her boss is telling them catch data must be treated as though real. Therefore, if recreational anglers are catching large amounts of a species on a computer - even "unbelievable catches" then, to fit their scientific model, there must be vastly more of those fish in the ocean than stock analysts had  previously thought.

The fish population estimates NOAA must tell Congress about are raised because of recreational catch data almost no one believes. 

Oyyyy… It's a mess. Here's a bit of history from one estimate to give readers an idea of scale - an indication of recreational catch inflation over time. 

This estimate is small stuff 

..or should be. 

In 2007 Congress mandated NOAA replace their old estimating system, MRFSS, and wanted it done by 2009.  

Despite attending numerous meetings about the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) as it was being developed, it seemed fishermen were unable to offer anything of value. They just wanted to tell us how it was going to be. It seemed to me their work proceeded with certain knowledge that ONLY statisticians could ever cipher recreational catch. Fishermen had no clue & our comments were ignored. At MRIP's release in 2012 I was sure we'd been ignored. 

There were no stops. With no idea of fish or fishing, a catch can drain the sea 20 feet and still make perfect sense to a statistician. 

This was MRIP - unleashed on a fishing public that had been expecting repair. 

What a mess.

Deep in it at the time, I'd pointed out the utter ridiculousness of New Jersey's 2010 March/April Shore Tautog Estimate when it was published. I'd complained in my writings and at several meetings - was using that specific NJ Shore estimate to illustrate NOAA's insanity. What in real life would be under a couple hundred tautog caught in the very end of the two month March/April wave was 'estimated' at 73,000 tautog caught and killed by Shore fishermen under NOAA's old system, MRFSS. 

The very day the new system, MRIP, came out, it was the first estimate I checked 

.and knew we were sunk. MRIP changed that estimate (repaired it?) by adding 100,000 more tautog. Now it was 174,000 tautog where experts such as long time outdoor columnist, Al Ristori, suspected less than 200 shore-caught NJ tog in the tail end of April — if any.

Some repair. 

The increase seen in this estimate fairly well expresses the disdain shown fishers by NOAA's statisticians. They actually bragged about it in print - said it showed what a great job they were doing. 'Well, it's just a single state/single wave estimate. They're supposed to be taken in annual form and with lots of states to smooth the bumps. That's how they're supposed to be used. We think they're pretty good."

In actual fisheries management, single two-month 'wave' estimates from a single state are used All The Time to make regulations. Single state, single two month 'wave' estimate spikes absolutely do matter. When managers decide where to trim season to reduce catch, single state/single wave estimates are their ONLY guide..

Following more 'peer reviews' (involving not one fisherman) in 2018 MRIP was 'recalibrated'. 

That hopelessly incorrect NJ tautog estimate that had grown by 100,000 computer caught fish, (along with innumerable other MRIP estimates) was repaired to near-perfection as far as statisticians were concerned. Under MRIP's 'recalibration' that small band of die-hard NJ tautog anglers trying to land the first blackfish of the year from shore were now estimated to have caught 341,440 fish - over 800,000lbs. 

Almost a million pounds estimated for a shore catch that might not have actually filled a  bucket. 

Oh, it's fixed alright.. 


No it isn't. 

This is the really bad part.  While sometimes huge parts of recreational quotas are being electronically 'caught' with no harm to any fish—commercial quotas shall indeed be landed and sold. 

Inflated recreational catch, you see, makes it appear as though there are a lot more fish in the sea. Because a rising tide lifts all boats, this 'best scientific information' then pushes commercial quotas upward. 

We've gotten around it owing the resiliency of fish; but, because MRIP continues upping and upping recreational catch, especially of late, it's soon going to be a nasty problem.. Promise. 

I believe summer flounder will be the first species seriously depleted by inclusion of MRIP's fallacies. 

Know This — If No Real Repair Is Made To MRIP, Recreational Private Boat Anglers Will Be Made To Look Like They Overfished And Crashed Fluke. 

Then Sea Bass. 

The real catch will have been commercial, but always rising Private Boat and even Shore estimates will paint a picture of recreational Private Boats' greed. 

We're allowing ourselves to be framed for a statistician's crime by NOT COMPLAINING about recreational catch estimates.

Commercial fishers didn't ask for this trouble nor the increased quota. 

If a couple guys on buckets could be shown to have landed nearly a million pounds of tautog; once MRIP was used in regulation in 2019, the newly raised catch numbers would have destroyed many recreational fisheries - closed for years because our catch was suddenly sky high and 'overfishing' rampant. We'd have been so far over quota that catfish would be the only species left. So the fishery science & management community raised stock estimates—they had to; and immediately raised recreational quotas enough so we could fish. 

Those increases were not occurring in a vacuum though. In 2019 Commercial quotas shot up too. What were commercial fishers going to say? "Oh No, Oh Please don't raise our quotas too!" 

Yeah. Probably not. 

Commercial quota was raised for fluke 49%. For sea bass, 59%. Scup went up too. 

That's the problem. You may see it plain in this alarming 2019 raise, but it's been happening for decades at a slower pace. 

Consider: did a few freezing cold guys waiting for an ol'chiseltooth tautog to roust from his winter's nap and get hungry; did they "catch" almost a million pounds? Did they "overfish" NJ tautog? 

Of course not. 

That's a harmless computer screen's worth of damage. 

Give trawlers a couple million more pounds of legal fluke catch though and fish are going to die. 

Will a couple hundred recreational boats with a 5 sea bass limit in Buzzards Bay factually crash their new fishery? Probably not.  The couple thousand recreational boats seen daily—but only on computer screens—certainly won't either. 

But the hundred-plus new commercial boats fishing a 12 inch limit will, I guarantee, shift the success in Buzzards Bay to mostly commercial. 

I could detail bad catch estimates endlessly: from hundreds of thousands of large sea bass caught from shore across many states (where legal sea bass are the rarest of fish caught); to a year's worth of flounder (50,000lbs) caught from the surf in a single September pulse in MD; to Private Boats in Massachusetts catching more cod than all trawlers in March & April when virtually no Private Boats up there are even dewinterized; to shore-caught stripers in some states averaging over 30 & even 40lbs; to NY's Private Boats absolutely pummeling over a million pounds of cod while NY Party/Charter struggled for a few; to the absolutely senseless 21inch NY size limit on fluke years back — all these bad catch estimates were the cause of memorable and economically painful changes in recreational regulation. 

From what I've read and heard (*see quote below about 'gatekeeper' and from face to face meetings) it's MRIP's perception that private boat and shore anglers lie to them - big time. That's how they justify estimates shooting for the planets. 

(*Here from a NOAA website - BOLD is theirs: Under this "gatekeeper effect," the people who were answering our calls did not always accurately report—and in many cases, underreported—their households' fishing effort.)

According to NOAA Private Boat anglers are not only destroying decades of fisheries work by "uncontrollable" overfishing in an era with tighter regulations than anyone ever envisioned, but they're liars too? 

And this 'gatekeeper' is from way back - MRFSS I think. Estimates have risen amazingly several times since to fill gaps statisticians believe are being obfuscated by anglers. 

(Wait a minute.. Does this mean MRIP thinks Party/Charter & Commercial fishers are the honest ones?


It's long been policy that because MRIP's catch estimates are the only recreational catch information managers have, and unimpeachable according to policy because it's peer reviewed, all MRIP's mess is fed into the system, whether it's good catch data or not - whether anyone believes it or not. 

Almost all.. 

One time recently fisheries science & management became fed up with MRIP. The numbers that raised their ire then are quite similar to the Massachusetts catches in 2021 — except MA has a far smaller pool of boats that might have participated. 

Here from the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council's paper "Black Sea Bass Fishery Information Document" June 2021 (italics mine) —

"It should be noted that the coastwide 2016 and 2017 MRIP estimates for black sea bass are viewed as outliers by the Monitoring and Technical Committees and the Scientific and Statistical Committee due to the influence of very high estimates in individual states and waves (i.e., New York 2016 wave 6 for all modes and New Jersey 2017 wave 3 for the private/rental mode). Steps have been taken to address uncertainty in these specific estimates in the stock assessment and in management.

Those estimates were between 2.25 & 3.25 million lbs from states with much more waterfront and more Private Boats than MA has below Cape Cod. 

None of those wave estimates values have ever been shown above 500K lbs again with most under 100k. 

Amazing what a bit of scrutiny can do to 'statistically pure' data..

And here what should be my headline - I believe an Extended Peer Review is a possible path to a permanent solution..

From Wikipedia "Peer Review." (italics mine)

""Extended peer review is the process of including people and groups with experience beyond that of working academics in the processes of assuring the quality of research. If conducted systematically, this can lead to more reliable, or applicable, results than a peer review process conducted purely by academics.[37]""


Where's the Beef! 

(explaining the math) 

I dug in deeper to MRIP than I have in some while. I used their "effort" calculations throughout. For Massachusetts MRIP shows 248,870 anglers participated in Private Boat trips targeting (or secondary target) sea bass in May/June 2021. They were estimated to have caught 1,038,500 sea bass that weighed over 2lbs apiece. (Interesting that A: This is roughly the same as estimates kicked out in 2016/17, and B: All Party/Charter from Hatteras to Maine caught just 581,500 sea bass across the whole of 2021 - this Massachusetts Private Boat estimate is only for May/June with anglers fishing a 5 fish bag limit..)

Pretty smelly. 

For now, however, it remains that 248,870 anglers divided by 3.5 (what I think is the average number of anglers per boat after asking a lot of private boat guys) ..dividing by 3.5 equals 71,105 boat trips. Divide again by 35 fishable days (although a 45 days season, that's  assuredly a high number. Some MA charters didn't get that many days.) ..divide 71,105 boat trips by 35 fishable days and you have 2,032 boats fishing every decent weather day.

Making MRIP's data fit would require 2,032 private boats fishing everyday in May/June 2021 to hit MRIP's "effort" estimate. 

And, so far as MRIP is concerned, this is not an issue. There are, after all, far more Private Boats than Party Charter. 

That we actually go every possible day and depend on knowledge of fishing pressure for a living doesn't worry statisticians in the least. They have peer reviews by other statisticians that say fishermen are wrong to think anything is amiss with MRIP's purity.  

Not that there's anything realistic about these, but with a 'more realistic' view of fishing where 30+% of fish are caught on Saturday and the rest throughout the week; here we'd see about 4,500 boats catching sea bass on Saturdays while "only" 1,600 were out every possible weekday & Sunday ..and all those anglers were catching nice 4.2lb average sea bass.

I have had reports of over 300 boats in an area of Buzzards Bay. That is a huge fleet on sea bass. But that charter skipper also thought about a hundred boats in that fleet - a third - were newly minted "commercial boats" with a much smaller size limit rod & reel fishing on Massachusetts' recently elevated Commercial quota.. 

What could go wrong?  

In 2020 MRIP has 156,387 Recreational Private Boat Anglers fishing for sea bass in Massachusetts during May/June. You'd need 1,277 private boats fishing everyday to catch what MRIP claims.

Divide 156,387 by 3.5 (average number of anglers on a private boat) and you have 44,682 boat trips. Divide by number of days fit to fish (I'll use 35 again but it's been indicated many less. Down in Maryland my 55ft partyboat fished 30 days in May/June..) So - 44,682 divided by 35 is 1,277 boats fishing on Massachusetts sea bass grounds every day. 

You can also use 'Effort' to gauge 'catch per unit of effort' or CPUE. Here it's simply MRIP's estimated catch of 368,311 sea bass divided by the number of anglers: 368,311 divided by 156,387 = 2.3 sea bass per angler.

If we instead assume everyone caught a limit in 2020, then it's 368,311 divided by 5 = 73,662 anglers instead of 156,387.

With everyone limiting it would be 73,662 divided by 3.5 = 21,046 boat trips divided by 35 days of fishing for 601 boats fishing if it was actually good enough weather for private boats to go all 35 days and limit out.

Along the Maryland coast in 2021 MRIP has MD Private Boats in May/June catching 103,000 sea bass. 

I have both Party/Charter & Private Boat guys watching for boat counts. They're used to me asking on the radio and texting. A crazy high day would be 40 Private Boats. Oft times it's much closer to none. A bit of wind or just a weekday no one took off to go fishing? No effort or dern few. 

Yet MRIP's effort estimation shows we'd need 186 boats targeting (or secondary target) sea bass from OC Inlet each of the 30 days I was able to get my boat out in May/June 2021. 

Everyday hundred eighty six boats going every fishable day. Like the start of the White Marlin Open but with smaller boats..

Aside opening day (another artifact of bad catch data) and a pretty Saturday, most days we each see one or two private boats - either within a couple miles or nearby - a dozen/fifteen altogether. 

Think we'd notice 170 more? 

The math: MRIP's "effort" has MD at 19,600 angler trips targeting sea bass either as primary or secondary species on private boats - divided by my belief of 30 possible fishing days in May/June (what I was able to fish after weather cancelations though I was booked everyday) ..divided by 3.5 average number of anglers per boat = 186.6 boats fishing every day. 

There was a camera mounted to count boats at Ocean City, MD's Inlet, but it failed in May/June. 

Perhaps we will get a good boat count for another two month period. 

I hope we'll soon test my theory. 

In Sept/Oct 2021 Connecticut anglers caught 3X more pounds of sea bass than they'd averaged in the previous decade's Sept/Oct periods  — 1,009,000lbs. 

With MRIP's estimate of 236,419 Private Boat anglers it would have taken 67,548 boat trips at 3.5 anglers per boat. Divide again by 45 possible days of fishing in Sept/Oct and it would take 1,501 Private Boats targeting (or secondary targeting) sea bass every possible weather day — 1500 every day..

While the MRIP effort estimate for Party/Charter remained within a couple hundred clients between 2019 & 2021 at around 5,750 anglers; Private Boat shot from 91,500 anglers in '19 - to 114,600 in 2020 - to 236,419 in 2021.. That's a big jump.. 

Stranger still, while CT Party/Charter skippers think they catch 50 or 60% of their state's sea bass landings, MRIP shows a Two-Million pound lead for Private Boat. 

Someone's way off. 

Rhode Island would require 556 boats fishing their sea bass grounds across 45 days of Sept/October to have caught their estimate. 

Although Private Boat caught far more than others, it was just a waste of money. According to MRIP, Rhode Island Shore anglers caught over 2X what the state's Party/Charter boats did and those shore-caught sea bass were a third of a pound larger too. While their habitat is truly unique, that's a lot of shore caught sea bass.. 

In VA you have an MRIP estimated 22,938 private boat sea bass angler trips (primary or secondary target) divided by 35 days (generous!) and again by 3.5 average anglers per boat for 194 boats fishing for sea bass every day the weather is fit. 

Having gotten this far I hope you'd write your DC reps and State Fisheries bosses and ask for "an extended peer review."

There are lots of scientists and managers - I'd say most actually - who have had enough of the impossible. If statisticians would include fisheries staff and fishermen in these "Peer Reviews," I believe they'd soon get an uncomfortable earful. 

MRIP needs to be brought back to earth. 

All anglers really, but Private Boat owners & their fishing friends especially need to write. 

Remember, in Party/Charter we stopped MRFSS's skyrocketing catch nonsense two decades ago. If we don't soon stop this Private Boat business, MRIP's recreational catch estimates will make trawling for fluke look like a few fellows prancing around a field with butterfly nets while the real summer flounder slayers trailer up and hide their overfished bounty in a home freezer.. 

The data is cumulative—like fishing's slow collapse across decades, seeing it without the filter called "generational shift" is difficult. As with NY's July/Aug 2020 estimate: once you get used to seeing one state's Private Boats catching well over a million pounds of sea bass with a 3 fish bag limit in just two months, there will be no alarm when they do it with a one fish limit. 

Needs fixing. 



Sample Letter.. After all that, after 130-plus hours of writing & research, some will want a sample letter. 

Dear Extremely Busy Staffer Who's Reading This, (cause you know dern well the actual member isn't!) (and send it to a field office because DC mail will be stopped for weeks during anthrax inspection.)(Best advice I ever got - everyone's your friend when you're trying to get something done in politics. Promise — ALL of this is politics, but it goes back across 5 administrations to Bush 41 and is super way-way-way low off the radar. With everything going on - and it's always going on.. Just Be Nice!) 

NOAA's recreational catch estimates by MRIP are not only robbing opportunity, but threaten the economic vitality of recreational fisheries up and down the East Coast. The Gulf Coast States have rid themselves of MRIP's bewilderingly inane guesses at recreational catch. Along the East Coast, however, when small private boats are said to have caught more sea bass than all commercial and recreational for-hire boats combined — MRIP's soup-sandwich of statistically pure estimates grinds through the system as though true. 

But it isn't. 

Bad MRIP estimates close seasons and cause regulation to tighten for no real reason. 

Worst of all, vastly inflated recreational catches have so increased stock estimates (from where both Recreational & Commercial quotas are set), we've now come to a tipping point where it's possible commercial quota alone, (and certainly given the addition of any small part of a recreational quota that hasn't been lost on a computer yet) ..we've arrived at a time when decades of overestimated recreational catch will cause damage to fish populations.

While statisticians are glad to show a collection of peer reviews by other statisticians illustrating the mathematical purity of the work; it often leads to estimates that couldn't possibly be true. 

We need an Extended Peer Review. One that includes Fishermen, Fisheries Scientists & Managers with real world knowledge of recreational fishing and catch along side the statistical geniuses who created this mess. 

We really need help straightening it out. 

All NOAA wants to say is "It's peer reviewed" - then run the estimates through a plug and play system. 

That they're dead wrong doesn't seem to matter. 



Capt Monty Hawkins

Blog Archive