Saturday, September 02, 2023

Fish Report 9/1/23

Fish Report 9/1/23 

In the"Better Late Than Never Dept" Opening September ..

Parole Board .. 

Mahi in Clear Water .. 

Reef Block #40,000 .. 

Motsko Family Reef .. 

NOAA Press Releases About MRIP ..

Busy August! Just a bunch of bit and pieces ..


Quote from a letter to top of NOAA management 9/5/2022

MRIP stinks worse than a sun baked, maggot infested bucket of codswallop forgotten at dock's end a week ago. 

You all need to dump it overboard and scrub the bucket - a decidedly unpleasant task - or allow fishery management to wallow in in the cleaning table's stench for decades to come. 



Anna is a one person operation. She might be slammed when I hit send.  (or maybe not!) If she cannot pick up, Leave her a message. She has a method to her madness.. 

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

I always try to leave a half hour early. 


This reservation announcement closes with 9/25/23

Saturdays & Sundays I'm fishing 6:30 to 4 "fish for what's biting" reef trips. Catching some mahi on weekends too? I hope! I anticipate sea bass mostly with some guys heroically targeting summer flounder/fluke. If mahi show (& I just did have my first good day 8/24 then a boat limit 8/30) I'll sure put them in the mix as best I can. If fluke/flounder are really chewing we'll work that angle. Late summer.. If you cannot be flexible and Have To Have a certain species? Wait til fall. Boat sells out with 18 Anglers @ $165.00 ea.. Leave 6:30 (6!) and return 4ish.. 

Mondays I'm targeting fluke for the diehards. Couple guys might limit, maybe. Sometimes a few 20+ inch fish.. Have to WORK for these fish. Of course any day could be "The Trip" too! 6:30 to 4ish - 18 Anglers at $165.00 

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, & Fridays. Mahi Trips - absolutely no guarantee of mahi but will try hard and usually catch some - I just did have my first good day 8/24 then a boat limit 8/30 - if mahi are NOT happening on any given day will switch to catching cbass/fluke for dinner - $210.00 - 6:30 to 4:00 - 12 sells out so we can put everyone on the drift.. (maybe one more but That number shall not be written..) A Major Weather Event Could Knock Mahi Back To Hatteras - When It's Over I'll Inform Clients & Switch These Trips To Sea Bass/Fluke As Normal.. 

This reservation announcement closes with 9/25/23

Anna is a one person operation. She might be slammed when I hit send.  (or maybe not!) If she cannot pick up, Leave her a message. She has a method to her madness.. 

Reservations at 443-235-5577 - She's a one person operation & has other jobs too. The line closes at 8pm and reopens at 8am. She won't take reservations for trips that are not announced. 

If you want a spot call the reservation line at 443-235-5577.. Emailing me is no good - any info I give could well be wrong time you receive it - service handles reservations. I do check email for questions; check FaceBook messenger too.. 

Be a half hour early! We always try to leave early

..except when someone shows up right on time.

Clients arriving late will see the west end of an east-bound boat. Seriously, with a limited number of reserved spots, I do not refund because you overslept or had a flat.. If you're reserved and the last person we're waiting on - you'll need to answer your phone. I will not make on-time clients wait past scheduled departure because of a misfortune on your part. 

I rarely get in on time either. If you have a worrier at home, please advise them I often come home late. It's what I do. 

Trips Also Sometimes Announced on Facebook at Morning Star Fishing 

I post after action reports (or lack thereof) (and sometimes detailed thoughts on fisheries issues) for every trip on my personal FB page and Morning Star page..

Bait is provided on all trips. 

No Galley. Bring Your Own Food & Beverage. 

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 a 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.

I've recently discovered ZOFRAN - prescription anti-nausea for chemo and surgery. Seems to work - has worked - for motion sickness. Serious day saver really. It's a prescription - though one Doc I trust thought it should be over the counter.. 

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 have a few loaners - you'll still need ice. Should you catch some monstrous fish, we'll be able to ice it. 

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. 

In addition to OC Reef Foundation deployments of barges, tugs, & bargeloads of material (such as Tiki XIV's winter deployments of 750 reef pyramids & additional 200 in July) I take reef blocks every time the boat goes in the ocean. 

Block Update - As of 9/1/23 we have 40,083 Reef Blocks & 1,499 Reef Pyramids (170lb ea) deployed at numerous ACE permitted ocean reef sites - there are also 1,336 pyramids deployed by MD CCA at Chesapeake Bay oyster sites working to restore blue ocean water - Counting those awaiting deployment there have been over 3,000 pyramids made since my crew and I fashioned a prototype mold in late August 2019. 

Currently being targeted oceanside: at the Rambler Reef 300 Reef Blocks & 11 Pyramids - Pete Maugan's Memorial Reef 72 Blocks & 6 Pyramids - Tyler Long's Memorial Reef 698 (+18 Reef Pyramids & a 115 ft barge!) Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 466 Reef Blocks (+76 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 1,988 Blocks (+49 Reef Pyramids) - Doug Ake's Reef 4,194 blocks (+16 Reef Pyramids) - St. Ann's 2,929 (+14 Reef Pyramids) Lindsay's Mini Reef 120 Blocks - Sue's Block Drop 1,702 (+30 Reef Pyramids) - (Farewell Cable) 88 blocks(3 pyramids) -  Kathy's Reef 60 Blocks - Benelli Reef 1,552 (+ 118 Pyramids) - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 4,263 (+ 90 reef pyramids) - Al Berger's Reef 1,726 (+36 Reef Pyramids) - Great Eastern South Block Drop 228 Reef Blocks & 8  Pyramids - Cristina's Blast 120 Reef Blocks & 2 Pyramids - Capt Greg Hall's Memorial Reef 242 Blocks & 2 Pyramids - Bear Concrete Reef 44 Blocks (220 Pyramids) & 16 pipes -  Plus an Unnamed site at the Bass Grounds in 80 feet with 345 Castle & Terracotta Tog Blocks, 10 Pyramids, & 16 pieces pipe. 



And THIS is afoot.. Could be the start of Real Fisheries Management for us. Yes it could.. 

But I so remember thinking repair of our catch estimates was at hand in 2008 when NOAA announced they were developing MRIP . . and, Boy, did we get played on that. 

NOAA Presents Key Findings of Recreational Fishing Effort Study 

The report cites a Thirty to Forty Percent Decrease In Private Boat And Shore Effort.. 

Man.. I've worked on recreational catch data for a long time. It's only gotten worse and worse. 

Could the pendulum have now begun to swing in the other direction? 

"We listened to the concerns of our recreational fishing community, and we took action to investigate their concerns further as part of our ongoing research process," said Dr. Evan Howell, director of NOAA Fisheries' Office of Science and Technology.

Not so heartening - Dr Howell Writes: "If the agency shifts to a revised design—based on the findings of the follow-up study—the magnitude of historical estimates may change, but critical catch and effort trend information are expected to remain similar. It's important to note that stock status determinations are relatively consistent when trend information hasn't changed."

So the 2018 commercial quota increases based entirely on vast increases in recreational catch shown by MRIP's 'recalibrations' of 49% for summer flounder and 59% for sea bass are just dandy?

Since raised, the federal quota for either species has not been met. 

That implies the only difference between now and 1980 is an 11 inch size limit for sea bass and a 14 inch size limit for summer flounder. 

Recreational catch estimate's influence on species population assessments goes waaaaay back. 

Has anyone beside me noticed tougher and tougher recreational regs have NOT resulted in an ocean full of fish? 

Fixing recreational catch estimates is just one part of a huge repair. 

Habitat Ecologists Need A Place At The Table, 

Biologists Too.. 


I've closed this reservation period on September 25th. Hard to guess what will be chewing by then. 

Might by mahi like crazy or a nice pick of cbass - maybe a huge hurricane will have rearranged a lot of bottom. What I do know is our "parole board" (Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council) stiffened our regulatory sentence this spring with a ten day sea bass closure come Oct 1st. This is because MRIP showed Virginia's private boat sea bass catch had increased by an order of magnitude two years running. (Virginia 2020 - 19,000 Private Boat Sea Bass May/June -- VA in 2021 - 240,000 Sea Bass in May/June. That's MORE than an order of magnitude increase..) I well remember it was also way up in 2022 but I/we are not allowed to see wave data anymore. 

Too embarrassing? 

So, not a 30% or even more believable 15% increase (something/anything within the realm of plausibility) - but fully 12.5X as many cbass..

Sound logical?

Don't matter. 

Even if no one at all, in all of fishery management anywhere, believes a catch estimate? 

NOAA forces management to use the data regardless. 

It is my firm belief that using horrible catch data across 30 years is why fishery management has managed to push populations backward while choking recreational anglers with ever greater regulation. 

I cannot remember losing more trips save in August 1997 when a huge high pressure and a hurricane got stuck & duked it out off the coast. We lost two weeks straight in 50 kt NE winds. That summer's tally may have been higher. 

Even that, and one heck of an economic gut-punch it was, amounted only 14 days. I've lost 28 trips since sea bass opened 5/15/23. 

Dear parole board - think we might get credit on our ten day closure for 'Time Served'?


To cap it off - NOAA has just decided that because they "asked questions in the wrong order" their MRIP recreational catch estimates are 30+% too high. 


No, they're often orders of magnitude too high. 

Seriously. An estimate that's only 30% too high is an excellent estimate from among their current data sets. 

I'm not winging it - I've pried estimates apart since the late 1990s. All outcomes are a dern mess. 

NOAA's individual angler estimates almost always seem OK to me. But when they multiply angler catch out in 'total effort'? 


Not unusual for one state's private boats to catch more than all their commercial and recreational for-hire guys. 

Sometimes one state's private boats will 'catch' more (by statistic) than all commercial effort across 8 states.. 

Neat trick. 

In other thoughts....

Of three things I am still working on; 1) sea/bayfloor habitat & it's benthic pelagic coupling from Harris Creek to Baltimore Canyon (from oyster beds to offshore canyons..) 2) inanity of recreational catch estimates and their upending of fisheries science & management's real potential.... 

The third, and by far the most counter intuitive: Our situation will become more and more serious with sea bass. During our previous low, when the MD Wind Energy Area was positively devoid of cbass and we experienced the worst spring run ever in 2015, I predicted the wonderful fishing we enjoyed into 21. Then, while catching limits many trips even in summer, I predicted tough times ahead. 

They've begun. 

And will get much worse. 

Sea bass, you see, react to overcrowding (where any higher order species slows procreation) not in factual crowding--we witnessed astounding populations on our reefs even 5 miles out and still growing in the mid 1990s--but in 2002/O3 we saw sea bass shifting to male not at 6.5/7/8/9 inches, but at 11.5/12 inches. 

They instinctually gauge 'overcrowding' upon individual reefs not by actual population, but by the size of the males. 

As I have asserted since 2006 - Size limit controls age at maturity. 

When we had 11 inch and under size limits we witnessed exponential population growth. 

At our current 13 inch size limit, sea bass will not replace fishing's extraction. 

I landed a boat limit of mahi on 8/29/23. It was my first boat limit of anything this year. Not tautog, not cbass - mahi. 

Environmentalists Oh & Ahh over their rapid age at maturity and frequent spawning. 

We could force same in sea bass, and instead management forces the far opposite. 

Hundreds of millions of dollars along the coast in black sea bass fisheries'  income potential are squandered because "MRIP Made Us Do It." 

Actually, MRFSS is why we went to a 12 inch limit. 

And yes, even though commercial still enjoy an 11 inch limit, the reduction in spawning caused by our 12+ inch (now 13in) size limit throttles them back too. 


And More. 

We dropped reef block #40,000 on August 24th, 2023. It's a truly inexpensive way to build reef over time. Just 20 a day sure adds up. I pick spots on permitted artificial reef sites for deployments; usually where a reef is partially scoured in or an expanse of bare steel (a flat decked barge reefed on purpose for instance) needs something to break the current. Have also also built spots with just blocks on bare sand; now pyramids too, with great effect. They all increase habitat for sea bass, summer flounder, tautog & squid. These fish grow to maturity and spawn on nearshore (not canyons) reefs and squid spawn on hardbottom reef the workd around.

Today's drop was at Capt. Bob Gowar's Memorial Reef & makes 4,243 reef blocks & 90 boat deployed pyramids there. 

Crucial to this project are the companies that make it happen. York Building Products especially has given us over 20,000 blocks. For Pyramids we depend on concrete plants to fill our 2 man deployable pyramid molds. First created in late 2019, we're approaching 4,000 pyramids either deployed by CCA MD on Chesapeake oyster sites, or by me & the OC Reef Foundation where they'll eventually grow coral on our marine sites. Kinsley's concrete plant in York, and Bear Concrete in Bear, DE have made most of the pyramids currently soaking. 

We've also had several young men of late take it upon themselves to make pyramids. Roman, for instance, is approaching 70 pyramids for his project. 

Big money projects are coming. Barges, Tugs, a Landing Craft will all be deployed through fall. Reef building with blocks every day we fish, however, is nearly free save trucking..




Heavy gray-on-black kind of morning; light rain too. Forecast held promise but you'd not have known it from conditions at daybreak. 

No reef blocks today. Took a heavy mooring instead. Vic & Brian loaded it yesterday for the Motsko Family Reef. We were hoping to begin sinking the 60ft steel trawler as artificial reef around 3:30pm if TowBoat Rob could make delivery. 

AlwaysAlwaysAlways something when it comes to reef building; always an unanticipated challenge or two. 


All went well. 

We positioned anchors and buoys so the mooring would be atop an existing reef, the Reynolds Florance Memorial Reef (Richard B's Grandfather) (ex tug Hoss)- before heading on off for our sea bass and fluke trip (where Matthew won the pool with a mahi!) New reef hit its mark too. 

Certainly a day of fishing unlike most - not everyday you can watch a new reef being sunk!

Maryland has no State marine reef building program. Our little non-profit is it. Even a small project like this can tap our accounts pretty hard. All the work though; whether a few concrete reef blocks taken daily, this 55ft steel trawler, a thousand pyramids donated by Kinsley Construction & Bear Concrete deployed just in the last six months, a small steel tug coming in just a few days, a landing craft waiting patiently in Aberdeen -- every bit adds up. 

And it's ALL going to grow coral. 


And Finally 8/27.... 

My great pleasure to have a few scuba diving friends aboard today. Eddy, Jerimiah (an unsung hero of our reef building efforts if ever there was!) & Travis; plus world class u/w photography and video masters, Nick Caloyianis & Michael Eversmier.. 

Our intent? Learn what's working in our reef building efforts. 

And learn we did. 

As I've long thought, the reef block project increases fisheries productions on existing reefs, such as barges, where there's a flat expanse of steel. Break that plain and the amount of life soars. 

Despite major storms strong enough to move a 120ft heavy built Navy barge 70 feet or more (and thankfully into even better position!) neither block nor pyramids have moved. 

Had to send these men home with mahi for dinner. Fished 15 minutes? Reef builders karma got it done. 

Been a long day - these are just airdropped pics and grabs. The good stuff - What Nick & Michael are about with their images - will be along soon, hundreds. 

I'm especially looking forward to pics of a lobster taking up residence in a pyramid and video of numerous sea bass holed up in a mussel bed.. 




Capt Monty Hawkins

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