Sunday, January 28, 2024

Fish Report 1/28/24

Fish Report 1/28/24 

Adding Two One(!) more tog trip. (Derned forecast changed since this morning!) 

Thoughts new and old on my multi-decade battle with recreational catch estimates and the harm they bring to fisheries science & management - to all restoration efforts.


Boat Regs: 3 Tog @ 16 Inches - only one can be a female. (Maryland is 4 of any sex @ 16in - we're fishing the boat rule.) Release of all sizes encouraged. Keep a few for dinner? Sure. Load the neighbors up? Not so good for the fishery's future. Very rare when opportunity for limits presents.. 

Funny too, 3 tog at 16 inches was my boat rule from 1992 to 2003.. 

Anna 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 leave a message that you want to book Feb 32? ..she probably won't call you back. 

Boat Limit 3 tautog @16in - only 1 can be female. 

Tues 1/30/24 - 6:30 to 5:30 - Long Tog - $225.00 - 14 sells out (Only spots 3 & 14 are available.) 

New - Thursday 2/1/24 - 6:30 to 5:00 - Long Tog - $225.00 - 14 sells out 

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

Always try to leave a half hour early if all are aboard. 

Pretty rare to be in on time..

Bait is provided on all trips: green crabs for tog. (Whites are available from crew for a reasonable cost.) 

Our Tog Pool Is By Length: A Tog That's Been Released Counts The Same As One In The Boat.

No Live Tog Leave The Boat - Dead & Bled - Period. (I Believe The Live Tog Black Market Hurt This Fishery ..But Nowhere Near As Much As Bad Sea Bass Regulation)

Agreed With Or Not, My Boat's Regulations Observed – 3 Tog @ 16 Inches or better - only one can be a female. 

Does the thought of not keeping a state legal limit gives you pain? Then you will not like tog fishing with me.. Shoot, I may have some clients skunked every trip all winter. Seriously. 

Togging is a most unkind fishery - especially for the novice. Then, I've also seen beginners bowed-up steady while incredibly skilled anglers suffer in hubris. 

But when it is kind? 

As Tommy said, "The tug is the drug.. Bully Bob says, "They're Delmarva Grouper." 

14 Anglers Sells Out so anglers can move to the bite. Boat has 20 well marked spots. If someone's in a spot? No mugging. If it's open? Have at it. If in between two good friends? Well… But they'd better be good friends! 

Green crabs provided. You're welcome to BYO crabs for bait too. Anglers are further restricted than state regs would have  - Boat Regs are 3 fish (not 4) only one can be a female.

If fishing the stern area waterproof boots are advised in fall & especially winter!

Shoes & sneakers will ruin your day. 

It'll be chilly in the AM too! Cabin is heated. 

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

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. 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. 

Try to always leave a half hour early (and never an hour early!) 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.

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.  

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! 

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 and in years before also.

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

Wishbone doesn't replace backbone.. Have to keep a shoulder into reef building to make it happen. 

Block Update - As of 1/28/24 we have 41,247 Reef Blocks & 2,016 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 we're nearing 5,000 pyramids made since my crew and I fashioned a prototype mold in late August 2019. 

Currently being targeted oceanside: Ryan & Shari's Bay Breeze Reef 208 Pyramids - Uncle Murphy's Reef 260 Reef Blocks; Rambler Reef 360 Reef Blocks & 11 Pyramids - Pete Maugan's Memorial Reef 92 Blocks & 6 Pyramids - Calder's Reef Improvement 40 Blocks - Tyler Long's Memorial Reef 698 (+18 Reef Pyramids & a 115 ft barge!) Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 526 Reef Blocks (+76 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 2084 Blocks (+49 Reef Pyramids) - New unnamed Block Doug Ake's Reef 4,194 blocks (+16 Reef Pyramids) - St. Ann's 2,969 (+14 Reef Pyramids) Unnamed Spot at Jackspot Reef 140 Blocks - Sue's Block Drop 1,722 (+30 Reef Pyramids) - Kathy's Cable 228 blocks (3 pyramids) - Rudys/Big Dad's Barges 140 Reef Blocks (+9 Pyramids) - Benelli Reef 1,552 (+18 Pyramids) - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 4,344 (+ 90 reef pyramids) - Al Berger's Reef 1,906 Reef Blocks (+36 Reef Pyramids) - Great Eastern South Block Drop 248 Reef Blocks (+ 8  Pyramids) - Cristina's Blast 140 Reef Blocks & 2 Pyramids - Capt Greg Hall's Memorial Reef 362 Blocks (+2 Pyramids) - Kinsley's Reef 756 Pyramids - Bear Concrete Reef 512 Pyramids, 44 Blocks plus 16 pipes -  We've also an Unnamed site at the Bass Grounds in 80 feet with 365 Castle & Terracotta Tog Blocks, 10 Pyramids, & 16 pieces pipe.

Greetings All! 

With the recent MRIP win and summer flounder tightening, all this has been on my mind of late. 

Recreational For-Hire boats in states to our north are absolutely pummeled by regulation, especially on sea bass. (& above Cape Cod? Oyyy!!!) Whether cod, sea bass, summer flounder (fluke), bluefish, red snapper - It's all owed 100% to MRIP's recreational catch estimates. It's a beating with no let up as fluke/flounder regs tighten for us all yet again. This while Commercial Fishers wend their way through stocks using stratospheric increases of sea bass, scup & fluke quota owed only MRIP's second 'recalibration' in 2018. Here MRIP's recreational catch estimates became so high, fisheries scientists using recreational catch data "Had To" think: "If they're catching THAT many fish, then there must be far more fish than we'd previously thought. Lets raise quotas!" 

They didn't really believe it. But they had to obey the law.

What could go wrong? 

We're living it.. 

I thought it time to revisit some of my writing around the time of MRIP's second recalibration in 2018. 

All the data examples that follow are what NOAA hid this past year - MRIP wouldn't let us see data as it has been portrayed since 1981. Vital in every aspect for management, we were all blinded to recreational catch in two-month sets. In a major win last week, NOAA will again allow us to see all the data starting in April (though this will be after regulatory battles have been settled.)

Please know the program NOAA devised to replace MRFSS recreational catch estimates, MRIP, was insanely too high at its outset in 2012. I was certain we'd been played the hour it was released. I base that assertion on an estimate I'd been using quite a bit back then to illustrate the data's inanity. NJ's Mar/Apr 2010 Shore Tautog estimate of 73,000 fish boxed from the old MRFSS program was pure codswallop. NJ experts assured me a hundred (100) tog/blackfish may perhaps have been possible - not 1,000 & never ever 73,000. When MRIP was released that was the first estimate I checked. It had risen to 174,000 Shore caught NJ tog in early spring.. 

Recalibrated in 2016 to even worse result - and then MRIP added the scientific & regulatory abomination resulting from the second recalibration in 2018 - those tautog caught in two months from NJ's cold stone jetties are now more numerous at 341,000 fish equaling 800,000+lbs than all Party/Charter and Commercial landed tautog all year. 

NOAA can call that "scientific information" if they'd like - always have. So too might a forgotten bucket of fish guts at dock's end become perfume after a week in August has gone by. Promise, it's the flys & maggots that add that special allure.. 

The second recalibration and subsequent massive increases of commercial quota had me so concerned I went to DC and visited my Reps' staffers in 2019 to warn, not only of a coming implosion in the For-Hire sector, but a loss of much of restoration's efforts across the decades. They knew me, knew my work; had one question: "Where is everyone else?"

Wasn't anyone else I guess. Some readers had written perhaps, but there was no real consternation that I could see. 

I knew a few in system who didn't trust the data, but were in no position to make noise about it. 

That's changed now. Fisheries Councils & Commissions have gone to  extraordinary measures to keep recreational fishing viable as this MRIP stink works its way deeper and deeper into regulation. So many in fisheries science and management have complained from inside the community that NOAA announced 20 to 40% cuts in MRIP recreational catch estimates. 

As you'll see, I believe 40% isn't nearly enough in some instances. 

In that time period Admiral Gallaudet, big boss at NOAA, was among the sharpest individuals I'd ever written too. 

He saw my argument plain and sent it up. When it got to Dept of Commerce? 

The Secretary said, "Well, you have to use something" and that the end of it. In the late 1990s/early-mid 2000s we had no problem sending complaints through even to Congress. House Fisheries Chair was MD 1st District's Wayne Gilchrest - my Congressman. After that? Every time my work on recreational catch got through; it vanished in a puff at Commerce. 

This time is different. Everyone else? They're here. Everything indicates NOAA is sincere about a repair to rec catch data. Well beyond re-revealing data as we've always known it, the work has more than begun. I believe NOAA Fisheries REALLY sees need of recreational catch data's correction. This is positively their clearest understanding they've a huge mess to clean up. They've already announced those aforementioned 20 to 40% cuts. 

We'll need to hold them to it. Commerce always sees the best benefit to commercial as most important. I think that's mighty wrong. Getting a firm grasp of catch allows fisheries science and management to work - and it will work given sound inputs. 

When that happens, when science is fed truthful data; all fishermen, commercial & recreational, and the ocean we work on will benefit handsomely. 

In trying to keep the work's importance in mind, below is a note I sent to upper management and science Friday 1/26/24. In it is a selection from a piece I wrote in 2018 called Death of a Fishery. With numerous states having 1/2/3 sea bass limits a good part of the year - and with VA's summer estimates shooting from 1,200 to 120,000 sea bass in a single year, DelMarVa may not be far behind. 

If I lose sea bass perhaps I'll be able to sell NOAA perfume..

Some states' For-Hire boats are absolutely at this precipice now - new summer flounder tightening may indeed bring failure to these businesses as early management did to so many others. 





Hello at Fisheries Science Fed, MD and Catch Data!!

Wrote this (an excerpt!) after the 2018 Saltwater Recreational Fishing Summit. 

I saw the recent award for the cod group and it got me thinking about the single craziest MRIP estimate ever - where ForHire had 50,000lbs in Wave 2 (Mar/Apr) of 2010 - and those professional skippers, often with far larger boats and bills to pay, told me there was no way Private Boat caught even 10% of their landings. Private Boats were on the hard in March/April; their owners & friends taking Party/Charter trips if fishing at all! 

In fact, most professionals thought even 5% Party/Charter was too much - The 'at sea' thinking therefore was Private Boat had caught perhaps 5,000lbs of cod.

MRFSS said nope. Private Boats in March/April had those lying sob PartyCharter guys absolutely surrounded by hundreds of small boats who caught 14,235,000 lbs -- Fourteen Million!!!

To ice the cake; following snow after snow along New England in Oct/Nov/Dec cod fled the Gulf of Maine in 2010 and came around Cape Cod (exactly, Precisely as Goode had asserted in his 1880 work - yet management now applied Georges stock regs (much more lenient than Gulf of Maine regs). I was even catching cod in 2011 - advertising cod! - cod were caught in  Albemarle Sound, NC!!

They were all from the Gulf of Maine. 

100% Allowed - Commercial pursued them vigorously. Our MD gill nets were even busy off in 150 ft.. 

That's Best Available Science?

Thank goodness I put most of my effort in building reef. Still hasn't caught the least bit of breeze in regulatory or mainstream fisheries science, but our little nonprofit is getting it done best we're able. 

It's made a phenomenal difference in our fishing. 

Y'all need to fix that recreational catch data. It really is souring the rest of management's efforts.. 

I would love to know who asserted Georges Bank cod went across the great south channel in such vast number though.. Neat trick to trick management.. 

More below. 

I should imagine ALL these numbers below are far worse today after the second recalibration. 

Really needs fixing. 



Capt Monty Hawkins 

From: Monty Hawkins <>

Date: April 24, 2018 at 8:58:09 PM EDT

Subject: Death of a Fishery..

(You could substitute "summer flounder" today for yesteryear's sea bass in much of this..) (Writing was worth the effort too! Mangers threw out the worst of the cbass guesstimates for regulation's purpose - although NY still got creamed..) 


Greetings Secretary Ross, Undersecretary Gallaudet, Mr. Oliver, Mr. Rauch, Mr. Werner, Mr. Moore, Mr. Beal, Mr. Hare, & Mr. Luisi,

I've recently encouraged fishers to write you all concerning MRIP's recalibration. Little did I know a far more pressing issue would surface before your recreational data underwent even greater statistical magic..

Sea bass in the Mid & North Atlantic are now believed at their highest population since the 1970s. In the waning days of unregulated fisheries we had sea bass & a sea bass fishery. Catching them has been an important part of my livelihood for nearly forty years. 

Owing NOAA's staunch adherence to MRFSS & then MRIP recreational catch data; regulation will soon have done what unregulated fishing, even mighty foreign trawlers, could not. Owing only recreational catch data no one believes, management is on the verge of destroying the recreational sea bass fishery in the Mid-Atlantic via over-regulation. 

The whole room laughed when I quoted MRIP's NY 2016 sea bass catch at NOAA's recent recreational summit. Some of you were there. [{At the March 2022 Summit EVERYONE complained about MRIP!}]

But that sea bass estimate, and its ilk from previous years & 2017 too, is exactly why For-Hire fishers are at this regulatory precipice. Because MRIP creates the illusion of Private Boat catch in grand scale, of going 'over quota' as if wholly unregulated, we are continually treated as over-fishing criminals.

I promise you all, while both sea bass & sea bass fishers would benefit greatly were NOAA to seek knowledge of habitat lost in the early part of industrial fishing's rise & begin its restoration; to further restrict this fishery is indeed an economic crime - a robbery by statistic. 

Why are we about to be so impacted by catch estimates everyone laughs at? Why is an estimate showing NY Private Boats harvesting more sea bass than All Commercial catch north of Hatteras (or 2X more than All Atlantic Party Charter) about to completely destroy what's left of the public's faith in this process? Why do MRIP estimates so routinely show the predictable result of declining catch in the For-Hire estimates whenever regulation has tightened, yet wildly increase Private Boat at the same time?

Why will regulators soon act again "To Prevent Overfishing" when even they do not believe MRIP's accusations.. 

How in blazes has it come to pass that a population of fish far above their 'rebuilding target' --a population greater than dreamed (but not as great as it will be when habitat is at last grappled) -- why is the sea bass fishery in need of graver-still recreational restriction? 

Because MRIP catch data so bad even a room slam-full of fishery management's best & brightest will laugh at it is, regardless, always used as if factual, that's why. 

I've written some of you for decades about this. MRIP might have some fancy pedigree from the statistical community, but when it comes to on the water observation -- it's just crazy talk. 

Real Crazy  

..but MRIP's crazy certainly results in real regulation.   

Biology & Ecology have no seat at management's table. Statistics own the regulatory process. 

Everything done with sea bass since 1998 has been mostly driven by a spike or two in one state/one mode's estimates. MRIP's gotten away with it for so long they're about to add multiples in 'recalibration'. 

I fought hard for management of sea bass & tautog in the early & mid 1990s. Men threatened to burn my boat, "Regulation Will Destroy Us" they said. 

Looks like they were right. 

What a mess perfect adherence to bad data has wrought. 

Below are a few examples from past writings. 

MRIP doesn't even offer management a sort-of reasonable guess. 

No endeavor could withstand inclusion of so much bad information. 

Will my life's work be lost in a few more days? 

It will if people in charge don't at last stand up against bad recreational catch data.



Capt. Monty Hawkins

Partyboat Morning Star 

Ocean City, MD  

Here's a direct comparison of the old MuRFSS program & NOAA's new MRIP recreational catch estimating method.  

This table shows Massachusetts Party/Charter catch estimates from both programs. It also shows MRIP's PSE spreads. (PSE = percentage standard error. Similar to "Margin of Error" in a political poll.) 

  1. See Scup Table in FB Pictures

This is a steady fishery. Party/Charter catch the heck out of scup up there.   

A MuRFSS table: (Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey)

  1. See Cod MuRFFS Table in FB Pictures. 

According to this data fishery managers had to use, small recreational boats in Massachusetts - "Private Boats" - caught and killed 1.5 million cod in 2010.  That's because, despite 10s of thousands of tag returns, all recreational cod discards - throwbacks - were also counted as dead in 2010.

Using MRIP's "Avg Weight Pounds" from March/April 2010 of 9.6 pounds apiece in the same data-set, we see Massachusetts' small private boats "must" have caught 14,176,000 pounds of cod, by official estimate, in April of 2010 -- March was closed. They had to catch them in just April. 

Massachusetts's commercial fishers, (known world-wide for their gentle handling of a resource?) landed 1,060,000 pounds in the same period. 

Small boats in MA had never-ever caught like that before. Ever. Yet they had just outfished the commercial sector by 13 million pounds in one month.. On paper. 

It was Private Boat owners' who were responsible for the sudden demise of Gulf of Maine cod that year. 

It should also be noted that while these Private Boats were decimating the newly-rebuilt cod stock during New England's notoriously foul April marine weather; that while Grady Whites & Boston Whalers were fishing incredibly hard in an ocean where men in large fishing boats die; that while outboards were catching 14.2 Million pounds of cod in April; the For-Hire Partyboat/Charter boat cod catch for the same period was 52,000 pounds -- not even a hundred-thousand pounds..

A life-long partyboat skipper told me, "There's no way Private Boat catches even 5% of what For-Hire lands in March/April." 

NOAA would learn a lot by asking "What's the percentage of catch?" where recreational fisheries are concerned. Considering the mind-numbing inaccuracies of data already used, a simple estimate based solely off For-Hire VTRs would be far more accurate for regulation's purpose and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Recreational Private Boat fishers in New York, in 2016, are said to have caught 1,846,000 pounds of sea bass all year. Not the whole coast's Private Boats - just New York.

Management truly fears this powerful force & must factually react to it in regulation. 

NY Private Boats All Year

  1. See First Sea Bass Table in FB Pictures 

To put that 1,846,122 pounds of Private Boat sea bass catch by one state's Private Boats in perspective: the 10 year average for all Commercial Trawl & Trap from Cape Hatteras to the Canadian border is 1,612,000 pounds a year.. (They do not publish commercial data w/o a year's delay, but 1.6 million is going to be pretty close.) Therefore NY's private boats outcaught commercial fishers from North Carolina to Maine by 234,000 pounds. 

All Mid-Atlantic & North Atlantic For-Hire

  1. See Second Sea Bass Table in FB Pictures. 

A manager would have to conclude - and I do mean "Have To" - that NY's Private Boats outfished every Party & Charter Boat north of Hatteras by 625,000 pounds in 2016. That information is, after all, straight out of NOAA.guv's "Best Available Scientific Information." 

They would also Have To conclude these small boats outfished the trawl fleets & trap boats from Hatteras north. 

Yet the truth of it is this - NY Party Boats are cursed by NY Private Boaters for 'cleaning out' their reefs' sea bass. 

That's logically irreconcilable from MRIP's assertion NY Private Boat is an out of control overfishing monster. 

MRIP is as Crevecoeur's birds..  "I shudder when I recollect that the birds had already picked out his eyes, his cheek bones were bare; his arms had been attacked in several places, and his body seemed covered with a multitude of wounds. From the edges of the hollow sockets and from the lacerations with which he was disfigured, the blood slowly dropped, and tinged the ground beneath. No sooner were the birds flown, than swarms of insects covered the whole body of this unfortunate wretch, eager to feed on his mangled flesh and to drink his blood." 

I truly fear the worst. 

Your sudden recognition of bad data's affect on recreational regulation, and a willingness to stop it, is my only hope. 



Capt Monty Hawkins

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