Monday, May 20, 2024

Fish Report 5/20/24

Fish Report 5/20/24 

Opening June & July..

I'm told (by a modestly irate  head of MD shellfish) that  "Maryland Officially Approves Concrete As An Alternative Oyster Substrate" 

..I would add; 'on paper and computer screens' at least. 

So what's the difference between recognition of concrete and its use? Well Gosh, thought you'd never ask...

All of May already open and spots available after Memorial Day Weekend - now opening June & July for sea bass trips. Size limit 13 inches - 15 per person. 

We've only been out once in five days for weather. Sea bassing was not hot - just two limits Saturday but we had good fish around the rail. 

Sailing Saturdays 630 to 3:30 at $155.00 — Weekdays & Sundays 7 to 3 at $135 - All Trips Sell Out at 18 Anglers and I try to sail 1/2 an hour early on all trips.. 

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 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 - 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 are 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. Posts including OC Reef Foundation work will be included on that page as well. 

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 our best over the counter because it's (supposed to be!) non-drowsy. It's truly cheap & effective insurance. If it makes you a bit sleepy - but not chumming? That's a great trade! 

"The Patch" of Scopolamine, however, is prescription only that beats all comers. 

If the ocean still wants to get the better of you? Zofran (anti nausea) can be a day saver if you have it left over from a prescription. 

Honestly - If you get to go on the ocean once a month, once a year or even less; why risk chumming all day? And then there's the ebullience of youth! Of course you can party hard and go on a moderately rough ocean! 

No you can't! 

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.  

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 the two loads of 'Tog Cabins' (made with cabled parking blocks/car stops) & Coral Condos (concrete pipe units) deployed in late April, I take reef blocks every time the boat goes in the ocean.

Block Update - As of 5/20/24 we have 41,511 Reef Blocks & 2,224 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 284 Reef Blocks; Rambler Reef 360 Reef Blocks & 11 Pyramids - Pete Maugan's Memorial Reef 92 Blocks & 6 Pyramids - Calder's Reef Improvement 64 Blocks - Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 526 Reef Blocks (+76 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 2132 Blocks (+49 Reef Pyramids) - 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 276 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 4,442 (+ 90 reef pyramids) - Al Berger's Reef 1,930 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 964 Pyramids - Bear Concrete Reef 512 Pyramids, 44 Blocks plus 16 pipes.. 


Now available as 'name a (small) reef' are 'Tog Cabins' made of parking lot car stops & 'Coral Castles' made of concrete pipe. 

See's 'donate' page for this opportunity. 

Greetings All, 

Wouldn't say this season's sea bassing began with a bang. Roll Tide Mike (1st) & Jigmaster Tom (2nd) boxed out Saturday while everyone else went home with lots of dinner. 

Our first day of fishing was the fourth day of season. 

Canceled Sunday for the forecast but it came pretty - then, with the same forecast, we went out Monday only to turn tail quick and return to the wharf. 

Next couple days sure look good. I anticipate we'll do fine. 

Derned if I didn't raise the ire of MD's head oyster/shellfish guy, Chris Judy, when I quoted a client in my last Fish Report. That piece was mostly comprised of a letter I'd sent to upper fisheries science & management. It covered my thinking on where we should improve and learn from past events that we might achieve real & true "large marine ecosystem" restoration. 

I wrote: "While there is undeniable success at oyster restoration using rock - precast concrete would sure speed up water quality restoration. But, officially, oysters don't grow on concrete. I had folks hear it from a MD DNR oyster rep at the OC Waterman's show in January, 2024." 

The fellow who gave me the quote had been to OC's commercial fishing show in January and had been told 'oysters don't grow on concrete' by what he thought then was MDDNR.

But no. It was a university booth's quote instead. 

Sorry Mr Judy. Wasn't MD DNR. 

It turns out I'm not quite correct stating "MD Doesn't Use Concrete" either..

Sure, we use precast concrete on the Chesapeake's artificial reefs every chance we can. But that's icky. To an oyster restoration purist in MD using large precast concrete such as pipe or even boulder is looked down upon big time. 

Maryland expends great effort on oyster restoration. There are a Lot of people on the team - Feds and NGOs abound too. 

For artificial reef in the Chesapeake? One guy and one NGO - CCA MD's habitat work. 

In the ocean? Just OCRF and I'm dern sure not getting paid by anyone. 


MD's restoration specialists clamor for shell. 


One MD aquaculture company is even shipping shell in from Washington state where aquaculturists have mounds of it. (Aquaculture over there doesn't use 'spat on shell' as we do. They allow spat of tiny proportion to attach to something approximating a grain of sand (culchless propagation I believe.) 

Yup. No spat on shell. 


They have no desire for shell so it accumulates...and we're out of it. 

But, as Mr. Judy insists, concrete is indeed a MD approved oyster substrate. He wants everyone (especially me) to know he'd never claimed any different. 

To confirm he then told me "Concrete rubble has been used in trials to evaluate it compared to other material (shell and stone primarily). One site was in the Mill Hill sanctuary in Eastern Bay over 20 years ago." He also mentioned another experimental plot planned for the coming year by watermen in Somerset County. 

Next year and twenty years ago.. 

Artificial reefs sited below Crisfield -- Woodrow Wilson Bridge rubble circa 2007ish, & a barge load of concrete pipe from 2017, are loaded with oysters. They didn't fall from the sky. All that natural colonization of extra large (icky) concrete substrates owes very much to previous oyster restoration efforts. Still, as chair of the artificial reef committee I was told prior to both projects that colonization was "not going to happen".. hhh

The sentiment 'oysters don't grow on concrete' is unique to, and yet not at all unusual in Maryland. Might be starting to change, but it's deeply held. Watermen I've met at shows believe it to their core. A great many on the political side must believe it too because MD restoration efforts sure don't use their most abundant and often free substrate - concrete - save in a few reef balls in specific 'permit within a permit' type of oyster sites. 

Here's a couple paragraphs from a relevant article.

"As adamant as the watermen are about the superiority of fresh shell, none of the research supports the notion. "Every single experiment we've had, all the information we've looked at, is that alternate materials perform equally well [compared with] shell," said Rom Lipcius, a researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science whose work has focused in part on oyster conservation.

If reefs are properly sited and constructed, Lipcius said, even if made of chunks of concrete or granite rocks, "there is absolutely no doubt that they perform equally well, in some cases better than shell." For one thing, the alternative materials, when deposited on the bottom as large pieces, are less likely than shells to be buried in the shifting sand and sediment."

Some also believe concrete poisons the water: 

"They also tested for chemicals that might leach into the water - and subjected it to even more rigorous analysis with a mass spectrometer.

"There was less [pollution] in it than the EPA required of drinking water - orders of magnitude less," said Kelton Clark, director of the Patuxent lab."

I have 44 years saltwater fishing from MD, but I've yet to wet a line in Chesapeake Bay. With soooo many focused on the oyster issue why would an ocean fisherman care? 

What I'm worried about lies downstream of those long lost oyster bars and reefs - the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. 

Near as I can tell, our part of the ocean's been turning green since the late 1960s. 

Having removed oysters to the point of collapse; the great estuary's natural 'excess nutrient removers'--oysters in vast collection forming biofilters which kept Bay waters clear--had utterly collapsed by 1979. 

Every decade since has seen our famous blue water feeders, white & blue marlin, being pushed offshore another ten miles. 

Where men in the mid 1930s could catch whites just 5 miles out - (that's where they fished!) - now guys sometimes find pea green water even in the canyons 55 and more miles off. 

Won't find marlin in bad water. 

My old friend Capt Mitch Pierson fishes what must be the richest billfish grounds in the  world - Mag Bay off Mexico's Baja Peninsula. I do not doubt his claim of 300 marlin bites per day; of commonly-regularly-getting bites on baits hanging from a rigger clip while backing down on other fish. 

"We bust em off. Why fight a billfish for twenty minutes when I can catch three more in that time?" 

He later said "We have green/mixed water at Mag Bay too." 

I asked "How far down can you see in that?"

"Thirty or forty feet.."

Ahhh.. In the bad water I describe you'd lose visibility in three or four feet. Sometimes much less. 

"Inshore" where I'm often sea bass fishing used to be Ocean City's "offshore" marlin grounds. 

It's not blue water. 

It's not 'mixed'. 

It's not 'clean green.'

Our nearshore waters of 25 miles off or so are more likely  pea green than any more desirable clarity. 

In fact, I believe lessening light penetration has caused sea whip, a zooxanthellae driven sort coral, to contract inshore. 

Marlin off - can't see to feed. Coral in - not enough light.  

Mahi were once commonly targeted at the 5 mile buoy. I sometimes think oyster restoration is gaining traction because we have a mahi fishery inside of 30 miles most years in late summer nowadays. 

Water doesn't have to be perfect, but if it doesn't stay pretty clear they'll push offshore further until they find good water - gone overnight isn't unusual. 

I wonder if mahi's desire for good visibility is for feeding? ..or to avoid becoming feed. Dern sure we've seen a handful of awesome blue marlin and wahoo in with inshore mahi. 

The enormity of a blue marlin's shoulders out as mahi scatter like menhaden before snapper blues - I wonder: "Is this what restoration will look like?"

Whether our modern mahi owe light easterlies pushing in good water; or the efforts of untold individuals, dot.orgs, state & federal oyster restoration efforts all begining to have an affect at sea - the work is unquestionably gaining ground. 

Video of restoration efforts, heartening as they might be however, don't compare to watermen's tales of live oysters several feet thick. 

A giant, permeable oyster bed allowing water to pass by innumerable oysters in layer upon layer - that's what real biofilter restoration will look like. 

Face it. The 'come shell or highwater' mindset has little to do with absolute need of a natural substate and more accurately serves the desires of those who will vie for future harvest. 

Shell substrates dredge and tong wonderfully. 

Concrete and rock are too heavy for those fisheries.

I believe the work being done now could be bettered manyfold across the same piece of bottom - increased biofiltration of ten or more times atop the same reef footprint. 

Such a reef could serve everyones goals - biofiltration scrubbing first Bay and then Mid-Atlantic waters; allowing access for a robust fishery to the upper reaches of such a reef while everyone benefits in the tremendous amount of spat thrown by an oyster reef some eight, ten or even fifteen feet off the bottom.. Yes, everyone's desired outcome is clean water and bioeconomic stability in the oyster fishery. 

I don't think shell will get us there - ever. It's been used since after the Civil War with little success in staving off collapse.  

Large areas of sanctuary with rock as a substrate may achieve those goals but they're way off. It will take a long, long time for an oyster bar to grow many layers of live oysters. At the point where the most central animals in the oyster bed are being choked off from water flow, there's an oyster reef's maximized biofiltration. 

Such an achievement can see decades shaved off by mimicking an ancient oyster bar with concrete pipe fastened into units. 

Stacked as tall as safe navigation allows; the top of the reef could be fished hard while the vast interior surface area went to work on restoring long lost ecosystem services to our large marine region. 

Free, miscast concrete pipe - drilled and cabled fast in sideways bowling pin fashion, then stacked tall.. 

From bivalves hundreds of miles away as a fish swims, to blue and white marlin once found in grand number just off Maryland's shores - the connection is real and its need urgent. 

Mimic history's great oyster bars using large precast concrete and leave shell for commercial ventures to create product. The spawn thrown by true biofilters will be in numbers never before measured. 

Everyone will have to benefit. 



Capt Monty Hawkins

Blog Archive