Morning Star Fish Report

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Fish Report 3/30/24

Fish Report 3/30/24

Opening Sunday 3/31/24(tomorrow!) to an inshore tog trip. 7 (think 6:30) to 3:30 - $175 - 10 anglers sells out so clients can move around to empty spots. Boat Rule strictly enforced - 3 Tog at 16 inches - only one can be female!

Also Opening May Cbass To "No Refund/Transfer Dates Only" Sales.. 


Yes. Great project going on!! Follow along on FB - you needn't register to see OC Reef Foundation or my posts. 

And a not-so-short recent letter to management - my life lessons I wish they'd adopt.. 

Opening May 15 to June 2 for sea bass trips. Size limit 13 inches - 15 per person. These reservations are non refundable. Different date? Weather? Sure, we'll get you fishing. But, for these trips only, no refunds. It's the 'no refund/raincheck only' sort of deal I always do in May. 

First four days of season, May 15/16/17/18 will have hours and rates as Saturdays - 6:30 to 3:30 @ $155.00 - So too 

F/S/Sun Memorial Day weekend - May 24/25/26. Monday's trip (27th) back to regular 7 to 3 hours at $135. All sea bass trips sell out at 18 anglers. 

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 - 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.  

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


Greetings All!

Seems I always send a huge report around Easter. Hope springs eternal? 

I absolutely believe we know everything we need to know to turn the Mid-Atlantic Blue and Fill It With Fish..

Here's why. 

(Sent as a letter across upper MD and Fed Fisheries Management 3/26. Hope some read it anyway..


Hello in Fisheries!!

Looking forward to having our MRIP blinders removed soon. I promise - Management's use of "the best available scientific information" -even when disbelieved by all- is something we must put behind us. 

I so hope that time is now. 

{[MRIP Data has been hidden from EVERYONE's view for a year. Even top staff could not peer behind the curtain at the sausage plant. Soon it will return to its many decades long format where we can see all aspects of a catch estimate. For instance - in 2016 Maryland Shore Anglers (Shore only!) "caught" 179,000lbs of sea bass in Sept/Oct. They averaged 1.4 pounds apiece..

We found one guy who had landed a 12.5 inch keeper in the inlet. Lots and lots of those shenanigans makes for some horrible data leading to worse regulation!]}

Coming on 44 years now; my knowledge of 'extraction' is on a far more personal level, if only across a sliver of coast. So too my knowledge of a stock's increase or decline across a particular selection of  reef-like habitats.  

Science & management cannot begin to see as well using today's rec catch estimates. 

I guarantee the simplistic spawning production model included here represents what I have observed in grand scale twice - and the second time I even predicted it beforehand.. (Have seen it in small scale too on large, newly built reefs. But in those instances the population increase is quite localized.) 

History is also of great value. Where did the old timers catch? Do we still catch there? 


Well, Why Not?!? 

Would that management might learn to maximize spawning production while also increasing, or at least protecting, seafloor habitat. 

Getting catch estimates right - and using those new formulations to backtrack recreational catch estimate data's earliest days should point to definitive markers: When did Buzzards Bay become warm enough to support sea bass? What size limits had the greatest positive effect on spawning production? When did spawning production become hampered? 

Even perfect extraction estimates will not show habitat loss from the 1950s/60s/70s.. It was too long ago.

I started on deck in 1980. All the old timers then said it was already over - the battle lost. 

Marlin were 30 miles further offshore than in their youth. One old skipper exclaimed at every breakfast he attended, "There's no use throwing marlin back! The blue water is gone!" 

He was wrong about releasing them - but slam on about marine water quality on our once famous nearshore marlin grounds being 'gone.'

We lost 'blue water' owing the oyster's collapse in Ches & DE Bays. It traces back so perfectly: the steeper oysters' decline, the further off white marlin moved. 

History also shows multi-sq mile loss of sea whip habitat owing the early surf clam fishery. 

Find out where reef fish were caught in huge numbers - if fishing no longer occurs there? ..then the reef is gone. 

We can employ restoration as a strategy - but first NOAA would have to recognize it went missing in the first place. 

I'm also hoping to soon show sea whip, known in Australian studies to be zooxanthellae driven, are condensing inshore off our coast. Sunlight is simply not penetrating as deeply as it once did. We have rapid sea whip colonization on reefs in 60/70 ft of water - a real improvement in colonization - yet it's slow to none in 120ft now. 

I have witnessed fabulous whip meadows in 120+ ft.. I believe 150 ft was once colonized too.

Another grand part of our region's food web may be a victim of warming, but according to divers? 

I doubt it. 

Ocean floor is still pretty chilly with ice melt coming south on the Labrador Current.

Urophycis Chuss (aka ling or hake - red hake - among DelMarVa's anglers) (wiki has a picture of a spotted hake where it should be a red hake!) ..ling were once prolific - seriously numerous! - even into 60ft of water just 4 miles offshore before my time. Ugly fellows, they were adored by some who fried fish though. 

I did witness the inshore fishery on occasion. In my early years as skipper (1986/7) however, clients would catch red hake in 120 to 150 ft in grand number. 

Then Georges bank was closed in 1993 and scallop effort moved south in force. As a red hake's life cycle involves early months sheltering during daylight in a live scallop (up to 5.5 inches as I recall) - that fishery completely collapsed off DelMarVa with the sudden hammering of scallops.

Aside some of my oldest clients; bluefin tuna, at least, must surely miss them.. 

The ocean off DelMarVa has turned green - making it blue again needs to be an official restoration goal - a real goal:

Hey America! Turn the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Blue Again! 

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. 

Woodrow Wilson Bridge rubble deployed below Tangier in 2007/08 is loaded with oysters - at least where I've been able to personally fund video. 

And concrete pipe deployed in 2017? 

Fantastic oyster colonization. 


To turn the ocean blue we need biofilters. 

Big ones. 

The higher a fully permeable substrate reaches upward? The less bay floor footprint you'll need to occupy to create enough oysters to affect water quality improvement..

Try pipe units for oysters - substrate for spat colonization can be increased by an order of magnitude across the same footprint with precast such as pipe. One acre of rock substrate could be made into eleven acres worth using simple elevated substrates within the same boundary lines - more and more habitat increase and benefit accrues the higher you go.

Yes - work would be limited to artificial reef sites while oyster purists struggle to achieve restoration with shell (since the Civil War) and now, at last, rock also over these last 10 or 12 years - and with great success too. 

Where shell mimics a dead reef; vertical substrates allow silt free colonization and therefore rapid success. 


Oyster folks would chew their arm off to escape being labeled 'artificial reef builders' (I've seen the hate in their eyes when I suggested any substrate falling off a barge was 'artificial reef'.) Restoring marine water quality demands huge areas of successful oyster colonization. 

Going up would count too. With pipe units stacked to ACE  permit max height limits? I bet we could turn the ocean blue much faster. 

Without such an industrial response? I wonder if we'll succeed at all. 

Who could guess the magnificent effects on all our fisheries from a functioning system of biofilters.. I doubt I'll live to see it but anticipate wonderful production accross many species - and especially a robust commercial oyster fishery as biofilters throw spat in unimagined number. 

An equal effort of habitat restoration at sea is mighty unlikely. I've seen nothing in the literature to show any interest in lost habitat's discovery, let alone factual/measured habitat decline's effect on fisheries production. If measured? A habitat restoration goal would be a snap.. 

Seafloor restoration would have incredible positive effects on food web and directed fisheries. But combined with pushing spawning production beyond holding capacity?

THAT would be Fisheries Management in grand style.

And, that idea - using regulation to elevate spawning production - became my hardest work to bring into management's focus. 

I am certain we can force sequential hermaphrodites like black sea bass to spawn at age one. 

Using only lengths (because ages are way out of synch before Gary & Josh's work!) - all literature prior to 2000 shows sea bass spawning between 5.5 and 9 inches. This had a magnificent positive effect on spawning production. That's why we caught them well even in overfishing's darkest days. I have lots of work on it. I'm very much sure of it. It's not "a lucky year class" when cbass flourish - it's that they're all spawning - all of em.

After years of trying to cipher what had happened between 1992 when I put a 9 inch limit on sea bass aboard a popular Ocean City MD partyboat, then when fed/state regs began in 1997/98 accompanied by an even greater increase in population - I wrote we were at "habitat capacity" in 2003 ..and then, in 2004, despite vastly more strict regulation, sea bass began collapsing. My client's catches were cut in half in just a year. I think it was 2006 when I sorted it out to my satisfaction. 

Not bycatch (though it played a dark role in the 2004 decline) nor habitat loss; recreational release mortality couldn't have begun to have such an effect - sea bass were simply delaying spawning until age three owing the size of males around them. 

Is this not natures means of controlling population growth in a somewhat higher order animal? Certainly has that effect. 

With that work I predicted a surge in our local sea bass stock when the MD Wind Energy Area recolonized in 2016. Hit it spot on too. 

I think it's entirely within management's grasp to drive sea bass beyond holding capacity so that additional extraction becomes a necessity. 

Wouldn't that give management a new pair of shoes..

And, according to this Australian study a really smart guy recently sent (which matches work from 1961 in California!) -- -- creating new habitat contributes directly to fisheries production. 

I used to finish everything with "Reef Restoration Makes Fisheries Restorations Simple."

While y'all were wondering how in blazes recreational catch wandered up and down the coast - always ballooning at random, always rising via MRFSS/MRIP in only one area and one fishery despite any and every regulatory tightening - while impossible levels of catch played on Council & Commission's computer screens, I lived the truths above. 

Consider: there were more sea bass landed commercially from 1950 to 1961 than in all the years since combined. 

That leaves today's claim of a 'restored sea bass fishery' rather wanting.. No?

I know I've focused on sea bass, but they can be made to withstand enormous effort. When effort is greater upon one species? ..others rest. 

Science and management fed good catch data and sound historical catch location knowledge; from there fisheries regulations and benthic restoration will create honest fisheries restorations. 

A blue ocean full of fish... 

It really is doable. 




Capt Monty Hawkins

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