Saturday, July 08, 2006

Fish Report 7/8/06

Fish Report 7/8/06
A fish eat fish world...
Hi All,
This summer's roller coaster of sea bass fishing continues. Yesterday we had all we could do to scratch dinner out of the day - high man had 16. The day before that, high man was a girl - age 11 - she had 16 too. (Gumption. We came in early because of sea conditions, but this lil' gal never let up on 'em. If young Miss Sam carries her can-do attitude through life she'll be CEO of some blue chip...) 
Anyway, on today's long trip we were bagged out at 12:30 and back home early. Nice fishing.
If we could figure it all out...
We won't. But we need to figure out a lot more than we know about the region's marine production.
Starting in '92, back before there were federal and state regulations on sea bass, I started, with the owner's blessing, a 9 inch limit on cbass aboard the OC Princess. Most saw that something good could come of that - others surely did not and forecast doom on the boat's business. They thought no one would pay money if you couldn't kill every fish that came over the rail.
Nowadays nobody (legally) fishes "over the rail - into the pail" anymore. The legal size is presently 25% larger - 12 inches ~ 9 inches seems so incredibly small. Lots of fish are getting thrown back alive that would have been boxed in the not too distant past.
What's odd is that we had an explosion of bass in the mid/late 90's. At the time the fed had just instituted their first size limit on cbass. The creation of a creel limit (the total number you can keep) was many a council meeting away. Prior to the 25 fish limit it was not unusual for 'high hook' to have 200 fish in his cooler on a late fall day. It was a LOT more pressure than we put on them now with a 25 fish creel limit.
The fishing had gone from 6 or 7 sea bass on an August trip in the mid-late 80's to 6 or 7 thousand in the late 90's. (mostly undersized throwbacks) A thousand fold increase is something even a fisherman might notice.
It's odd that with today's larger size limit and 25 fish limit we don't seem to have the production - the small fish coming into the fishery - that we did while the size limit was in the 9s and 10s.
There are many factors. More than can we now know, I'm sure. 
Maybe 12 inch bass snack on 5 inch bass...
It seems I've gone on forever about the importance of seafloor habitat in the role of production. Even documented loss of coral habitat on video and written about the increases of that habitat type that occurred in the mid/late 90's. Seems like a no-brainer - a greater footprint of habitat should yield more fish given some measure of management.
Yawn. Coral? In the mid-Atlantic?? Not yet - it will become a management issue someday though.
There's lots of other habitat too - tube worm colonies in muddy bottom - that type of stuff. I thought coral would be easy - forget about tube worms.
Midweek I went to a spot that I thought would have a jag of cbass on it. This time of year cbass are often well up in the water column feeding on krill, but riding across the reef revealed nothing on the fishfinders. Nothing at all. Uh oh. Still, I had seen the first of the small (3 to 5 foot) sharks a few days before so I thought maybe the reef's inhabitants might be hunkered down. They were. It was a great bite.
There were a few bitten of lines and, briefly, a small hammerhead on our drift line - evidence that a reef isn't so much about feeding as it is about avoiding being eaten.
Could it be that the amount of habitat is a control on predation? I think so...
It's the single biggest key to the puzzle.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076
Fish Report 7/8/06

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