Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fish Report 9/28/06

Fish Report 9/28/06
Sea Bass and a Flounder Lawsuit Threat
Hi All,
In my last fish report I had anticipated an upturn in the fishing and there was. The next day we had our first double limits - croaker/sea bass. With croakers up to 18 inches, that's a kind of fishing that is easy to enjoy!
Unfortunately, soon after came another hurricane swell and the better sized croaks departed for parts unknown. Perhaps they'll turn up again. Measuring croakers to see if they are 9 inches doesn't turn anyone's fancy! I'll leave 'em be for now.
Sea bassing has been very fine most days. Limited the rail at 12:10 on Wednesday and have had some limits on others. Surprisingly, there's been some good sized fish - pool winners up to 5 lbs - along with the more typical 'fall weeding' that has begun.
It's not all gravy! I have measured cbass as small as 5 3/4  inches of late. That's a really small fish to be chomping on a 3/0 hook! Question is: Are they following instinct and beginning their move offshore for winter, or are these small fish residents of the various reefs we've been fishing. Knowing the answer would be very helpful in determining the importance of natural and artificial reefs. The research would be useful in studying other species as well. No acorns - no oaks...
Flounder are few and far between. Still, the lady with the 10 pounder today was pretty tickled with hers!
I'd say fall cbass fishing has begun.
If you are plugged into fisheries at all you've heard of the impending regulatory doom that is about to befall our region's fisheries. The only species I see mentioned in the reports is flounder, but virtually all species under management are included. Sea trout, sea bass - whatever - all of 'em. As I understand it, the pressure to 'meet the numbers' is a result of the threat of lawsuit - not a judge's ruling.
Depending on where a fish is on it's 'recovery' schedule is how far the cuts will go. Flounder, for instance, would require a cut of roughly 87% from this year's allocations in order to be 'fully rebuilt' - the population restored -  in 2  more years. One way to see that number is that the recreational and commercial fisheries would be allowed approximately 1.3 flounder next year for every 10 legal flounder this year. No one's saying that flounder aren't coming back - it's just not fast enough. 
It's as if the EPA said, "Yes, the air quality is improving, but since we are not approaching our target values fast enough we will be closing I-95 until further notice. Sorry for any inconvenience." 
Or perhaps the Federal Reserve Chairman had said, "The heck with a soft landing, we're raising interest by 500 basis points. The bread lines won't last forever."
Meanwhile, back at sea:
We are watching fantastic populations of 1 and 2 year old trout migrate south each fall. This was the first fin fishery to be managed that I can recall and yet the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays' trout populations remain pretty much flatlined. In all likelihood, the reason the juveniles don't return north in the spring is because they have been consumed by hungry striped bass and bluefish. Catch 22 squared ~ Increasing the striper and bluefish populations will probably cause a further decline in sea trout unless another prey species is allowed to increase dramatically. Menhaden might fill that niche - and very likely did until processed fish oil products came along - but, darn the bad luck, that team not only has lawyers ~ they have a State Legislature down in the trenches with 'em. Poor trout.
In another example, we are seeing a decline in 'recruitment' -those fish just getting large enough to catch- in flounder and sea bass despite increasing 'biomass'. Presented in graph form you'd see one line representing the total number of catchable fish. It slopes down with overfishing and up with successful management. Another line on this graph represents the fish that are anticipated to be catchable in the near future. More adults = more spawn = more recruits, simple. Managers rightly expect that these lines match fairly well - curve upward as an indication that management is working.
Funny thing is ~ they don't. Up until 3 years ago they did.
Know why? Neither does anyone else.
Additionally, the Magnusen Act's habitat requirements continue to be roundly ignored in any mid-Atlantic fishery plan - there's still nothing out there, just sand and mud. (progress there recently though)
Cutting back on what fishers take can only get these recovery plans so far. Learning how to maximize production is the only way to rebuild the fisheries. When we find out where those 5 3/4 inch sea bass were just recently we'll be one step closer.
So, environmental groups posture with lawsuit - NMFS growls back at 'em like a junkyard kitten and fishers of both camps are going to get burned badly - fatally even.
Understanding - and putting to use - the 'whys' and 'how comes' and "Ah-ha's!" won't have advanced one little bit while all camps are hunkered down hoarding moneys for the coming courtroom battles.
It's enough to make a graying sea captain cuss.
Yup, sure is.
Coming time to put a few bass up for winter.
I'll see you on the rail,
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076

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