Sunday, July 01, 2007

Fish Report 7/1/07

Fish Report 7/1/07
Sea Bass, Oyster Reef & Management We Don't Have
Hi All,
Summer fishing.
We're catching some good sized sea bass but not a lot of 'em ~ at least not compared to a few years ago. Folks are mostly ending the day just getting into the teens or thereabouts. Workin' hard to get there too. Lots of reasons for that ~ stuff nobody's even thought of. For now ~ It is what it is...
Flounder are not making their presence known on the wrecks and reefs just yet. I think they're here, we've just not had the ideal water conditions ~ soon.
Charter boats are frequently returning with nice catches of tuna when they get out. As in any fishing though, that's never 100% of the time... 
Been busy ~ even skipped a week of the fish report.
Found out that, despite numerous letters of support, I'd not been selected for the MAFMC seat. I thank all that wrote! There's next year!
Also drove to Annapolis and attended the first meeting of the Maryland Artificial Reef Committee. Odd that 2007 would be the first for anything but, judging by the sincerity of those present and the size of the check was approved to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge contractor, Maryland will get her reef program up and running.
Unlike an 'artificial flavor' or the quest for artificial intelligence; as things artificial go, reefs fit in with artificial limbs and organs.
According to Wikipedia, the first evidence we have for an artificial limb dates from 300 BC in Italy.
Over time, artificial limbs have progressed from the fabled 'peg-leg' and whatever Capt. Hook strapped on in the morning to today's modern miracles. Still not nearly as good as a natural appendage, but better by far than doing without.
I hold that Maryland's artificial reef system will one day be viewed not as an augmentation but as a vital replacement. Not as an elective surgery but as a biological necessity.
As a State we need to restore oysters in the Chesapeake ~ it's essential. It happens to be a good thing that you can usually nick a few fish for supper around an oyster reef...
Bet on this ~ those that, throughout history, destroyed the natural reefs will fight hard to prevent their restoration. Shipping and barge traffic will never be fond of any bottom growing more shallow and it's terribly difficult to drag a commercial oyster dredge through concrete rubble - impossible. All those millions spent thus far on 'oyster restoration' have been geared toward 'natural' shell bottom. You can dredge just fine on a shell bottom. But that's not oyster restoration ~ it's a huge government subsidy for a collapsed fishery. (and, lest you doubt that, please see,0,2505712.story?coll=bal-home-utility  )
Oysters form natural reef just as corals do. It's the old growth -ancient- that lays the foundation for the new growth. By continually growing upward the reef avoids becoming covered in sand and remains in an oxygen rich layer where food is abundant.
Artificial reef will simply become the 'ancient' part of the reef ~ the substrate. Perhaps, almost undoubtedly, there will be substrates placed that have had oyster spat grown on them kick-starting the natural side of things. Mostly though, the oysters will have to do their own thing. Betcha.
Back on the seaside, one of the reef projects that I've long advocated is the building of reef near the tops of shoals. It goes back to the shallow water wrecks I remember ~ the acres of tropical spade fish looking for all the world like mammoth angelfish in a gigantic aquarium ~ the amberjack and jack crevalle in schools of hundreds and sometimes thousands ~ the sandtiger sharks up top 10 feet long giving folks a thrill as they cruised along the side of the boat ~ barn door skates -they're not named in jest- that laid just alongside the structure ~ and huge barracuda lying log-like beneath the surface. Oh, we caught jumbo sea bass and some of the biggest tog I ever laid eyes on, but it was those tropicals and summer residents that captured the imagination; all while avoiding being captured ~ at least then. 
Further back in time still, it was this type of habitat where the porgy -scup- flourished. Though I've never had a catch, they once made up a great percentage of Maryland's recreational landings.
We are building on a few reefs sites that favor these southern migrants and overfished species. One brand new spot about 4 1/2 miles out already had a good shot of triggerfish and spadefish on it. Had anyway. They've been caught off. There was a set of buoys and an expensive pair of anchors that I'd set there so that we could accurately position more barge loads of material. They've been cut off.
I'd wager whoever cut 'em off wanted to keep the spot a secret. Sheesh...
I'll use some reef raffle money to get some more anchors, rope and buoys. Need a few more barge loads there before moving on to a new site.
There will come a day when folks ride out that short distance just to SEE all the fish ~ maybe nick a few for dinner too.
For now there's no regulation on most of the species I mentioned. The fed did take note that the sandtigers were near about wiped out and closed all fishing for them, but the others ~ you can still catch 'em like it was the 50's.
Below you'll see a piece I sent to MD DNR a few years ago. I'd previously tried other writings and bringing it up at meetings to no avail.
Because we are building the habitat for these fish it is irresponsible not to regulate them in some fashion. You'll find them tightly regulated on my boat!
The NY passenger rail cars reef project comes before the Ocean City Council this Tuesday. If that goes through -and we can scrape up the funding- it will nearly complete all our reef sites save the shallow water ones. We'll be able to focus on them then.
Nothing wrong with a 'drive-up' aquarium.
Perhaps I'll see you for some summer fishin'...
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076
Suggested Species for Inclusion in Maryland's Coastal Regulations
Written by: Capt. Monty Hawkins  11/16/05
Some species that have been absent for decades in Maryland's coastal marine fisheries are just beginning to recolonize. This is often due to regulation by the Fishery Management Council in the core habitat area of the species.
In others, the population trends are more ominous. 
With management that recognizes the efforts of the SAFMC and NEFMC we can help to ensure that a return to historical population levels along our coast is at least possible.
Additionally, spawning site fidelity is being found in a great number of species. Therefore, locally protected fish will likely benefit local fishers. 
Artificial reef fish settlement would be positively enhanced by a number of these suggested regulations.
Each of the species below is worthy of consideration for regulation by the State of Maryland.
Northern Species
All the northern species management information is from the Status of Fisheries Resources off Northeastern United States website. Local population estimates are the author's.
Scup/Porgy Stenotomus chrysops - 12 inch fork length / 10 fish daily limit.
The species made up approximately 1/2 the party boat landings for the first 30 years of Ocean City, Maryland's fishing history.
Estimated local population decline >99%. There is some sign of improvement.
In other words, one angler - fishing one day - aboard a party or charter boat at Fenwick Island Shoal in, say, 1955 caught more scup than the entire fleet caught in the last decade. Or two.
Scup are managed by the MAFMC
The italics below are from the NOAA website
Scup or porgy occur primarily in the Mid-Atlantic Bight from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras. Tagging studies have indicated the possibility of two stocks, one in Southern New England waters and the other extending south from New Jersey. However, because the separation of stocks is not well-defined spatially, this separation is not used here.
Management of scup has been highly successful on the northern stock. The southern stock remains collapsed.
Red HakeUrophycis Chuss - 10 fish daily limit.
No size limit as the fish are very weak natured and not releasable. A bag limit would help to prevent overexploitation should a segment of the stock's remnants be found.
Estimated local population decline from 1988 to present >99% and getting worse.  Unmanaged species NEFMC. Landings chart looks like an airplane crash. Juvenile growth from initial settlement to ~5 inches occurs commensually within live scallops. Very likely an important prey species. 
Atlantic Cod - Gadus morhua - 23 inch size limit / 2 fish daily limit.
As late as 1974 this species was the fishery in the winter for Maryland's recreational fishers. The Delmarva peninsula might be the only place on either side of the north Atlantic where you can catch unregulated codfish.
Estimated local population decline >99% with some signs of improvement.
Managed throughout its range around the northern Atlantic. In the US the NEFMC writes the management.
Pollock - Pollachius virens - 21 inches fork length ~ 3 fish daily limit.
Not known to have been overly abundant locally but the average size has diminished from 8 to 20 lbs in the early 80's to small juveniles of about a pound presently.
Managed throughout its range. In the US by NEFMC.
Southern Reef Species:
Greater Amberjack - Seriola dumerilli - 32 inches - one per boat per day.
As recently as 1987 schools of several hundred fish were frequently seen in the warm water months on local shipwrecks. More recently amberjack, if they are seen at all, are in small groups or solo. As is found in many species, a high degree of site fidelity at spawning is likely. 
Estimated local population decline >95%.
This species is managed by the SAFMC and is regulated by every state south to Texas.
Jack Crevalle - Caranx hippos - and Lesser Amberjack - Seriola fasciata - Combined limit with greater amberjack.
While rarer to this region, both species do occur and are easily confused with greater amberjack by those unfamiliar with the species.
Local population - highly variable year to year.
Managed by the SAFMC.
Gray Triggerfish - Balistes capriscus - 12 inch fork length - 5 fish daily limit.
Local population trend - highly variable year to year.
In years of abundance the fish remain stationary over structure until waters cool. Local tagging efforts have shown that growth rates are 1 inch per month and site fidelity is nearly absolute in the over-summer period.
The highlighted section below is from the SAFMC
Spawning occurs offshore during the spring and summer, when fish are 3 years old or about 12 inches long. Unlike most reef fish, triggerfish have demersal eggs that are deposited in guarded nests.
Atlantic Spadefish - Chaetodipterus faber - 13 inch fork length - 2 fish daily limit.
Estimated local population decline >95%.
Two decades ago schools of spadefish were commonly seen covering acres of water over shallow structure with numbers of mature fish in the thousands. Presently there are a few schools sighted annually with mostly juvenile fish numbering in the dozens. The fish are summer spawners.
Tag returns of 1 to 4 years at liberty indicate a return to the local region of release after winter migration. (personal com. Jon Lucy VIMS )
The fish is regulated by SAFMC. Regulations vary widely from state to state. The fish is regulated from Virginia south and throughout the Gulf.
Other Southern Species and Offshore Species
Cobia - Rachycentron canadum - 33 inch fork length - 1 per person or 4 per boat which ever is less.
Local population trend unknown but fishing pressure is increasing.
The species is regulated by the SAFMC. Regulations exist in every state from New York to Texas with the exception of Maryland and Delaware.
King mackerel - Scomberomorus cavalla - 24 inch fork length - 3 per person daily limit.
Local population variable year to year - Fishing pressure increasing.
Apparently, given the bullet point from the SAFMC web site below, the species is already regulated here! We just need to write it down...
  • Bag limit is 3 per person from Georgia to New York, and 2 per person off Florida. (Cannot combine federal and state bag limits; in federal waters off Florida, bag limit is state bag limit.)

  • Golden Tilefish - Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps - A daily limit of 3 per person.
    Local population not known but recreational fishing pressure increasing sharply due to multiple recent magazine articles.
    This tilefish and others are managed by the MAFMC and the SAFMC.
    Blue Water Species - State follow suit with federal regs
    Many regulations for species presently under management can not be enforced by MDDNRP.
    Dolphin, Wahoo, Tuna and Billfish regs...
    With management that recognizes the efforts of the SAFMC and NEFMC we can help to ensure that a return to historical population levels along our coast is at least possible.
    Additionally, spawning site fidelity is being found in a great number of species. Therefore, locally protected fish will likely benefit local fishers. 
    Artificial reef fish settlement would be positively enhanced by a number of these suggested regulations.

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