Monday, March 31, 2008

Fish Report 3/30/08

Fish Report 3/30/08
Tautog's Windy Blues
Spawning Habits of Outdoor Equipment
An Odd Piece of Evidence
Hi All,
Announcing trips to good weather works better when I wait for the forecast to firm up. Figured with all the wind early last week we'd get a break, so risked scheduling out in front of the weatherman.
Snuck Thursday out of it anyway. Good fishing. Tog bit well, limited the rail and tagged 67 more keepers, many of which were large females. Had two more tag returns Thursday too. Restuck 'em both with new tags -better data..
Out the inlet on Friday... Ehh, old captains, bold captains.. With a steady 25 out of the SSW didn't seem likely we'd fare well and came home. Didn't roll anyone out of bed for Saturday's NE winds, but had confidence that they would break by Sunday.
Not. One day in five.
Warm and windy this week coming, gonna take a few days to non-skid the deck. Needs doing. So does a lot of other paint, but the non-skid is mission critical.
The weather will break; announce trips when it does. Gorgeous days in April lie ahead.....
As I mentioned in a report a few years back, Pat McManus's column figured strongly in my misspent youth. Appearing monthly in "Outdoor Life," many thought he was a humorist. Odd; I thought he was a scientific philosopher of the highest caliber. I remember well one of his works; a study on the spawning habits of shotguns.
True. Anyone who has ever put more than two shotguns in a darkened gun cabinet will testify to their reproductive success (RS). Breeders have been trying to manipulate the yield and characteristics of plants and animals for thousands of years. However, the mysteries of sporting equipment's non-linear hereditary transmission remain unresolved.
McManus's work attempted to discover why, for instance, one pair of single shots in different gauges will conceive a 16 gauge side-by-side; while in another cabinet with a similar breeding pair the offspring may well be an automatic, say a Belgian Browning round-knob. 
Such dissimilar offspring strongly contradict Mendel's early twentieth-century work on dominant/recessive gene characteristics.
Unfortunately, McManus's study was inconclusive.
Any outdoor equipment might have been used in the study. Duck and goose decoys are incredibly prolific spawners, shut away in a dark place for long months as they are. Archers have reported similar behavior with their bows; kayaks out behind the shed ~ and yes, sporting optics such as might separate a sharpshin from coopers hawk cannot be left alone in a rucksack either.
Once the second piece of equipment has been purchased you daren't turn out the lights.
"Fishing equipment's no different," I said to my wife as I was trying to explain the new Diawa 20 H Saltist ~ a reel that seems perfect for the microbraids.
Stranger still was the arrival of my old friend Clyde's handiwork - the gift of a handsome custom-made rod into which the Saltist nestled so perfectly.
While she wrestled with the thought that outdoor gear might procreate -or even spontaneously generate- I pointed out that there was a reason why there was a door on her shoe closet. Dang things would probably keep us up all night if not...
The rod coincidental, reel accepted, doghouse escaped; 'science' won ~ even with it's inability to explain and with no way to predict spawning success...
Each fall flounder migrate to overwinter areas off our coast, spawning as they go. Science -real science- identified this behavior some years ago. In the fall of 2007 we saw our last flounder roes depleted by early November ~ spawned out. Fifty percent of male summer flounder are mature at 9.7 inches and 12.7 for the females. (NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-151)  I don't think we saw a fish less than 15 inches all year.
From reports and personal experience, during last fall there were flounder thoroughly dispersed from inside the coastal bays to at least 30 fathoms. I somehow doubt any missed that deeply ingrained urge to spawn.
Not considered a 'reef dweller,' more of a reef's edge user for ambush feeding, they certainly have taken over many reef-like environments in the last few years.
And I mean just the last few years. According to tightening regulations one might suppose this is a change in behavior; that there's not that many more fish, they're just using the habitat differently.
I don't think so. I think it's an exploding fish population.
The 'odd piece of evidence' that I referred to in the title is this: My website, written in late 2002 after 23 years in the business, has not one mention of summer flounder. Not a peep. Yet in the last few years we've spent more and more time targeting them; close to 100 days in '07. And doing that in precisely ~exactly~ the same places that I would be normally be targeting sea bass. 
It wasn't a mistake. I didn't forget years spent fluking. We never had the fishery before '05....
Regulators need to back-off and switch focus to the many species that seriously need management's attention. All the brouhaha surrounding flounder is, in my opinion, wasted energy. The rebuilding plan worked. Put it in auto-pilot and check the radar for new targets..
The NMFS recognizes that there 'might' be a southern stock of scup (porgy). I have heard many accounts and seen the pictures of these fish being caught off Maryland's coast - all before my time. I'd wager scup made up 1/2 of the recreational bottom fishing landings from the 40s through mid 60's ~ 1969 was about the last of it. Of late we are seeing a few juveniles using the shallow water artificial reefs in high summer, and perhaps more south-bound migrants into late fall. Wonder what we could do with a targeted management strategy.
Speaking of southern stocks, here's an odd coincidence: According to their website, in 1991 the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council -MAFMC- "Limited the activity of directed foreign fishing and joint venture transfers to foreign vessels." Not to be bitter or anything, I mean I understand sometimes it's hard to get a sentence to say just what you mean; but that year they actually allowed unlimited mackerel processing on foreign ships. And, from that year to this, severely limited -crushed- the recreational mackerel fishery in this region. Perhaps it was the last chapter of the 'underutilized' fisheries whose first pages were written when the National Marine Fisheries Service was the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries..
Certainly the #1 party-boat fish by landings here in the 80's; in 1998 I wrote that the red hake (ling) were declining so rapidly that soon the closest one might be at the Smithsonian in DC. Hope they have a couple specimens ~ we sure don't.
But we've got enough flounder to force a change in the region's reef life.
With no ability to predict spawning success, science & management have won their restoration.
It may be that the management plan has been too successful. I've picked the memories of many that fished off OC even before WWII; captains and mates that reported marlin commonly caught within sight of land. They never had this flounder fishery.
Make a final regulation. Set a reasonable day's catch and size limit then leave it be.
Call the battle won. There's far more serious fishery restoration work to be done.
Maybe even some habitat work...
Fish Report: Easter '08
Fishing's Interest of the Interest
Hi All,
Only fished 2 out of the 5 days. Friday's 20 to 30 knots of WNW wind had some put off, but we snuck a day out of it. A really good day. One stop shopping again. I'm pretty sure I can count the tog trips on one hand that I didn't have to move - nice when it happens. 67 tags and a rail limit..
Saturday's trip started out -weatherman's bad- as a slick calm morning with a fair current from the SSW. Pair of anchors in: tog coming up. A fine start. 
Then the wind rolled around NE -slam into the tide- and squashed that. Within an hour and a half; a wholly different ocean.
Sent 'em home close to or limited out though - 27 tags. Fellows kept asking me to "Go back to the calm spot!"
We'll fish some more ~ Thursday through Monday, the 27th to the end of March. Fare is unchanged for toggin' despite $3.85 a gallon diesel. (checking my email, I see I've won several lotteries and can start a special banking relationship with a nice lady from Africa so the fuel price/fare price is OK ~ for now) Trips leave 7am, return 3(ish). Green crabs are provided. 15 people sells out the rail. This is not a fishery for everyone. Derned if I don't enjoy it though...
Lots of news about interest lately. Fed ratcheting down rates; a huge financial corporation imploding because of foreclosures on unscrupulously written variable-rate mortgages.
Even someone as allergic to higher math as myself can understand that if you're earning interest; the higher the better - so long as it's paid.
Read an article in the height of the DotCom bubble where a fellow had invested -wagered- most of his wealth on a stock and won. He'd then reinvested that in bonds and was meeting living expenses on the interest of the interest.
Nice gig.
All fishers need to pay attention to the interest percentage we're getting on our stocks. Fish stocks that is - populations; the interest being the annually accrued percentage of juveniles that survive from spawning.
Anything raising that percentage increases the number of fish we might be able to catch in the future.
In Lindholm, Auster & Kaufman's 'Habitat-mediated Survivorship of Juvenile Cod', the authors found that mortality rates due to predation fluctuated widely. It's a fish eat fish world.
In this controlled aquarium experiment designed to mimic trawl impacts to natural seafloor, habitats were varied from just sand to bare cobble-rock to dense sponge colonies. Young of the year (YOY) cod lived in the tanks and 2 year old cod were introduced as predators.
Without factoring in natural mortality, bycatch, or any of a host of factors, the scientists found just 6.6% of the YOY survived over sand, 33.2% over cobble, 53.4% over minimum sponge growth habitat and 68% over dense sponge. A place to hide makes a big difference.
Would the rule of 72 works here, the population of fish would double in a year and a bit at 68% or 11 years at 6.6%. Rule of 115 ~ it triples in 1.7 years at 68% or 17.5 years at 6.6%.
While no fish stock is ever going to be this predictable; dern sure be better fishing if we could bump up the percentage of YOY survivors in any similar fashion.
It's the ones that survive that we get to catch; that get to spawn themselves.
This study came out in May 1999, numerous studies since have come to similar conclusions about the importance of habitat.
We just need to apply what we've learned ~ maximize our interest. Many species; sea bass, red hake, squid, flounder, just to name a few, would benefit.
A far higher year's 'interest' -percentage of survivors- would offer significant improvement to fishing as they grow into legal size ~ a measure of recruitment. It's when you compound that interest over time ~several years classes of increased recruitment entering the spawning class~ that things start looking far better.
Fishery management without habitat management is like wealth management without regard to protection of the principle, let alone annual interest.
Still undiscovered and certainly unmanaged, constant attrition of our region's natural reefs leave we users exposed to asset disaster.
By building new artificial reefs and protecting the natural ones we'll add to our region's 'principal'. Done well, we could be fishing the interest of the interest.
Be a nice gig.
Fish Report 3/16/08
Mad Toggin'
One Piece of Bottom
Hi All,
Fishing's pretty good, at least if you enjoy toggin'. Wednesday and Friday we had good numbers of fish and plenty of tagging - 60 tags on Friday in fact. Moving around, finding a few that would bite. It was enjoyable.
Saturday? Well, the weatherman had us a bit off balance, but being forecasted out of the NW I wasn't too concerned with the wind. The ground swell, however, didn't sound too sporty. Eh, go sneak a look at it ~ see what we see...
The weather doable ~ fishing spectacular. Really. Anchored just once on a spot that we helped sink some years ago. Tagged 70 fish, only 6 of which were under 14 inches, and came in 2 1/2 hours early. Easily one of the top 5 tog trips I've ever had.
I hope the fishing was a sign of things to come.
Tautog are homebodies. With close to 5,000 tags out I've yet to see any sign of migration; just a few wanderers. Putting back as many females as possible and letting them all get to 16 inches (at least on my rig) seems to be maintaining the stock. By increasing the amount of habitat we can increase the number of fish. And are.
It's a slam dunk that they're not always going to bite: the 'one stop shopping' we had Saturday a rare event. Still, management and increasing the habitat footprint should ensure that we can leave this fishery better than we found it.
Could probably do that with a lot of our still-diminished fisheries if we could get the focus off flounder.
Had a flounder tag come back this week, in fact. Stuck it with a yellow ribbon over a piece of natural coral when it was 14 inches this past August. The fish was recaptured at 15 inches near the Norfolk Canyon some 80 miles away ~ overwintering grounds.
The inshore/offshore movement of many fisheries, notably sea bass, scup and flounder, are pretty well documented. I wonder if they use the same type of bottom offshore in winter that they do inshore...
I looked at a piece of bottom in '04 that was so fantastically grown over with sea whip, a type of soft coral, it appeared to be a huge meadow of orange. Incredible.
I looked at the same spot again last March and it was barren rock with a few stalks of whip growing out of crevices.
While I didn't see it happen, it certainly had the appearance of a flounder trawl impact ~ the chain on the bottom of the net scrapping away the corals as I have documented on other rocky bottoms.
A very large area; I wonder what they caught? 10,000 pounds? A ton? 200 pounds?
Were the flounder caught worth the loss of so much seafloor habitat; worth the loss to the trap fisherman's gear; worth the loss of marine production ~ the sea bass, flounder and tog that would have settled there as juveniles and grown larger; worth the loss...
There has to be a better way.
Surely trawls can make their quotas without towing over the coral bottoms, perhaps augmenting their catch with flounder traps set near the rocky areas. Possible.
The Magnusson Act plainly calls for managers to minimize impacts to habitat caused by fishing. We need to heed that law in the Mid-Atlantic.
It's years away. My example above is just one piece of bottom; noticed purely by chance. There's 10's of thousands of square miles of seafloor that we know virtually nothing about ~ at least from a management perspective. Probably ought to get busy with it...
Meanwhile, I'm going toggin'. It's not a fishery for everyone ~ do not think 'one stop shopping' is your certain fate! Oh no... Mr. Murphy has a plan for folks that "KNOW" they're going to wear themselves out catching tog. Made that mistake myself last Tuesday..
I hate that kind of day.
With that in mind, I'm opening up Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday - March 19th through the 23rd - 2008. Weather? Don't know ~ for Easter weekend we'll just have to take our chances. Boat sells out at 15 people for tog ~  green crabs provided ~ leave at 7AM, return 3(ish) ~ State limit 4 tog at 14 inches ~ boat strongly encourages 16 inches and release of most females.
I've got 210 tags to run through...
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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