Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fish Report 3/10/09

Fish Report 3/10/09
No Fishing Yet - Overhaul Continues
Flounder & Sea Bass Release Mortality
Hi All,
I do believe this was my first Daylight Saving's Time that didn't cause a mess at departure time - no departures from the hard..
Chinese philosophy not my forte; however, I did get a fortune cookie that said "Determination will get you through this." That count?
Fish when done - not too tough to chose between the rod & the sander.
Will send an announcement when ready.
Meanwhile, for the dedicated..
The rise and fall of our region's cbass stock had little to do with counting to 25 or measuring 12 inches. I have written extensively on habitat abundance and fishing pressure - and will, especially with the federal sea bass tag study now released, come to it again. Maximizing spawning potential (it won't be found in large fish) & preventing severe overfishing on regional sub-stocks are key to maintaining abundance.
Here I simply want to point out that recent regulations upping the size limit to 12 1/2 inches will take us further from restoration - not closer. 
Reading the American Fisheries Society's August '08 "Journal of Fisheries Management" I saw a passage as stunning as "Semmelweis Orders Doctors to Wash-up After Autopsy - Childbirthing Mortalities Drop."
Discoveries like that leave us wondering "What were they thinking!"
There it was.. In print.. A respected journal even! "For minimum size limits to be effective, a high percentage of sublegal fish either must not be caught or must survive catch and release over the range of capture depths" {Management Brief - Rudershausen et al. 2008 - quoting from Burns and Restrepo 2002}
Marine fisheries restoration is a young science. Really young. Over time most "Marine Fisheries" work has been focused on employment, utilization of species and trade - not restoration.
Just 20 years ago you would not have seen a single fish thrown back on an east coast party boat - Ever!
I was taught as a young man 'No use throwing them back, they'll all die.' That went for every species, all the time.
Worked hard to disprove that: the tagging and recapturing, sitting on the top deck with a stop watch to gather 'float time' before sea bass would swim back down.
Threw back some crazy-big cbass over the years. Learned that they can all survive - If.
If the weather's not too hot & and the water's not too calm. If the hook wasn't too easily swallowed & if the passenger didn't take too long to get the fish overboard. (though if the average float time to re-equalize the airbladder was 45 seconds and a passenger took just under a minute to get a fish back - the fish would swim straight down - no float time)
While tagging fish we found those greater than 17 inches were very difficult to release alive; yet have successfully tagged 'em to over 26 inches in favorable conditions. Hard lessons were learned when upping anchor to chase down newly-tagged drifters more suited to frying than data-ing. The older the fish, even by a few months, the more it has grown. That growth includes the air bladder. Barotrauma (air bladder expansion) as evidenced by stomach protrusion isn't always fatal - tagging proved that - but it dern sure lowers the odds, making fine details of weather and water temp key players.
Survival was incredibly high with the tiny 9 inch fish that we once measured so carefully. Over the years I saw that the survival percentage curve begins to fall quickly at about 11 1/2 inches.
During those first lonely years of a 9 inch limit the stock climbed locally. We could see hook wounds on fish we were throwing back. Sometimes 4 scars could be found on a slow-learner's lip.
Sea bass population already climbing; federal regulation brought full blossom.* The stock flourished to crescendo in 2003, coincidently the first year of the 12 inch size limit, and has since declined. For '09 the size limit is now 12 1/2 inches and remains at 25 fish. 
As those long ago doctors, unwashed between autopsy & delivery, drove up the maternal mortality rate -- so too will managers, through regulation, cause a real increase in sea bass release mortality in areas over 110 feet deep.
The gulls will benefit though........
(* see second paragraph)
Bycatch, whether recreational or commercial, can be inadvertent --the gill netter didn't mean to capture that sturgeon. Or it can be regulatory --he did intend to catch trout, but many were too small - gull food.
Recreational regulatory release mortality, our bycatch, will be the highest in history this coming season.
Sea bass will certainly factor into this sad state. However, most of the waste will be in the summer flounder fishery.
Fluke don't posses an air bladder - they do not suffer barotrauma. Its their big mouth that gets 'em in trouble. Deeply hooked fish suffering injuries to vitals such as the heart die.
I know they didn't have latex gloves, but did those doctors really not wash their hands - not even between dead patients and live ones?
Managers know they've been dealt a bad hand, they know the data upon which they base their management is vitally flawed. If a city or county pulled numbers from thin air to base their tax rates on one might soon expect, beside individual challenges, a different result in following elections.
In what form then can fishers express their displeasure? We surely have a means to have our voices heard in matters of management, yet behind a federal veil lie 'harvest data' - the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey. We can argue division of quota, but not how catch data is accounted.
Most recreational fishers are more than willing to shoulder their share of fisheries restoration. I've had thousands of clients release fish they could have kept - often because they perceive that government regulation hadn't gone far enough. In the summer flounder fishery that pendulum has swung far to the other side - fisheries restoration run amok.
The benefits owed to fishers for past restoration efforts will be denied because of data as soft as a crab-eaten flounder.
Next year our 'overfishing' will be more severe than last because larger size limits will mean many more releases - a percentage of those releases will be counted against our quota - the release mortality figure.
If allowed to continue, down the road we'll have a 5 week catch and release only season; our quota filled by release mortality.

It needs to be fixed. 
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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