Friday, October 16, 2009

Fish Report 10/16/09

Fish Report 10/16/09
Gales of October
VTRs: A Short-Term Solution
Stay with me on this one too..
Hi All,
Nicked some triggers on Tuesday, our last day before this gale rolled onto the coast. Winds peaked at forty three knots, seas sixteen feet, water temp dropping all the time: they were likely our last triggers of the year. 
Also caught tog, some more than nicking them, a double header of keepers, tags returned after celebrating a birthday, maybe two: but not everywhere I might expect - trouble. Oscillating up and down over decades, the tog stock has a long recovery period after overfishing. We won't contribute much to those ills with a two fish limit--a bit though. Have certainly earned our keep with building habitat, conservative management and the determination of those releasing all females or limiting their number & fishing far above the required size limit.
Seemingly barbaric, bleeding these fish adds to their flavor; fillets a beautiful white, fresh and firm; a noble fish, worth the extra effort.
When the wind lays down we'll be targeting them as best we might. The two fish limit designed to keep early fall pressure on our far more abundant cbass that are now closed: opening back to 4 tog come November.
The fantastic abundance of summer flounder, unforeseen in occurring and apparently unnoticed by management, is denied to us in this difficult time as well. We have tagged a fair-many of late; running low, just sticking them over 18 inches. One 22 incher ate a tog bait, green crab, hardly a common flounder bait. Put a yellow ribbon in a 22 inch sea bass too.
My many thanks to those that trouble themselves with reporting their tagged-fish catch returns.

Light crowds - we'll get some great practice and tag a mess of these rascals, keep a pair for dinner. Sell a ticket and the weather's good, we're going..........
Though well-found, my partyboat business lies bludgeoned and bleeding, nearly breathless, hull grassing as bedsores, her mooring lines--now doubled for gale winds--are all that's left to support her though this regulatory tempest. Sea bass closed in what should be a time for putting-up fish for winter, a time for banking maintenance funds and paying down the remainder of the many bills associated with business is a regulatory failure unlike any I've seen.
This region's last sea bass collapse occurred--unnoticed by management--back in very early '04. We are well into the rebound now, spawning stock comprised of many sub-legal males; we're looking great.
Or would be.
Commercial fisher, environmentalist, recreational enthusiast, manager, scientist, partyboat patrons & crew; all share a similar goal: healthy fisheries.
But the only tool in use is catch restriction.
Amazing to me is that even among a few of the best funded environmental groups, those what might understand every single link in an estuarine food web, no real connection has been made between healthy marine habitat and restored fisheries. Historically, great strength borne with ignorance has often brought a poor end.
Not at all intriguing might be stern-towed gear operators working to keep fisheries scientists in the dark, but they too surely benefit with fish in abundance..
Spectacularly, some--many--in the recreational fisheries are so afraid of the dreaded Marine Protected Area, MPA, that they'd as soon there be no discovery of sensitive habitat either.."Keep that closet closed or we'll never fish again!"
Living in fear of the truth.. Not a good place to be. 
Fish populations driven higher solely by catch restriction offer tenuous success; their creation of bioeconomic stability apt to topple at some bit of overfishing--real or imagined.
Fisheries restored through habitat increase will be on sounder footing, as would many overlooked parts of the food web. Fishers having more options, these many species doing well, reduces fishing pressure as effort broadens in spectrum.
Seeing what happens beneath that watery veil, which fishers have no trouble breaching for their purpose, is indeed necessary. 
Science, at least thus far it seems, can't be bothered about it unless it pertains to genuine discovery, not economic recovery.
There are corals, exquisite in every regard, growing on every hard surface in this marine region. 
Fish live there.
Though all groups with a marine interest want to see a similar conclusion, none are on the same path. Any hope of bridging the gulf lessens, widening daily as the regulatory difficulties of decisive management, wrought of poor data, envelop more participants with its disruptive, business eliminating, lawsuit filing result. Battles fully joined, the amity & goodwill of fishing a memory.
That we might find a way out before MRIP, a way to simplify, if only temporarily, the regulations on the reef-using demersals, we might then find more common ground. Any of these rebuilding targets can be exceeded with focused management that includes habitat at its center, a center surrounded by solid catch data, and from that firming, more surety in biomass estimates. 
Deeper still to flesh out a solution.
Try by using VTRs.
Fishing Vessel Trip Reports, VTRs, are a a form sent out by NMFS in Gloucester, MA. Every commercial boat, including party/headboat, has to fill out this form for each trip; at one time I understand trawlers had to go tow-by-tow. The information includes a fairly general location, number of crew, number of passengers, trip time, soak time, number of hooks, and quite detailed information on catch--species by species--discarded & kept, and assorted permit numbers. I personally include habitat type, marine mammal & turtle sightings.
NMFS has been collecting this paperwork for some time, and from a lot of boats.
The Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey is not allowed to use VTRs - or wasn't when last I heard, though it sure seems like MD partyboat MRFSS numbers smoothed out, got extra accurate a couple years back, despite the slippage with this year's cbass pre-estimates.
Mountain of data; many tales to tell: ought to have a listen.
Tales of passenger increases when the fishing's good, and of sliding sales when its not; release ratios over much of the coast - dividable down to several sq. mile areas, catches in same fashion--species specific catches, fishing pressure readable same; bigger boats that got out in weather when smaller ones didn't, no boats got out, more, lots more: buckets and buckets of data.
All of it, every byte, can be used in some fashion to check the broad accuracy of stock biomass estimates. 
And all of it, every byte, can be used in some fashion to check the broader MRFSS work.
Instantly, nearly all the underestimated catch would jump out as Maryland's 2009 estimate of 1,192 sea bass surely must.
For those creating, using & supporting MRFSS, I'd suspect their perception an ugly thing, like a good friend gone to crack, the death of a neighbor's child, or the disappearance of 30 years--seven days a week-- hard work.
Surrender? Move to common-sense size and creel limits right there? At least until MRIP is up and running? Get rid of the indefensible positions that have boats fishing next to each other under wildly different regulation?
Nah - live and breath the data - anyone actually doing this would press on.
I went into some great detail last year that for our state's MRFSS estimates of summer flounder catches to have been accurate there would have to have been small boats stacked atop one-another, and shore fishers shoulder to shoulder, had they caught as well as party/charter skippers: this based on VTR CPUE--catch per unit of effort. Had they not caught as well as professional effort, it would have required far more fishers.
An extremely intelligent fellow, from Woods Hole I think, went over those assertions, and from others, and concluded that MD's catch could indeed be as MRFSS predicted because he didn't have hard data to use that bore-out our anecdotal offerings.. 
An emergency now--for fishers anyway--maybe a few phone calls to DNR police: "Where do they fish, how many boats/people.." Anglers themselves untrusted; some state and non-profit biologists are frequently out and could establish fishable area on charts. There's the often maligned MRFSS field interviewer - eyes on, at least enough to spot Bad Science creeping into a data set.
Could the asserted fishing effort--the number of participants--actually have occurred?
Boots treading--truthing--not paper where errors grow enormous unchecked, can yield a better answer.
It might be Bad Science..
..if VTRs show a decline in catch and passengers, but the 'private/rental' category in the data skyrockets..
..if private/rental boats are shown catching low yet shore effort is stacking fish like cordwood, their sinkers barely missing the skunked fishers hulls..
..if numbers of participants are high, but party boats are only sailing weekends..
..if any marine catch is shown to occur when it was too rough to go..
Once started, a lot of comparisons would emerge. Accuracy, more solid, created in just a couple small geographical areas would establish some percentages to work with over broader swaths.
Would work.
Needs to.
COB Tuesday?
Yeah, probably not.
No hurry at all?
Now Katrina, front-liners fully engaged...
Time for some very real leadership.
Want to try Maker's Mark by Christmas.
Not food stamps.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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