Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fish Report 10/25/09

Fish Report 10/25/09
Two Tog
Window Dressing
Hi All,
Fished near-bout all week with light crowds.. er, all put together it wouldn't have been a crowd. Did fish Tuesday to Friday though with Saturday's south at 30 ending the streak.
Was fun. Bite alternated between steady all day to fussy with a couple good flurries. Different daily; just as you'd expect of tog.
Had a couple folks aboard that had no experience with the fishery. Light rails.. its been a great time to learn; clients enjoying as much individual instruction as needed, I think.
Even Cathy, who I've fished with since 1982, who can bring a tear to a grown man's eye while sea-bassing and surely did trout fishing back when: even though she fed the tog a steady supply of crabs for about an hour without a hook-up, Cathy can no longer say: "I can't catch tog."
Poor tog...
I had a voice in the creation of our tog regs. So did many others. Sea bass now closed - I'm hit by ricochet bullet I helped load. The two fish limit was to be an 'incidental catch' limit, slowing directed effort, easing pressure while many other species were available in the bays and ocean.  Never anticipated cbass closed in the best time of year. Ever...
Had I written the tautog regs it would have been: Ocean - 3 at 16 inches, only one of which could be female, dropping to one fish in summer. Coastal bays I'd slowly up the size limit - work it to 16 over a long period, six or eight years.
I was recently saddened to learn that a local fishing club's highliner in the coastal bay-category had the lead with a 15 1/2 incher. Guy eats, sleeps & breaths tog.. 
Lot more ovarian bang-for-your-buck in the larger fish. We all 'know' more eggs means more fish. (fecundity study Himchek, NJ)
Its not that simple of course. Those eggs have to survive. Then the juveniles have to survive. Then fishing starts to be a factor.
I received an interesting email from Rich Wong of the MAFMC this summer who did his masters on juvenile tog. He argues that tautog populations are limited by suitable grasses & especially macro algae in their earliest weeks and months of life, this when they've first settled to bottom from the plankton stage. Little chameleons, these youngsters change color to match, exactly, the color of the growth they're in. His argument: more juvenile habitat in our estuaries would allow more fish to 'recruit' to the fishery--to grow up: that the species is not limited by hard-bottom reef habitat: rather, any bottleneck of stock expansion is in juvenile habitat limitation. 
I remain unpersuaded that juvenile settlement does not occur in the ocean, but Wong's work is certainly convincing of the importance of inshore habitat.
Fair-many sea bass fall from that same patch of sky.
Lot of folks working on this region's bays, get these factories back into full fisheries production. "Enviros" some call them...
Meanwhile, all the coastal artificial reef we have built has been settled to some extent by tog. In our tag & release work there is no evidence of migration; a couple on walkabout, but nothing resembling sea trout, striped bass, or even sea bass: our region's tog are homebodies.
Fishing now with a two fish limit, we're doing lots of tagging. Have had a couple good recaptures--old returns, fish with a story--and keeping at least a big fish dinner. Opens back to 4 come November 1st.
Soon do a fish report on these 652 and counting tag returns. Wonderful developments in artificial reefing too. Need to match a $25,000 grant towards the Radford..
But not yet. Sea bass under martial law - addressing that issue more important, discussed below.
Keep bringing a .22 to a sniper match; playing the fish-pool though Sam, Larry, Dennis, Henry & Brian are onboard..
Writings form rampart, logic grape & chain-shot, email as cannon - no surrender.
Like Custer, I can't.
Warning: The following verbiage has been modified from its original format for profanity.
Despite lead scientists' findings that the black sea bass quota could be safely doubled, the current stock assessment and statistical data review committee's recommendation has 'safe harvest levels' for 2010 the same as 2009: the lowest quota ever.
Current MRFSS catch/discard mortality estimates hold that recreational fishers have far exceeded this year's quota.
If I'm not mistaken, this means the sea bass season in 2010 will be greatly shortened with a smaller creel limit and larger size limit.
And, if that's correct, then the piano-wire necktie will have done its job perfectly, a low-budget guillotine, though no other aspect of management has. 
This window-dressing, the numbers on paper or screen in offices where payroll is unquestioned; these estimates that are truly important to some very few people will be as they'd like, as if an architect could submit as-built drawings before the foundation's been poured; this tiny sub-set of the management community happy with their efforts while hundreds in business experience severe economic repercussions and thousands are denied access to a fishery they too have helped rebuild.
Pretty numbers with ugly consequences, experienced in an ugly economy.
This sometimes-uneasy alliance of regulators and fishery scientists call sea bass a "data poor fishery." They know full-well there are errors, not just in the catch estimates, but in the stock assessments too--the larger guess of just how many fish are out there.
Scientific trawl data to estimate how many fish live where no trawl-net can be towed.. Recreational catch estimates discredited by the National Research Council, NRC, that guess how many have been caught by sport fishers.. An estimation of almost half our quota, not as catch, but dying of release mortality, this when I couldn't force an under-size sea bass to go belly-up with scientists aboard..
Inferior data, no matter how thick its binder, leads to poor decisions. 
So why in the Billy-Blue-Blazes haven't fishers been asked to provide supporting data that might better these decisions?
Maybe there is a full-press effort to get accuracy from Vessel Trip Reports, VTRs. Maybe there is a dedicated effort to find truth with existing, but unused, data. 
If so, they're awful quiet about it. Ought to share the news.
Make headlines around some parts.
The fellow that looked at our assertions of over-estimated flounder catch last year reviewed the exact data set that had created the errors. He would not use our airplane over-flight boat counts, or any other reasonable data source we offered, to lower the number of shore and private boat fishers.
We sought to compare known catch rates of party/charter fishers with an improved estimate of the number of other participants, and--refusing anything remotely anecdotal--got the same data looked at with the same result.
Rote: mechanical repetition of something so that it is remembered, often without real understanding of its meaning or consequence. (Encarta)
Above I had an example of juvenile tautog production being limited by habitat.
My anecdotal assertions and video--YouTube search 'Common seafloor habitat mid-Atlantic' & also see Nick Caloyianis "Natural 3-D Bottom: Mid-Atlantic Bight"--these images not enough: coral reef in our region remains scientifically unsubstantiated..
The NRC has a book, albeit thin, titled "Effects of Trawling and Dredging on Seafloor Habitat" that has multiple descriptions of habitat damage. The American Fisheries Society has a book, thick--could be used for self-defense, is--entitled "Benthic Habitats and the Effects of Fishing" with numerous examples worldwide of habitat loss. 
Yet repetition of known-to-be-safe statements by rote leads to this sentence from a recent MAFMC Press Release titled: MPA Designations moving forward. 10/19/09 "...3.) For fishing gear impacts - the Council should adopt its prior determination that hydraulic dredges may adversely impact EFH but that the impacts are temporary and minimal..."
There are areas where that is a true statement.
There are also habitats, some already lost, none already found, some completely gone for forty and more years, where "temporary and minimal" may understate the stern towed gear's effect.
Every square yard of reef has a production value many times greater than sand. Some of this production, from the most sizable boulders and, as in Russian roulette, those bottoms that simply haven't been impacted in a long time, is still enjoyed by modern fishers. Much of it though has been lost and will only be enjoyed by future fishers if we accept the task of finding and restoring it.
The production of our many artificial reefs is shared, not cherished nor even recognized, amongst all.
The loss of our natural reefs' production, through reduced catch, is shared by all too.
Management's single, laser-like focus on catch restriction--and its use of poor data to base regulatory decisions on--has brought my industry close to death.
Now, after 12 years of federal sea bass management we are denied access: closed, not in a time of crisis for the fishery, but for a minor paperwork crisis of dubious origin that coincides a national economic crisis causing intensifying effect.
It is management's refusal to find, protect and enhance Essential Fish Habitat--this a clinically diagnosable denial of restoration biology: their unwillingness to look deeper, search harder, for positive results in regional stocks that have--though accidently--already occurred: to model means of maintaining very high spawning stocks plainly evident in the fishery and use those models for betterment of commercial and recreational opportunity: and, finally, to use regional stock divisions--regional quotas--as a decisive and fundamental management tool supported by science that meets any gold-standard test. 
I find the absence of this type of work negligent, especially since 'more of the same' has proven disastrous. I believe its inclusion, the embracing of restorative work instead of relying solely on fishing reduction, would send the Mid-Atlantics' fisheries well beyond rebuilt; that management has no concept of what is achievable and, as of now, has no firm tactic to achieve anything other than temporary restorations, stock oscillations, in which no business can survive.
Forget the window-dressing. Side with jobs, not problematic fishery data. 
Pull those research boats out of their NASA-like deep trench research. Put them to works of immediate economic importance. Find the natural reef habitat that is and once was.
Build more too; its easy.
Seek realistic catch data using the knowledge of those deeply involved with recreational fisheries.
And reopen sea bass before regulatory mortality climbs near 100% - for fishers, not fish.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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