Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fish Report 7/11/10

Fish Report 7/11/10
East Wind
Broadside of a Barn
Message to SSC
Hi All,
This week past was not a hum-dinger. Monday a Grady-White outboard came screaming by with more people aboard than I had.
Had its moments though..
Hot & hotter, the heat finally broke in an east wind. Wonderful relief.
By Friday that wind had produced a deep bodied wave-set that likely made local surfers go to work late and leave early.
Swells to 8 feet but with a fair distance between them; conditions reminded me of approaching tropical weather.
Seemed to make the sea bass snap though. Friday we had the best, most consistent, bite in a while.
Kite's been up quite a bit. Chum out. Mahi, several small sharks, one bruiser deep that we probably didn't have a bait big enough for and a good hammerhead that came up hot ..right after we pulled all the gear to make a move.
Some get caught, they all make a sight..
Especially the 6 foot ocean sunfish that chilled down-current no more than 5 feet astern..
It's fishing. I am having some clients get into the mid-teens on cbass--certainly no majority, just high-hook. Scratch up dinner & hope to see something big. Perhaps the fluke will turn on as this easterly swell settles. Did catch a few keepers before it developed. Catching cbass is plenty fine and tasty, but let a couple head-shaking fluke come over the rail and most will switch gears to go after the flatties. . . .  .  .
Three feet of slender energy; a houndfish dashes away -bounding- with 30 some leaps in the early morning sun.
Couple flicks of the tail would have put it out of harm's way. The calories used evading my boat were wasted. While its instinctive response made an enjoyable sight, it wasn't about to be eaten.
Clients have to fish for what's biting. Don't waste effort on flounder until we see them; Worry with the tog next winter.
Managers also have to watch how they expend their efforts, need to see through the smoke & mirrors of their own paperwork for real success and real failure, need to stop wasting recreational fishing's economic potential in search of safety from that big mean boat shadow - the paper-tiger of MRFSS asserted overfishing..
Crunched some numbers to see what the difference in the years might be for this week. Not a very sound or useful comparison but factual. Here-goes: In 2000 we averaged 11.37 sea bass per person last week ~ 54.01 in 2003 ~ 22.13 in 2004 and 33.92 in 2010.
I'm sure client satisfaction was the worst in 2004 because most of those folks had limited out with me the year before: They had far higher expectations.
This year's client caught more yet kept fewer, but bigger, fish.
It's just a one week snapshot in a handful of years. If management similarly compared same-fisher's catch rates of sea bass over larger time scales then the truth of "regional" importance to management --as opposed to an all-inclusive "coast-wide" mounding of data-- would be easily seen. Using the same mandatory fishing vessel trip reports (VTRs) they could get a sense of habitat's importance too....
Among many, I have a spot I call Franky Two Fingers' Rock. It's a small spot, a couple square yards of emergent hard-bottom that has avoided trawl impact for 15 years or more. Well grown in; had a nice shot of fish off it one day this week. Two pound bass, 3 pounder, flurry of keepers, a cod and a couple good tog on clam..
Sometimes a reef goes hot--the bite is on. Usually when tog bite sea bass rigs it's time to get with some serious fishing -- Unless tog are the only fish biting sea bass baits.. that will probably be a long day for all aboard.
Point is: This rock patch is small, real small. Even with the hyper-precision of GPS I'll have to make a few passes to locate it. 
Any small hard-spot, be it Clay or fossil-laden sandstone; Granite or waterlogged wooden shipwreck; Concrete or steel -- Even a piled-up lost gill net: So long as it ain't sand -and sits still- it becomes, through the growth upon it, hard-bottom reef.
I hold that in the mid-Atlantic we have lost a fantastic percentage of a once vibrant --but susceptible to damage-- reef community.
It wasn't beach replenishment where sand bars are dug into and pumped ashore to protect a tax base; It's not the marshes filled then built upon and from where property-tax dollars now flow: It is fishing gear towed by some of the hardest working men and very often good men; Gear that sometimes scrapes growth off rock, Gear that has liquefied clay fields to near-gone, Gear that picks up smaller rock for deposit elsewhere, Gear that simply flips rock over smothering whatever was growing upon it.
An easy solution to restoring the productivity of stern-towed gear impacted areas would be simply banning all the gears.
In those places where the physical substrate remains we'd get fantastic growth, a real resurgence of life, starting in under a decade. Bolstered by select restoration using artificial reef we could improve many-fold even on that.
But that would be like the red snapper reef closure to our south which robs a coast of their hard-earned fishery; Especially right now when they would have a jubilee of clients.
Ban & closure accomplish much. So can training-wheels and an adult hand balance a toddler on a bicycle: "Mommy, I did it!"
Regulating the surf-clam fishery was the first work of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. In the difficulties of creating sound regulation, of creating control in what was an all-out free-for-all, men died.
The first-ever U.S. individual fishery quota or "IFQ" as solution, the industry is now almost wholly owned by a few corporations.
Very well funded, deeply entrenched, influential: Where fishers have size limits that go up when populations dip, clammers have quotas that stay the same and size limits 'suspended.'
How nice for them.
Ten tons of dredge, more, with high-pressure water jets that cut the bottom--liquefy it--so that clams tumble into the dredge.
It's the most destructive stern-towed fishing gear in the world.
I am certain that this fishery can exist harmoniously with reef.
I'm also certain that, in times past, it didn't.
Trawling has a gentle touch compared to clamming.
It too can coexist with reef but hasn't.
First management has to recognize where our reef-dwelling fish live & then protect--in remarkably fine scale--those habitats.
To date we have 'discovered' no natural reef in the mid-Atlantic save in the canyons some sixty and more miles out & in 600 feet of water..
To my knowledge there's no data on our nearshore natural reefs.
There's scarcely even any interest.
Those couple rocks I call Franky's are in 95 feet of water. They are among what's left after fishing's industrial revolution.
There's more.
Need to take the training wheels off.
The simple biological truth that habitat is crucial in fisheries restoration must be dealt with.
There will be very few instances where real, firm & lasting fishery restoration can be accomplished without habitat restoration. Whether it's food supply in prey base, the very difficult task of restoring water quality or "epibenthic faunal communities" that most would simply call Reef: Habitat consideration is a necessary component of fishery restoration. 
That bad data can destroy businesses also needs to be accounted.
The Courtiers who delight in "The Emperor's New Clothes" demonstrate their paper-rebuildings with smokey data sets whose values drift like fashion. For real restoration the data must be brought closer to truth.  
Data in coastwide collection hides regional calamity.
I once heard that building the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel caused the collapse of croaker; That the pilings took so much suitable sand habitat away that the species collapsed..
Pretty remarkable assertion. I'm sure some think the same of mine.
Spatially challenged; How much sand bottom was left in the Chesapeake after the bridge pilings were constructed.. how much was gained in the loss of the oyster.
Still, I think it can be very difficult to envision how much area these reefs I write of--and fish on--actually occupy; How much of the seafloor really is reef. More importantly, one day we'll need to know how much reef once was, how big an area has been lost. .  .  .
Hand-sawn and hewn, Pennsylvanian barns from the 1800s are a wonder. Sometimes made of chestnut: those trees, the whole species, is now lost to blight. 
Unlike loss of marine reef, the tree's clearing made for vital tillable farmland and wood for construction. The blight that wiped them out did not take the woodland creatures too: There are other trees. 
A wealthy landowner in that time may have been able to contract construction of a barn built with clear lumber--boards without knots. Yet upon completion, and despite best effort, a few boards have small knots. You'll have to really look for them in that 100 by 30 foot side but they're there; allowed because they're insignificant in the side of a barn.
Stretch the side of that barn to 100 miles of coast and out 30 miles: Now the knots, those very few knots, represent an idea of how much reef there is -- including our modern artificial and accidental reef.
Paint a few whole boards, not just the knots, an odd color and we might approach an idea of what reef once was. 
At sea I ride over mile after mile of sand I know there is no use of dropping a line on save perhaps the chance intersection of school fish.
Two anchors tight--catching--requires precise adjustment so all are over small reef.
Plenty of room for trawling and clamming, scalloping too further offshore.
Just watch the knots.
When the Science & Statistical Committee (SSC) meets this week I hope they see that there can be no possible natural restoration of each region's black sea bass population. Each local stock will either be engineered --managed-- for increased spawning population that bolsters economic output; Or be made to appear as a natural stock might have--an illusion in the modern era--with lower fecundity: Size limits are key.
In either event, without reef's discovery & attempted restoration, one could say management hasn't hit the broad side of a barn.
Management's rebuilding of reef species with no grasp whatsoever of needed supporting habitats; fishers are now squeezed against mandatory population rebuilding timelines.
It's costing us our livelihoods.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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