Sunday, September 05, 2010

Fish Report 9/5/10

Fish Report 9/5/10
Earl Was A Lady
A Sea Bass Surprise
Back To The Deep
Hi All,
Before Earl I tried the flounder --fluke for those of you above 39 degrees north-- and met with limited success. One big 'ol bruiser was lost boatside, a few keepers.. slow.
Went sea bassing.
That worked better.
Following day went sea bassing first thing.
Very, very nice. Good sized sea bass.
Finished with people taking pictures of their flounder.
Laid in, did a lot of heavy maintenance while Earl did his thing.
Florida Keys, Sept. 1978, I believe the first year Hurricanes alternated male/female names; used to all be female.
Big sign: David Was A Lady.
So was Earl.
Might that we are always so lucky.
Some boats went the day after Earl's passage, Saturday. I moved my folks to Sunday.
Sea bass bite was tepid until the current slowed, then Game On.
Had a fellow catch 24 keepers, probably because he practices on tog.
Might be a while before that happens again.
Going fishing.
Going deep again too..
I have to go back.
It's a long way down, a much longer way up ..but the fishing!
Eighteen hour deep trip on Tuesday: Tiles, sea bass.. Just Mike and I last week; an extra-light rail this time - experimental. 
No Electric Reels Ever. Make me crazy. Well, more crazy.
Boat and Federal regs enforced - MD has none - Yet.
Two Hooks. Ain't long-lining.
If it goes well I'm going to do these like my winter tog trips: Announced suddenly in good weather windows.
Fish caught trolling will be split amongst everyone if appropriate. There will be a lot of fast trolling.
I want to try Tagging. We let some sea bass go very effectively last week..
And try anchoring. I have well over 1/2 mile of anchor line.
And hard bait. I wonder if tog live off there..
Beg-borrow-get a grant for a deep drop video camera.
..hunt more new spots.
See what tales these reefs have to tell.
For a partyboat skipper, finding new bottom, new spots, is way better than Christmas.
New bottom w/new species far better.
From generations of experience inshore: We know what happens when fishing effort increases while reef habitat declines.
Been trying to point that out to NOAA for some years now.
Wrote them a little note about it while Earl was directly off the coast Friday; Stitches together a few of my arguments.

Fishing 7 days a week if folks want to go.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
(Sent 9/3/10 across fisheries management. I think some of them even read it. The email included a picture of some poor guy's boat hard upon the inlet's north jetty - only a short metaphorical distance..)
Greetings All,
Early in the morning on the 28th of August, 2010, this recreational fishing boat was run aground in a very bad spot. Still salvageable for several hours; Inaction due to confusion over which entity might be tasked with its recovery finally allowed the craft to be overturned and smashed--completely destroyed: Lost.
As a partyboat skipper seeing passenger numbers, catch & satisfaction dwindle --coinciding with lower fish abundance and/or availability decline due to regulation-- all while press releases declare victory in the fisheries; I wonder if the story of that small boat does not offer a suitable metaphor for my industry..
Primarily a reef fisherman, last fall I suffered the loss of all my life savings and very nearly my business, my whole life's work, because of the emergency black sea bass closure. The 'overharvest' that is thought to have occurred happened far to my region's north--On fish that my clients could never have caught: A separate fish population where all our fishing effort would never have had the least effect.
Habitat fidelity is virtually absolute in the reef fisheries; That closure clearly demonstrates a failing in management.
I have tried and tried to point out that if a population of fish has site fidelity, even regional fidelity --and management fails to take that into account-- the actions taken to maintain or restore that fishery will be met with only sporadic success as large swings in effort, as relate to a specific region's fish, lead to pulses of overharvest upon localized stocks.
I have also tried and tried to point out that catch restriction alone can not remain the only reef-fish restoration tool.
All intuitively know sea bass and tautog -any reef fish- would benefit from incorporating reef's discovery and restoration into management by expanding their habitat's footprint.
Many other species would benefit as well.
That errors occur in recreational catch estimates is well known and being dealt with in fine style. Still, for now it's GIGO and Murphy's Law that own the easily satired MRFSS harvest estimates.
Bad Science. Bad Statistics. Inaction on Habitat. 
The result is dead & dying industry without dramatic benefit to the fish.
Make no mistake, That ill-found sea bass closure caused suffering: Very real pain. And didn't do a thing to actually move the restoration of sea bass forward. Concentrated pulses of effort upon regional stocks are still wholly unregulated.
Coastwide management plans for species highly susceptible to localized effort are bound to fail; Will succeed only given good luck.
And that good fortune, any accidental spike in regional abundance, will only remain until the abundance is discovered by fishers: then the oscillation will curve the other way.
Data in coastwide collection hides regional collapse.............
Generational shift--where we accept as 'good' fishing what previous generations would have found sorely lacking--is another enemy.. Imagine a party boat skipper leaving Indian River, DE. on a 4 hour trip with bushel baskets around the rail - when the baskets were full he went home.
True: Fishing on the 'Old Grounds' -the hundreds of square miles of corals outside DE Bay- before trawl & surfclam gear impact occurred must have been routinely fantastic.
..what if that captain could go with me now as we struggle to scratch up a basket of legal fish on the whole boat in 8 or 9 hours.
Upon the reefs I fish today previous generations used to sometimes drift for miles catching sea bass & red hake.
Now I must anchor with great precision to fish the remnants of habitat left from fishing's industrial revolution.
Indeed, I have witnessed habitat expansion during declines in trawl effort and contraction in the gear's increased use; have documented it on video. (YouTube search: Common Seafloor Habitat in the Mid-Atlantic)
So much is unknown.. Squid sometimes spawn on our remnant nearshore natural reefs but I can not prove it. Perhaps in times past squid always spawned upon nearshore reef.
We've studied the estuaries and know of their decline. However, I think their effect on marine water quality is poorly understood...
In that early partyboat skipper's time the charter boats targeting white marlin rarely went beyond 20 miles offshore.
Caught five miles out, in 1968 one skipper even put a live white on the dock.
Yeah, they weren't much on releasing fish then, but those blue waters necessary for the grand pelagics to feed are now rare inshore.
A sixty mile run to the billfish now considered close: No amount of fisheries restoration will bring these fish back to their original range without water quality............
Stromatolites were the source of oxygen on our planet, what created the atmosphere that lead to life as we know it. 
These rock-like growths must therefore be the oldest and original marine habitat: Reef habitat.
Around the world scientists have published findings on the effects of fishing gears to seafloor habitat. Our first and primary marine habitat is now very badly degraded wherever industrial fishing has occurred.
I believe that here, in the nearshore waters of the mid-Atlantic, these various seafloor habitats are so degraded that their importance to the fisheries is utterly lost to management's view.
Scientists & Managers have scoffed, even laughed at the idea these low-lying nearshore reef habitats might be of great import.. Just as surgeons of old left autopsy to reach into birth canal, Just as sailors in the age of discovery grew deathly ill in a simple vitamin's absence.
Its not funny. Fiscal catastrophe is not pleasurable.
Use habitat in fisheries restoration.
Reef habitats, from Bay's oyster to mud-slough tubeworm to nearshore sea whip meadow to corals beyond 100 fathoms, are to fishery restoration what Semmelweis' discovery of hand-washing was to birthing mothers' survival; What lime juice was to sailors' avoidance of scurvy and its accompanying slow, tortuous death: Reef restoration is a simple solution to a vexing problem.
The work is done.
All that remains is putting knowledge to work. 
Protecting and enhancing reef will accelerate fisheries restoration.
Biomimetics - scaffolding - lattice: All are tools of the osteopath repairing broken, even lost, bone.
On far greater scale than a single human bone, we must now move artificial reef construction into mainstream fisheries restoration.
Those happy days for oystermen that 'natural' loose shell will be planted with oyster spat -on the public's dime- and soon harvestable is a period near its end. The transition to ecosystem-service oyster reef restoration is well under way. 
Forty, fifty -- a hundred fathoms and much deeper, the incredible reefs at shelf-water's edge are almost in management too.
Neither cold nor deep; We must also look at the near-coastal waters for reef that is missing.
Despite its necessity in healing, in restoring the fisheries, some scientists still argue artificial reef only concentrates fish making them easier to catch.
In my experience however, newly placed reef will temporarily thin fish stocks--for a year or two--until production catches up, Then there become more fish if fishing effort remains stable, Or the area can sustain more catch if effort increases.
Still, there are times when newly created reef might well concentrate fish. If so, this is because past management has allowed--even encouraged--such massive habitat degradation by dredge & trawl that reef fish will naturally be inclined to gather and spawn upon some modern restored reef, an artificial reef.
Those who believe artificial reef spawning aggregations to be a disservice need demonstrate some other means of replicating habitat now lost, A means of rebuilding reef-fish populations without restored reef, Some other device to recreate this lost ecosystem service and its critical necessity to the fish that have evolved around some of the earliest life on earth, the stromatolites.....
Tried for decades in the mid-Atlantic, Inaction on habitat issues won't work.
Re-Reef the bays and ocean by creating a latticework of artificial reef upon which oysters & corals will settle; Protect the remnant bottoms so that recolonization of growths can occur and remain stable.
Find balance in fishing effort through regional subdivision; Offset the oscillation now inherent in coastwide restoration plans.
And continue to seek truth in catch estimates.
The results will be stunning.

Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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