Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fish Report 1/20/11

Fish Report 1/20/11
No Trips To Announce
Boxed 'Em Up
Cbass 2011 & The Torture of MRFSS
Hi All,
Used to be I'd sell the first half of May's sea bass fishing tickets between New Years & President's Day. Now I don't know if cbass will open July 1st or start earlier. We'll almost certainly lose that early May fishery--again. I currently have no trips to sell.
Put in two long days over the Martin Luther King holiday..
Saturday started calm and then puffed up. Weather forecast had been changed to SW increasing to 30. Did too. Half-off coupons for another day; Tog over 10 pounds; Sent some clients home w/dinner..
Monday we had a light easterly breeze. I like that wind; a pre-storm breeze that you know you'll have to double-tie all dock-lines for when you get in.
Super-fussy bite. I was three fish up on several of my favorite toggers..  
Pair of 11 pounders split the pool.  
Some catching. It was tough. Better than Saturday though. Did send almost everyone home w/dinner.
I had Ritch shuck a hundred chowder clams in case we saw some codfish. Caught one cod -- on a crab.
Clients ate fish. Captain had clam fritters.
Make a cardiologist blush..
Now - Capt. Johns' clients on the Karen Sue, they ate FISH!
I'm a get that ol' sea-dog to leave me some reef-bearings when he goes..
They boxed 'em up; Not us.
It's fishing!
Some things to do. I'll revisit the fishing in early February.........
Many managers base nearly all their understanding of recreational fishing from MRFSS catch estimates.
I said in my recent video that I couldn't begin to grasp what I was experiencing at sea --on the bottom, only 60 to 150 feet away-- until I lowered an underwater camera, until I could see exactly why reef fish gathered at these very-very specific areas: areas I have specialized in anchoring over for many decades..
All my deep involvement with artificial reef construction has been guided by a model I've developed of what-once-was, of laying a foundation of restoration.
Instead, I should have insisted we build everything inside state waters. That way we could continue to fish when the fed closes. 
Overfishing occurred -maybe- up north in state waters--inside 3 miles. Overfishing alarms ring; Fed effectively closes waters outside 3 miles while the guys in state waters continue to sell tickets. Been that way for almost every closure since August of 98's two week shut-down.
Economically staked-out in a statistical bamboo grove, we southern sea bass fishers now scream in agony as MRFSS errors grow & pierce; Our life's work to become fertilizer for the soon to die too statistical program; Our businesses to be sacrificed as afterlife escorts to King MRFSS. 
There is no rational thought in basing annual regulations solely off MRFSS data, nor in huge coastwide recreational quota..
Its just torture without real & lasting benefit to reef fish.
Here's one set.
Species: BLACK SEA BASS - Rhode Island - May/June - MRFSS Estimated Landings - Number of Fish
2005 6,160
2006 1,975
2007 3,601
2008 0
2009 989
2010 36,460
That's a real data set. That's the sort of data that makes fisheries staff believe with all their heart--with their very being--that: "Angler Effort Is Difficult To Predict."
That data set is honestly part of the reason why an "OVERFISHING ALARM" is sounding..
They're a hundred miles away--more. I was only 100 feet away--less, and still needed a TV screen to understand--To Begin To Understand..
If regulations would remain consistent any skipper could estimate 'angler effort.' It's what economists call 'Sales.'
Tackle shops have to think it through too when ordering goods, in estimating 'angler effort' - or 'Sales.'
The absurdity of the data is what's difficult to predict.
Using MRFSS data as the source of annual and "Emergency" regulation makes predicting sales very-very difficult and is quite poor in guiding managers toward restoration.
That's why we now have saltwater licenses to support MRIP which will replace MRFSS.
I wonder why the government ordered MRFSS put down like a mangy wild dog - Yet still uses it...
I'm asking all who read my work to write and seek regional division of the recreational sea bass quota. It appears to be the only method of saving some of our cbass season.
Contacts and addresses far below.
We need split zone recreational sea bass quota to save our skin this year..
But for overfishing to actually & truly be prevented in the reef fisheries, All quota must be assigned by region - commercial & recreational - otherwise a region can suffer the same fate as a well-known close-to-the-inlet reef---too much pressure.
The commercial catches of sea bass--weighed and then sold by weight--that were put across the dock in the 1950s are fantastically higher than fishers today can imagine. Believe me, I've seen some very good fishing, outrageously good; but nothing as good as they must have had..
It's Not Just The Fishing--The Catching--The Removing.
Catch Restriction Alone Can't & Won't Fix It.
We Need Reef Restoration.
Fisheries scientists have no idea how much ocean reef we have now, had then, or will need in the future.
We'll need ecological restoration to have fisheries restoration.
I can almost imagine the vast sea whip and tube worm meadows on a nearly-virgin post WWII sea bed.. I've seen regrowth occur, I've seen habitable bottom expand incredibly; I can almost imagine the habitat they began fishing on. 
Traps as well; But after WWII there was a lot of new trawl gear and a lot of surplus diesel engines to tow it with.
Then came the foreign factory trawler era & an explosion of surf-clamming..
Fast growing; surf clams can be huge, sometimes just 18 clams to a bushel I'm told.
All those fried-clam sandwiches served in the 60s and 70s came from a sea bed that had been -literally- liquefied; the clams dug from the bottom by dredges with high-pressure water jets.
Highly automated now: Clamming then meant men with shovels stooping to burlap-sack the clams. The men didn't like rocks, but dealt with them. Apparently the automated equipment of today has no tolerance for rocks at all. 
A right way & a wrong: Seems we always find right after doing wrong..
We need an oral history--Need it now.
One old skipper told me about being among the first to run through Ocean City's newly rockpiled inlet in 1934. His was a tale of billfish close to shore; he passed away before I could really dig into his memories.. For others it's a tale of transition to a nearly habitatless seabed: Here is the key to understanding why restoring reef fish is going nowhere--why 'sea bass fishing' became "Wreck Fishing" - why our artificial reefs carry so much of today's recreational effort..  
There are now numerous books and studies, some even published in the US, that illustrate perfectly what stern-towed gears do to seafloor habitat.
Catch restriction virtually our sole focus: I think our primary task is finding and fixing an ecosystem in need of restoration.
Reef restoration will make fishery restoration simple.
While our ignorance is vast in the ocean; Scientists can describe exactly what the oyster bars of 1950 looked like.
Today we have juvenile sea bass production occurring far up into the Chesapeake--where oyster reef is at less than 1% of historic abundance. We have tiny scup far into the Delaware..
We do need oysters to finish the job, to restore water quality by re-creating that gigantic water filter; But for fisheries restoration purposes the juvenile sea bass, scup or any of a hundred other species cares not whether there's an oyster anywhere. Fishes' habitat response will occur upon any hardbottom reef.
Build that Essential Fish Habitat back. We'll sort the oysters out as we go.........
I've spent all my time of late trying to find where this idea of restoration went astray.. 
I recently nosed around some of the cbass work on the ASMFC's website.
Many discrepancies: I think our lack of understanding has now become crucial. 
There was, however, a sentence on page 24 of the '96 FMP that I strongly agreed with: "It would not be fair to place stringent regulations on the fishermen in order to solve stock problems only to lose any gains to pollution and habitat degradation." 
I'll come back to that in another email.
Or in every email.
Here I'll just give my thoughts on the discrepancies in the first paragraph of the first page.
BSB = Black Sea Bass. FMP = Fishery Management Plan
This from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission -the ASMFC- their 'Front Page' on sea bass.
The first paragraph...
{1}Two distinct stocks of black sea bass exist along the Atlantic coast with overlapping ranges. The northern stock migrates seasonally and spawns off of New England in the late summer, which are managed by the {ASMFC} Commission and MAFMC. The southern stock {2} spawns off of Chesapeake Bay in the early summer, which are managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. A {3} temperate reef fish, black sea bass commonly inhabit {4} rock bottoms near pilings, wrecks, and jetties. Black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites, which mean they start life as a female and when they reach {5} 9-13 inches they change sex to become males, {6} initiated by visual cues. 
1. I understand it's just a broad opening paragraph--window dressing, but I'm unsure how ingrained this is in management's collective mindset. The habitat fidelity I've seen in tag returns shows a separate spawning-stock for each area of reef.
In simplest illustration that might mean our spawning stock on MD's Great Eastern Artificial Reef (18 NM ESE OC MD) is absolutely & wholly separate from DE's Site 11 artificial reef. In truth it is much more refined than that. There are not 'two distinct stocks:' Instead, as salmon's spawning stocks are of each river, so too are sea bass spawning stocks of each reef. Only on wintering grounds will an entire region's reef-complex population be gathered more tightly--but not for spawning..
The reef fish are most susceptible to overfishing in winter, not in spawning season.  
I sincerely hope no one in management is thinking there are only two congregating points for purposes of spawning. Spawning is triggered from reef to reef and occurs at least several times during summer..
I used to think BSB spawned up in the water via broadcast. I am now certain the 'up in the water' behavior is not of BSB spawning - but of feeding on krill/plankton. 
Eventually of import: I believe at least some -maybe all- BSB move just off the reef to nest in nearby sand.
We really ought to know.
2. Here the SAFMC's cbass, the "Sothern Stock" all swim up and around Hatteras, then gather & spawn off Chesapeake Bay.
Bet that makes for some good fishing..
Instead see #1 again. Indeed, BSB below Hatteras are held to be completely non-migratory and must therefore spawn only at their home reef.
3. Temperate Reef Fish - Not a long-distance pelagic. Big difference--huge--for management's purposes. Keys to successful management are in Reef Ecology Restoration & Management of Removals Within Limited Migration Pathways. Understanding & preventing over-fishing on regional sub-stocks is vital. 
4. That's a really poor habitat description.
5. 9 to 13 inches is brand-spanking-new in the literature for 'switching' sex. In the late 2010 advisory board handouts I've seen the standard 7 to 10 inches shown which is attributed to Frank Steimle in the FMP.
My question: Does management realize that size limit regulation is the switch-sex control; That here is a vital key to keeping spawning production as high as possible?
When there was no management and also during earliest regulation, sea bass always 'switched' early in life - in that 7 to 10 inch range. When this region's stock was at peak --the population bulge that came in the second year of a creel limit in 2003-- the 'switch' was, by then, greatly delayed with many fish not switching until beyond the 12 1/2 inch size limit.
I hold that if no small fish have switched to male, then none of that size-class of fish are experiencing spawning urges. I am therefore confident that precious few age 1 fish now participate as spawners - whereas up until 2000 or so even some age 0 fish would spawn.
6. "..initiated by visual cues." Fits my thesis that it really is size-limit that determines the percentage of cbass in the spawning stock.
The foundation of science is skepticism; That's all I can see to argue with in this first paragraph.........
Please see my reef video from the recent Ecosystems Workshop: Google search YouTube, then search 'Maryland Corals.'   Our corals filmed from a bouncing boat: Be careful if you get seasick..
MRFSS asserted overfishing in southern New England --complete with standard outlandish increases in catch-- endangers all I have left in the world. Despite pain of ongoing economic-evisceration we'll be no closer to restoring vibrancy to the reef fisheries.
Still, I see this as an opportunity to give management a vision of real fisheries restoration; An ecology based restoration. Once in focus they should have little trouble taking the reef fish beyond historic abundances.
..that my business survives our journey of restoration remains to be seen.
Thanks for reading.
Addresses Below.
I appreciate your efforts!
Regards All,
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076 
You can find your state's ASMFC representatives by Googling 'ASMFC commissioners.' The MAFMC is easier 
If your DC reps have a genuine concern of restoration write them too... 
Contacting Dr. Lubchenco, Secretary of NOAA; Eric Schwaab, who heads NMFS; And especially Secretary Locke of Commerce might also ensure there is more than cursory debate on this issue. Addresses below.
Secretary Locke
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20230
Secretary Lubchenco
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW - Room 5128
Washington, DC 20230
CINC NMFS Eric Schwaab
NOAA Fisheries Service
1315 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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