Monday, February 28, 2011

Fish Report 2/28/11

Fish Report 2/28/11
Went & Going
Turned Around
Ten Years  
Cod/Tog Trips - Wednesday, Friday & Saturday - March 2cnd, 4th & 5th, 2011 - 6:30 AM to 3:30 PM - 9  Hours - Crabs/Clams Provided - $120.00 - 16 Sells Out - Reservations Required @ 410 520 2076 - Cold Water - No Guarantee!
Hi All,
Snuck on-out Sunday. Clients had time for a nap..
Started with a cod coming over the rail. Tasty treat that. 
Dipped another & another 
..then a double-header.
More cod than I've seen caught since 1982.
This wasn't epic cod-fishing. Plenty of guys from up north have caught by themselves in a day what we caught altogether.. 
It wasn't epic tog-fishing either. Had some taggers. A keeper, Then a 17 incher. The last two tog were also 17.. 
Alex caught his personal best--17lb 2ozs.
Man's caught a lot of tog.
Second place was 16.95 pounds. Nice guy, I'll give him 17 on it.  
Both anglers stuck to their guns--didn't get distracted by the cod--stayed with crab bait.
The cod bit clam.  
Man with two watches never knows the time: Putting clam and crab on a hook doesn't work.
High man had 8 keeper cod, 3 tagged throwbacks plus a tog. Dae does that to people.
I had 4 cod..
Piece of cod on a plate. Salt & pepper. Pat of butter. Cover with another plate. Microwave 2 1/2 minutes.
For a while life is very, very good. . . . . . .
Was headed up to DC the other day; Up to the Coral Reef Task Force meeting. Lots & Lots of government --Lot & Lots-- Here was an opportunity to tell them the reefs they were worried about halfway around the world had some very sickly cousins not 120 miles away..
From their website: "..The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (CRTF) is charged with developing and implementing a comprehensive program of research and mapping to inventory, monitor, and identify the major causes and consequences of degradation of coral reef ecosystems..."  
Hey! That's exactly what I think needs done off DelMarVa!
Restore it too, of course.
It's right in the CRTF's mission statement. I need to talk to these people..
Driving up Rt. 50 with only my thoughts for company, "No, No, No, Cappy: These are the folks who 'know' we don't have real corals off here in our sand & mud bottom; Especially not "reef-building" corals, Not great-big corals like they've seen & studied while scuba diving in the tropics.."
I think the current definition of 'reef-building coral' needs to be taken behind the woodshed and spanked.
Like our own; Their great-big "reef-building" corals still require other corals - or rock - or artificial reef substrate to grow on.
As are ours; Their tropical reef-fish populations are ecology driven first, and only then susceptible to fishing. This the simple philosophy: There has to be reef before there will be reef-fish for fishermen to catch. 
It really was just a couple weeks ago that a sharp guy from NOAA could not reference sea whip in our region..
Frankly, I think the dearth of knowledge--even lacking discovery--of our hard & soft corals leaves the description "non-reef building" a tad premature in our region..
Might not appear BIG from a diver's perspective, but lobster like it just fine.
And cbass.
Cod too it would seem. 
The video of reef I've put up on the web (YouTube search Maryland Corals) shows 100% essential reef habitat built of temperate corals.
It also shows areas of bare-naked rock that had recently been reef habitat but is now lost. 
CRTF Mission Statement: "..monitor, and identify the major causes and consequences of degradation of coral reef ecosystems..."  
Ah Well, I was headed to DC to tell them all about it in my allotted 3 to 5 minute public comment period.  
Got as far as Easton.
A nagging, that subconscious voice that tells me to get off the ocean when winds are picking-up, that gut-feeling.. 
I turned around. Just wasting time & money I don't have.  
Instead I'll email them; Tell them there is an entire coral-reef ecosystem awaiting their discovery & restoration; Tell them reef-fish restoration can not occur without reef restoration.
Fiddle. . . . . .
The public-at-large believes  "Overfishing Ended in U.S."  headlines. Accepts on face-value, 'Maryland Recreational (flounder/sea bass/tuna/tautog) Fishermen Over-Quota, Season Cuts to Follow.'
The non-fishing public has no problem believing we greedy fishers have, yet again, pushed our luck and taken far too many fish. Season closures, increased size limits and smaller bag limits are, in the public eye, simply our just-reward for always over-fishing..
The birdwatchers; they fantastically more dedicated than fishers, do not grasp the intricacies binding their air & water-borne camera-quarry to this marine-reef ecosystem, do not as plainly see offshore that where marine predators & prey collide - birds feed. The environmental groups who pressure NOAA & NMFS only to "Stop Overfishing" have left 'environment' out of their efforts. 
Quite a few fishermen are working with me on MD's 2010 tautog catch-estimate.
All in and done: MRFSS' catch-estimate claims MD caught 74,570 tog in 2010.  
Boy-oh-boy, is that overfishing.
We'll see.
I think our stakeholder-driven estimate is going to be under 15,000 on the up-side.
Even allowing for statistical margin of error --something management hasn't done for a very long time-- a few MRFSS calculations are still 10x too high.
Hard to do any science with that.
These sorts of catch estimates have so-poisoned our recreational regulations; It's as in the HBO mini-series "Pacific" where an island fighting soldier digging-in, making his foxhole in near-hell conditions, strikes a putrid corpse only inches down..
Below is a comment I wrote in 2001--two years before our cbass hit their peak. I stand by every assertion now as then. You see, back then there was a mysterious 'sudden spike' up north in recreational cbass catch: fishers were trying to avoid a closure.
Ten years ago..
Every instance of bad-data has remained with us. No instance of bad data has been corrected.
These are the rounds whistling over our heads, the random economic-bomb shells. Now our 3rd year manning the lines, sea bass fishers can find no ground in which to dig truth - it is all foul.
Both sides hunkered down in regulatory war-worn state: NOAA & NMFS, Commission & Council are always on guard, always & forever defending their expensive codswallop, their hallucinatory catch-estimates. Stakeholder/management regulatory conflict, "environmental" groups' too; Everyone's focus must be on the worst science because it threatens we stakeholders' families, our homes, our businesses.
This "Overfishing" as defined by unprovable catch-estimate statistic --science's very core is provability-- This "you caught too many & don't you dare argue" distraction prevents forward motion in every other aspect of fisheries restoration: Every opportunity offered by our real "Best Available Science" is squandered defending what no one should even call science. 
A marine ecology in dire need of restoration awaits discovery.
A method of using habitat fidelity in regionalized quotas awaits devising.
A definition of 'reef-building coral' needs rewriting.
A catch estimating method needs careful review & back-checking: back-truthing. 
Recreational fishermen need our sea bass fishery back; Don't want to lose what's left of our tog fishery.
See 10 year-old comment below.
Regards All,
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
Concerning the 2002 Recreational Management Measures for Black Sea Bass
Capt. Monty Hawkins, Ocean City, Maryland 
For the next 2 years recreational management of black sea bass should be no more restrictive than a creel limit of 25 at 11 inches with no closed season.
This would give scientists and managers time to develop a management plan based on "regions" as the life cycle of sea bass clearly calls for. Because these fish exhibit a strong area fidelity*, that is, they return to very specific places or areas after an unclear winter migration, they can not be managed well when considered to be a single stock from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod. Seasonal closures are impossible to fairly execute as the southern states shoulder the burden of spring closures, while other ports lose deep water winter trips.(*Habitat Fidelity assertion based on *Able and Fahey "First Year in the Life of Estuarine Fishes in the Middle Atlantic Bight", Essential Fish Habitat Source Document "Black Sea Bass" and personal tag returns. See also David Dobbs "The Great Gulf" for codfish stock assessments / divisions and difficulties created for managers and stakeholders.)
A  2 year freeze on regulations would prevent further "fishing down" of the '97 and '98 year classes** while allowing fishing to begin on the '99 year class which was one of the finest on record. If not, then the fastest growing fish will continue to be culled from the spawning stock as size limits are increased, creating a stock that has been selected for slower growth.*** This has strong potential for negative long term economic repercussions. (**Year class estimates based on Able and Fahey "First Year in the Life of Estuarine Fishes in the Middle Atlantic Bight", Essential Fish Habitat Source Document "Black Sea Bass" and personal tag returns.)(***Edley and Law, 1988; Law and Grey,1989 from Jennings, Kaiser, Reynolds "Marine Fisheries Ecology")
Clearly the recovery of this fishery is ahead of the management plan. Further restrictions on the recreational industry are not needed. It could never have been the intention of any congressman or senator to bring economic harm to the participants in a biologically thriving fishery. Throughout the recreational industry there is unanimity that stocks are highly resurgent. Throughout the scientific community these stocks are recognized as improving very well with a trend of record setting biomass surveys. In the commercial industry there are no doubts that the stock is fine, but because of permitting and quota problems, long time participants are still unable to benefit from any recovery in localized stocks. The number of sea bass that were released on the party boat I captain almost doubled over the last year. In 2000 we released 99,241 sea bass and in 2001 we released 196,425. This year's (2001) catch (landings & releases) is far and away the largest number of sea bass that I've ever seen. Make no mistake, there can still be a many fold increase in the stock size, given the anecdotal evidence that I have heard from people that were fishing during the late 50s and 60s. Personal observations while fishing and video tapes made of unfished natural reef-like substrates indicate that heavily fished natural, accidental and artificial habitats hold far fewer sea bass than unfished habitats. However, since the dramatic improvement now seen is a result of smaller size limits and no possession limit; it stands to reason that the stock size will continue to expand ahead of schedule under the far more stringent management now in place.
The goal of the 2002 recreational management measures is to reduce recreational landings by 17%. A worthy goal indeed considering the likelihood of lawsuit by commercial interests. Can it be reasonable to cause economic hardship within an industry based on statistics with such a large percentage of error? Problems with data plague many fisheries. Witness the recent worldwide statistics revision caused by China's falsified data. Often times the MRFSS, despite their best efforts, are very far wrong too. For instance, can it be true that Rhode Island's nearshore sea bass landings jumped from an average of less than 20 thousand pounds to well over a quarter of a million pounds in 2000? I have to assume this is an error. It would only take 1 more error of this magnitude to show that recreational fishermen were within the guidance of the present management plan.  
In 1992 I was very likely the first partyboat captain to place a 9 inch limit on sea bass. I did that based on the obvious need for action to restore the stock and scientific observations that spawning had occurred, even twice, by 9 inches. That was 5 years in front of the Fed., 6 before MD. I actively sought creel and size limits on sea bass at the federal level. Having been so closely involved with the paradigm shift of "over the rail, into the pail" (nothing was ever released!) to a fishery that now hovers around a 75% release ratio; I can, with absolute confidence, assert that the MRFSS release figures for Maryland partyboats in the EEZ from 1981 to 1992 are complete fantasy.
The fruits of these management measures are now being enjoyed throughout the mid-Atlantic. Sea bass stocks along the coast of DelMarVa have increased nearly a thousand fold when compared  the early to mid 1980s. No, MRFSS data does not bear this out. However, memories of working the deck of a partyboat in August and knowing before you left the dock that you wouldn't catch enough sea bass for your clients dinner are hard to erase. By comparison, catches, mostly releases, for August 2001 frequently numbered over 4000 fish and sometimes double even that!
Although I have not found anyone that would share it with me there must be a dead discard hook mortality figure that is used in calculating the recreational impact on sea bass. What is alarming to me is the recent discovery that scientists are quoting research done in the Gulf of Mexico on sea bass that shows high mortality rates when released in depths greater than 70 feet. This same study indicates that anglers should only release sea bass caught at greater than 70 feet after puncturing the air bladder. Nothing could be further from the truth in the cooler waters and air of the mid-Atlantic (implied from personal observation of temperature/depth effects on sea bass compared to Lukacovic/ Md. D.N.R. rockfish mortality study). Our release mortality does not begin until a depth of 115 feet and then only if there is predation by gulls or bluefish as the fish reacclimate their air bladder. I thought that this issue would have been put to bed by now, but apparently not. (personal observation and over 50 tag returns from fish released in greater than 90 feet of water)
Additional savings to the stock could be had by requiring directed sea bass fishers to use hook types that are demonstrated to reduce deep hooking mortality.(implied from personal observation of effects on sea bass of various hooks compared to Lukacovic/ Md. D.N.R. rockfish mortality study {great similarity}) This would be especially advantageous to anglers that seek action in heavily fished areas as I believe sea bass are very unlikely to leave an area during prime fishing season.
If we absolutely must have 17%, it can be made up in release mortality and found in statistical error.
Although it may never be proven to be right or wrong, I believe habitat increases, both natural and artificial, have also been important to the robust increases in our local stocks of sea bass. Anyone can pick up a newspaper and read of artificial reef improvements off their coast. It is the resurgence of our natural reef-like bottom areas that are the key to improving settlement. Any modern text on fisheries biology has at least a chapter on commercial gear impacts to less robust substrates and their associated communities. As trawl and clamming effort has decreased in this part of the mid-Atlantic so have areas of mussels, corals and the many other species that make up a healthy benthic population begun to rebuild. Sea bass larvae have been shown to settle, not just in our estuarine systems, but also on suitable areas of our nearshore continental shelf*.  When the art and science of fisheries management can exploit the relationship between habitat, fidelity and stock size, many species will again flourish.
Thanks for your time,
Capt. Monty Hawkins                                    
P.S. Has anyone seen a red hake lately?

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