Monday, May 23, 2011

Fish Report 5/23/11

Fish Report 5/23/11
Four Days
Real & Paper Fishery Restorations
ACLs & AMs
Where MRFSS catch-estimates have Ocean City, Maryland's tiny fleet of private boat fishers catching 23,904 more tautog than ALL the Mid-Atlantic & New England party boats in 2007 and more than double the entire coast's partyboat catch in 2010 leaves this question: Are tautog truly in trouble or is management's ability to inspire belief what is now lost and in desperate need of restoration...
Fishing Cbass Everyday Possible!
Hi All,
Lot of differences in these last four days.
Friday we had remnant swells, big swells. Though I had pushed way off the beach searching for jumbo tog, I personally enjoyed the best cod fishing I've ever had; Would cast George's hammered gold spoon far upcurrent and hook-up with just a few sweeps of the rod tip.
Nice. I saw into the future every time my rod bowed: Focused habitat management does work!
None of my clients, however, got to enjoy it. Just as it was becoming obvious that the cod bite was NOW; Greg put a 17 pound tog in his cooler. The rest of these fire-hardened tautog fishers were not about to pass up a chance at truly big tog.
Nope. I'm certain that if I'd had striped bass breaking to port, bluefin to starboard, marlin off the stern & cod off the bow---but a chance at a 15 pound tog straight down, even a slim chance: Crab bait it would be.
Despite super effort and another dandy just one ounce shy of 16 pounds, we ended the day with only a (heavy) handful of fish.
Day Two; Saturday. Beautiful day for a long-tog trip. Calm. Easy sell-out for sea bass -- had 8 clients scheduled for now 2 tog limit trip.
Swell way down; I worked some of my more familiar haunts. Bite was fantastic. Could have had everyone limited and underway for home by 8AM.
Instead we tagged 84 tog, 5 sea bass & a cod -- plus threw back dozens of undersized tog without tagging -- got home late and still had room in our 2 fish per-person limit.
Playboy Frankie Two-Fingers took 1st with a 28 1/2 inch male. The fish had a well-healed speargun wound slam-through the top of its head.
Alex took second place in the pool (done by length) with an ALS tag recapture & then re-released 15lb 15oz, 27 3/4 inch female. I'll bet it was caught right where we'd let it go -- and she'll be there again.. I believe this is my largest re-release; getting close to 800 tag returns.
I watched these reef units sink, helped put some of them there, helped raise the money. We had the best day this year on these heavily pressured, well-coraled, artificial reefs
..yet there's an article in the ASMFC's Fisheries Focus on how tog are in serious trouble: "Significant Reductions Needed to Rebuild Struggling Fish Stock."
Paper sez one thing due to MRFSS catch-estimates: Fishing pole another. More on this below. I hope to absolutely convince any who would read that this is really Bad Science struggling to understand a fish stock..
Day Three. Sunday. Sea Bass Open.
Clients, Weather, Fishing: Wonderful.
No limits bagged, but some anglers in the twenties. Lots of throwbacks.
We tag 49 cod with the School for Marine Science & Technology  program. Kept 7 or so..
Bonus: Pulled the first fluke over the rail, a dandy of about 6 pounds. 
Day Four. Monday. Economic Reality.
Nearly sold out boat. Get a mile out and have to turn around for weather.
Better weather lies ahead. When it settles there will be fish to find. Fishing sea bass & whatever else wants to bite a hook 7 day a week -- Reservations at 410 520 2076........................
Collect a few thoughts here: My 1935 grade-school text by Clara Tutt, "Fisheries," describes how a fertilized oyster egg drifts along in the current then settles to the bottom and attaches to a rock, another oyster -- Or dies in the mud.
One can easily picture this aspect of the life cycle for corals & mussels too.
But what of fish?

Where some species settle to the bottom in the first days and weeks of life means everything..
Just where do little fish, these juvenile fish, come from? Is it by not catching those that have already survived the first year(s) of life--by catch restriction; Or is making sure more & more fertilized eggs survive in suitable habitat where we will see real & substantial increases in fish populations?
Surely we'll always need reasonable regulations, but where's Big Restoration going to come from?
A colony of corals growing on an old shipwreck spawn. The eggs drift without any control whatever. They may become food for other filter feeders, find a suitable hard spot and successfully mature -- or die in the mud.

A local population of tautog spawn (and are). The eggs drift without any control whatever. So far as we know the earliest weeks and months of life are spent in algaes and grasses, then maturing fish move to rocky hardbottom reef or any manner of artificial reef; Unless---unable to hide from predators or feed at a crucial time---they die over barren bottom.
What of Clara Tutt's oyster example in more modern times? Have we made the bottom more suitable to succesful oyster spawn since 1935? 
Quite the opposite I think..
I am certain that we have set in motion a mega-stock of tautog, a population far beyond what naturally lived along Maryland's seacoast: Am positive that if all our shipwrecks and artificial reef were removed today that our present tautog population would starve on the remaining natural reefs--these still undiscovered, very nearly destroyed and completely unprotected natural reef remnants: Am positive that those charged with fishery restoration have given no consideration to tautog habitat, only to catch restriction management based on incredibly flawed catch estimates.
I am hopeful that a project in its earliest developmental stages will restore what must have been a tremendous population of tautog in Maryland's part of the Chesapeake; Am certain that those charged with tautog restoration have not considered the well-documented estuarine oyster hard-bottom habitat loss in their tautog rebuilding plans; Am certain that only MRFSS catch estimate data currently has any sway; That oyster reef habitat completely destroyed by mechanized dredge caused those incredibly many fish to be long lost before anyone thought to lower a baited hook for them.
These jumbos of today, however --fish that we caught this week-- are from before federal/state management began; Are from the self-management we had pre-'97 -- Are positively thriving on artificial reefs where corals grow -- And could not possibly be thriving with no artificial reef constructions.  
We are creating a mega stock; Have set it in motion.. better & better.
Catch data that shows the equivalent of 26 more partyboats like mine catching tautog in Maryland's private boat sector is laughable.
Catch data that has MD shore fishers catching in one year what all of Maryland's for-hire charter/partyboats will catch in a decade is absurd.
Catch data with 14,314 as an acceptable estimate in 2006 but has the single coastal port of Ocean City, MD catching 107,061 tautog in 2007 and 74,570 more in 2010 should be embarrassing to all who are involved with fishery management.
Where MRFSS catch-estimates have Ocean City, Maryland's tiny fleet of private boat fishers catching 23,904 more tautog than ALL the Mid-Atlantic & New England party boats combined in 2007 and more than double the entire coast's partyboat catch in 2010 leaves this question: Are tautog truly in trouble or is management's ability to inspire belief what is now lost and in desperate need of restoration...
There are recreational organizations that wholly support the use of these catch estimates too.
Great Scott.
I'm still going to send 'em a check, But Please!
Sadly; if you asked 100 managers, 98 would reply with the same dogma; "The data is our best available science and must be used: After all, Angler Effort Is Difficult To Predict."
Managers truly believe the catch data: "Why certainly the MD private boats could have outfished the whole coast's partyboats. Look how many boats are registered in Maryland."
Intolerance is the hallmark of those who will suffer no test of their belief: We're about to get 52% cut from our tautog quota along the whole coast because of these catch estimates.
Recreational fishers have no need to fear the truth and should WELCOME far closer scrutiny of recreational catch.
Thus far management will suffer no argument, no test of the catch data despite that MRFSS is, literally, on its deathbed. We must ask our state's fishery personnel and federal representatives to run MRIP tests (the new catch estimate program) on tautog first: Tautog fishers are in big trouble, not tautog.  
Alas, as in Nero's Rome: Simple accusation of overfishing is more than enough to establish guilt....
There was a place I called Sleepy Ledge. Had a few traps on it. I fished it a couple times a year. We all caught.
One year a trawler towed over this wonderful sea-whip meadow.
There are very few fish now using the bare rocks; not enough to put traps out or to bother with for my clients' fishing time.
If that piece of habitat were restored the fish would nearly restore themselves.
The passionate commitment of people who I know to be brilliant is misplaced in this catch data only management system; Their efforts wasted like Ajax's swordsmanship amidst the livestock. Our entire system of catch-restriction based restoration needs to get fixed; Far too much of its potential is lost chasing the ghosts of fishing that never happened.
Tell Russ Dunn -- NOAA's Rec-Fish Liaison <> That We Need Accurate Data First, Then Accountability. Tell him that reef fish live on reefs too..
Two Graphs:
TAUTOG - Maryland Only - Private Boat Only - Annual - (yes, the official estimate is zero in '06 then the highest, then the second lowest..)
2005 16,943 99.7
2006 0 0
2007 63,588 44.4
2008 7,703 51.5
2009 21,618 49.1
2010 51,222 25.6
Species: TAUTOG  Mid-Atlantic - All The Party Boats In  The Mid-Atlantic (Our professional catch estimates are much tighter--But Not Perfect--because we submit daily catch reports -- adding All of New England's boats adds about 3,000 fish tops) 
2005 22,081 10.6
2006 74,053 11.9
2007 39,684 13.6
2008 44,714 16
2009 51,282 11.5
2010 23,168 25.6
Here's an important opportunity for those of you who are more active: This just-opened comment period is about Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures (e.g. What happens if recreational fishers are asserted to have exceeded quota? Seasons shrink, size limits go up & creel limits decrease!)
My Comment: Recreational fishers must not be held liable for Accountability Measures due to exceeding Annual Catch Limits until such time as Management is able to provide reasonably accurate catch estimates. 
MRFSS data needs to be frozen in 7 year averages until MRIP's catch estimates are fully functional. 
AT THE VERY MOST Maryland has 20 or so dedicated private boats that fish tautog with some skill. They are held to have --With Perfect Accountability-- caught double what VA, MD, DE, NJ, NY, CT, RI & MA partyboat skippers were able to find for their clients in a year's time..
Same stuff with sea bass.
C'mon NOAA! Tell us who needs accountability!
Risk my family's home for this data? You Scoundrels! 
Who Would Declare Such Bloody Rubbish Science!!
The Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey -MRFSS- was never designed to do Accountability Measures.
Using it as such has sure flushed my life savings..
I'm telling all who will read and will include it in every comment--MRFSS data needs to be frozen in 7 year averages until MRIP's catch estimates are fully functional.
Oh Yeah, Reef Restoration Makes Fishery Restoration Simple.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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