Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fish Report 11/13/11

Fish Report 11/13/11
Sea Bass & Tog 
Uncle Murfs
Dissecting "Overfishing"
New Dates This Coming Weekend:
Thursday, 11/17/11 -- Inshore Tautog -- 4 Fish Limit -- Sell Out at 12 -- 7 to 3 -- $100.00
Friday & Saturday, Nov 18 & 19 -- Long 10 Hour Cbass -- $125.00 -- 6 to 4 
Sunday, Nov 20 -- Regular 8 Hour Sea Bass -- 7 to 3 -- $100.00
Monday, Nov 21st - Inshore Tautog -- 4 Fish Limit -- Sell Out at 12 -- 7 to 3 -- $100.00
Also Fishing Thanksgiving Week the 23rd, 25th & 26th -- 6 to 4 -- $125.00 - Long Sea Bass -- $125.00  
And, After Thanksgiving, Regular Tog -- Nov 27 & 28th -- 14 Sells Out -- 7 to 3 -- $100.00
If The Weather's Fit, I'll Consider (Really) Long Tog/Cbass Trips Before MD Tog Close In December.. 
Please arrive 1/2 hour before scheduled departure with food, water, beverage & a medium-sized cooler w/ice for fish. Bait is provided but you're welcome to bring your own. We often -almost always- leave early. Show up late and you'll see the west end of an east bound boat.
Hi All,
Couple tog trips early in the week. Decent bite.
I think high man had 17 Monday & 15 Tuesday. A lot of those, of course, would have been over-limit throwbacks...
Went sea bassing the 9th & 10th with good result, even a couple 25 fish limits -- Fun.
Sea bassing's really not at a pace I'd like to see this time of year, but its OK overall.
Lost Friday to high NW winds then slipped offshore Saturday, 11/12, in a perfect calm.
Boy, it didn't stay that way.
Quickly building between 8 & 9 AM, 25 knots of wind due to arrive in early afternoon had sea heights getting up even in fair current. I knew when the current changed, when wind & water's flow ran opposite, seas would become nearly untenable.
I think we did good: In at noon with a 1/2 off credit; everyone had sea bass for dinner. Who would dream of more fish from a life raft?
Dreaded scourge, we're seeing more spiny dogfish now. A species very likely benefiting from decreasing fish populations during the last century, the best "restoration plan" for these small sharks is displacement by resurgent cod, then get caught & sold overseas for fish & chips.
Rare that recreational fisher's happiness is found in a full trawl-net..
Below I'm going to try to show how MRFSS' official recreational catch estimates, How management with no habitat component or consideration, and management's attempting to cover too broad an area with the same restoration philosophy is resulting in poor tautog management.
For starters, tautog are considered overfished. Regulations to date are considered to have been ineffective in controlling fishing mortality..
Because tautog are primarily a recreational fishery, much of management's "overfishing" assertion is based on MRFSS catch estimates.
We say Murfs--they say Murfis; the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey--MRFSS--was ordered replaced with a new program, MRIP, which means Murfs Rest In Peace or Marine Recreational Information Program depending on your mindset.
A family member who hasn't shown at Thanksgiving in many decades, Uncle Murfs has serious issues with the bottle and perhaps even a glass pipe.
Everyone knows his liver's cooked, his mind's addled: that he's dying. MRIP will soon be in his place.
Still, no one's locked him out. No matter how plastered, Uncle Murfs has keys to all our region's recreational fishery management plans..
I'm looking at a chart where estimated tautog catch exceeded management's targets in recent years--the very portrait, frameable, of an "overfished" species. It shows 2007 & 2010 to be far above threshold; That HERE is where our overfishing came from, That in those years greed got the better of us..
Since I've known Uncle Murfs, he's rarely had opportunity for mayhem as now.
Recently I spent hours & hours calculating MRFSS percentage increases/decreases, the finer scale State to State estimates both in two month increments and annually, Plus separate modes, the 'Shore' - 'For-Hire' & 'Private Boat' estimates. I decided instead of percentages I'd let the numbers speak for themselves; Let readers decide if there was scientific integrity or wild guess in play.
Amidst many failings, 2007 & 2010 were terrible years for poor old Uncle Murfs. It was then, in Sept/Oct 2007, when Maryland's private boats were having their best-ever tautog landings while, in the same exact locations, shore fishers must have been casting over boater's heads to have unbelievable flounder fishing; Where MD's coastal shore fishers are thought to have caught 36,017 flounder in early fall '07 & All the rest of the Mid-Atlantic's pier/jetty/shore/beach fishers caught 9,122 more..
MRFSS claims many fishers and many species had their greatest catches ever in either 2007 or 2010 -- Tightening regulations and shrinking fun-ticket$ have little influence in Uncle Murfs' mind.
Here's a comparison of annual private boat tautog catches among several states:  
In Rhode Island tog catch rose from 52,000 to 138,000 between 2006 & 2007 -- And from 61,000 to 126,000 between 2009 & 2010.  
New Jersey private boat anglers went from 146,000 to 239,000 in '06 & '07, then from 85,000 to 198,000 in 2009 & 2010.
Maryland's coastal boats (Ocean City only - there are no Chesapeake tog landings to speak of -- not yet. But wait until Maryland gets serious about re-reefing the Chesapeake) ..MD's coastal private boats went from 0 (zero) tog in 2006 to 64,000 in 2007; They climbed from 22,000 in '09 to 51,000 in 2010.
Virginia's catch is actually said to decline from 139,000 in '06 to 64,000 in 2007 but follows the up-trend later with 52,000 in 2009 followed by 137,000 in 2010.

According to Murfs, Virginia has never had a tog caught from shore.
Also according to this soon-replaced estimating program, NJ's shore anglers increased their March/April catch from a two-decade high of 7,000 jetty-caught tog in 2009 to an incredible Bad-Science high of 72,000 shore caught early-spring tog in 2010.
Overfishing of tautog soundly proven as the Malleus Maleficarum verified witchery; The 'best scientific information available' in the 1500s would have hung us by our thumbs until we confessed: Fishers are now 'proven by estimate' to have overfished yet another species and will be punished in shorter season and longer size-limit.

Then there's the difference in how tautog behave in cooler waters; how tautog behavior in northern & southern parts of their range influence management's opinion of regulation's effectiveness.
MA & RI staff seem to view tog as a salmon, as fish moving inshore en-masse to spawn: Fishers seize the jubilee. 
This is not unlike sea bass below Cape Hatteras, where cbass are a non-migratory fish to our south, yet positively migrate inshore/offshore & do so over longer distances in colder water as you go north.  
I wonder if this inshore migration to very shallow/warmer water evidenced up north, a behavior managers fear creates "extreme catchability," also has a counterpart population, a population of tog that do not migrate inshore to spawn..
Still, regulations on a migratory stock might well be different than on our non-migratory fish. I have seen very little movement in about 6,000 tautog tags: Homebodies here, Migrants up there.
I have, however, noticed a trend where tautog will move from a well established, well grown-in reef, to a newer reef that's reaching about it's 4th year -- that the food web is well enough established on perhaps even 3 year old artificial reef to support immigration.
Not long distances, I'm seeing this type of movement within a given reef complex: How do they know?
Either way, the same species lives differently in both regions: We have one management plan.
At a recent meeting a well-respected state biologist claimed, (from voice transcript) "We do an age-sampling trip every year with rod and reel in the fall, one day, 3-1/2 hours, and we catch 60 fish with two rods. When you're on them, you're on them and you can really clean them out pretty fast.
That kind of site fidelity and hyper-stability behavior kind of allows the fisheries to recoup any – you know, you close all the months you want in the
summer when they're spread out, it still doesn't add up to much."  
Well Now: Tog fishers go north! Somewhere in Massachusetts there's a very magical tautog spot..
In the same report it says:
"The species' site fidelity (aggregation around structure and return to the same spawning areas) make them vulnerable to fishing pressure."
Strange that natural hardbottoms, wrecks, artificial reefs, pilings, jetties; all are found in discussions of tautog but no consideration of habitat's import to growing the population is given.
I can not speak to the validity of management in northern waters along the granite coast with numerous MPAs/GPAs (marine protected areas/gear protected areas closed to trawling where growth can thrive) ..nor claim to have an understanding of fishing's effect on a migratory tog population.
Here, along coastal Maryland, owing almost solely to habitat increase and based on the assertions of the biologists above and my own tag results; Because of habitat fidelity--and because every piece of artificial reef over 4 years of age has tautog, our spawning stock biomass (population of fish mature enough to spawn) must be--Has to be, UP: There's a LOT more places for them to hide than in the late 80s during habitat's nadir.
They spawn out there.
..and our reef building program is tiny compared to Delaware & New Jersey's.
Managers are working with nearly fixed data points; Fuzzy, poor data at that. 
Some fishers clearly grasp more habitat = more fish: We build it as fast as we can fund it.
Make no mistake: Left unregulated, a pristine habitat will have few fish. There has to be regulation.
Its also true, however, that perfect regulation can only rebuild a fish population so far; that without habitat expansion, a stasis, a habitat holding capacity, must be reached.   
Uncle Murfs' delusions in 07 & 10 are what create management's recent notions of overfishing.
Meanwhile; Federal, State & privately funded reef building, plus Army Corps jetties and all the other man-made habitat have ensured that more tautog are finding more places to colonize.
We're working hard to make sure there's more tog to catch in the future. Management, however, is shocked that we're still catching fish..  
I strongly disagree with management's assertions of overfishing. I think the fish are incredibly better off than in the mid-80s.
That doesn't mean we can't manage tautog better. I think we --here, in coastal MD-- should take the marine size limit up to 16 inches to maximize our local population's spawning potential.
I also believe that doing so inshore, in our coastal bays, will be an egregious violation of fisher's trust in management. Management can tell us MRFSS is their best available science, but an unmistakable foul odor rises.    
My boat's biggest was 19 pounds this year -- Ocean.
One local contest has the top two inshore bay tautog at a hair over 16 inches. Yes, there have been bigger ones but among that bunch of guys they didn't catch them.
The inshore bay fishery, a fishery conducted entirely on man-made habitat, should either remain @ 14 inches or go up a 1/2 inch at a time over 4 years if it absolutely must..
Going to 16 inches will effectively close the inshore fishery for several years.
We're going to do that because of a failed statistical model..
I think tautog would be a great place to attempt folding habitat's importance into management -- an important aspect of ecosystem based management begun.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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