Monday, December 05, 2011

Fish Report 12/5/11

Fish Report 12/5/11
Sea Bass, Blues, A Few Cod
Capt. Bob's Service
Focus Group
Wednesday -- 12/7/11 -- Regular Sea Bass Trip -- 7 to 3 -- $100.00 -- Switching Wind Looks OK.
And another long cbass trip Monday -- 12/12/11 -- 5:30 to 4 --  $125.00 -- Forecasted Calm...
Hi All,
Had very fine fishing Sunday. Couple folks close to a limit of sea bass, just enough big blues to satiate those who wanted them; a couple decent cod to tease us into winter-thinking.
Though calm and warm, the bite was tapered slightly from recent trips; a sign water temps continue to drop.
Looked like the jig was marginally better -- 6 or 8 oz hammered jigs in gold or silver with a smallish Tony or Clarke spoon above -- bait worked very well too.
I want to try again this Wednesday -- 12/7/11 -- Regular Sea Bass Trip -- 7 to 3 -- $100.00
And another long cbass trip next Monday -- 12/12/11 -- 5:30 to 4 --  $125.00 -- Forecasted Calm...
My old friend Capt. Bob Gowar passed away Saturday. It was my very great fortune to have had 30 years of his company on the dock, on the radio -- fishing with him; We worked together building the OC Princess.. Bob ran the Bay Bee in later years, had spent many decades billfishing--especially with the Nichol's family; He began fishing on the Doris Mae out of Barnegat 60-some years ago.  
Believe me, when it came to fishing he'd been there and done that; scraped barnacles from between his toes; had perfected the fisherman's vernacular..
Leaving with a bag of cbass last week, he said "If I took what they know and stuffed it in a gnat's ear, it would rattle around like a BB in a boxcar!"
"You got a better chance of seeing Christ on a unicycle..."
Ahhh, We'll miss Bobby around the docks.
He loved to hunt too. Died in his stand; Friends he left behind dressed his last deer.
There will be a service at the Marlin Club, Friday, December 9th, at 11:00 AM 
Capt. Bob was one of the skippers I hoped would be interviewed in depth to help create better fishery restoration plans; A look at what-was to better create a future.
Toward that end, I was just in Baltimore at the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council's focus-group meeting on re-engaging recreational fishers.
Seems they don't hear from us like they used to. I think they want to fix it by "outreach."
Though at times I may have taken it too close to the edge by saying the fishing public trusts fishery management less than used car sales; That their constant refrain, "We use the data because we have to. We can't change it." is a precise example of the Nuremburg defense: I sincerely hope management knows this -- All the modern & Facebook-style outreach in the world will only be temporary; Nothing is more central to effective communication than trust.
Where MRFSS catch estimates still haven't been replaced with a better system as was called for in federal law by 2009, Where we still have profoundly wrong catch-estimates wrecking the human side of fisheries; Where emergency closures have far more to do with the house's rigged slot machines than what's actually happening at sea; Where Science and Statistical Committees have superseded manager's ability to manage--have taken their right to override Bad Science; Where every fisheries meeting now offers three cups of hemlock -- Choose Your Size Increase & Closure Please: Don't Waste Our Time Complaining About Data.
(Speaking of which -- I found an illustrative data set where in September/October 1997 New Jersey For-Hire boats are MRFSS estimated to have caught 1,823,000 Sea Bass - A year later during the same period they caught less than 7,000 -- "Bad Data? We Can't Change It. We Have To Use It.")
I expect there were more recreational fishers at Jim Donafrio's RFA protest rally in DC a couple years back than are attending council meetings..
The foundation of communication is trust. The "disengaged recreational community" management finds itself with is from recreational catch data: We don't trust it..
Here's another sample.
Species: TAUTOG - NJ - Shore Fishing Only - March & April Only - All Years From 2004 to 2011 (omitted years are zero) Ignore PSE, No One Can Use It
2005 0 0
2009 6,835 100
2010 71,756 70.2
We Don't Just Think: We Know They're Lying.
But there we were, At a meeting sounding off about the good and bad. Not a regular Council meeting -- A Focus Group.  
I have never seen a more vigorous & energetic effort to seek new & refined approaches than what Rick Robbins -current MAFMC chairman- and the new XO, Chris Moore, are doing. I am 100% certain that their intention is to do this better: That if they find a better course they will strike it. I can only hope they're able to Find Truthful Catch Data & Find Habitat -- that each is funded & utilized.
In my research before & during the meeting I was looking at larger data sets, fields for all of the Mid-Atlantic. Prior to 1997 we averaged roughly 4 million sea bass a year with no size limit and no creel limit. Despite my own boat's management beginning in 92, Back then very few Mid-Atlantic cbass EVER saw their 3rd birthday, Many were taken before they'd even had a birthday -- but we still caught 4 million a year in the lowest point of fishing's history -- before cbass management had even begun. 
Since 2004 I believe we have factually averaged under a million fish landed per year in the Mid-Atlantic States, all of which were at least 3 or 4 years old.
If habitat, winter trawl & spawning had remained constant, or--far better--were actively managed for productivity, we'd conservatively be 2.5 million fish to the good every year just from recreational measures.
The other 50% of cbass quota goes commercial and their catch too is measurably declined -- Now we're 5 million cbass to the good annually.
Sea bass live about 12 years.. Hmm..
That would be 35 million cbass having escaped harvest just since 2004. 
Furthermore, fish escaping harvest via management should offer an incredible increase in spawning capacity.. Why, Its a wonder waves can even make it ashore for all the fish. 
We have nicer fish, but far less of them than straightforward math would have.
In 2003 --the second year of 12 inch management-- we had lots & lots & lots of nicer fish ..but, and this was a new development, very few smalls.
Now we're at 12 1/2 inches -- fight hard to keep a lid on that.
Counter-intuitive though it may seem, management has turned spawning activity down to simmer with larger & larger size limits--are using natural biology to reduce the stock size. They remain unaware their actions are steadily eroding the recreational cbass fishery.
Some historians believe Dr. Martin Luther King's last speech, where he said, "I have been to the mountaintop....And I've seen the promised land" was a reference to his time in Connecticut where racial values were already what he hoped to achieve in the south.
I'm no Dr. King, but I did witness sea bass increase fantastically from the mid-80s to 2003  ..then it Stopped, Went suddenly backward in a strong pulse of winter trawl effort; Restabilized at a lower place.
No Corals, No Essential Fish Habitat provisions from Magnuson; We aren't even checking to see if Magnuson's "Full Potential of Fishery Resources" is being achieved. No Biology; Just MRFSS Catch Estimates and their rote values plugged in to 'ComputerRegs.Com' and out come 3 new choices so rec-fishers can "participate" -- may chose their own poison..
Bad data in, collapsing recreational industries out.  
Because age at maturity, when fish join the spawning stock, changes as a population matures; management must begin lowering the size limit on sea bass to rekindle a greater spawning stock..
Half an inch per year until we're at 11 inches would create incredibly many more fish than closures.. 
Bare rock/no rock where there was Caribbean-looking reef is also part of the problem - a far larger part than we know; I saw patches of reef grow back, tried to document it, made video, Jumped up & down shouting, "Hey, You guys in charge of Essential Fish Habitat, Here's some."
Much of it is now lost again; a couple baskets of flounder traded for a decade's worth of reef growth and production.. 
Our Ability to Destroy Habitat Always Precedes Learning Its Value & How to Restore It.
Tighter focus on our most industrial extractions in winter--exploring what regional habitat fidelity offers management, will benefit fish populations too.
Having gotten this far in one of my fish reports, You ought to go to and take the survey -- In 15 minutes you can help steer the future.
Where many say fishing will never be as good as it once was, I say we can make it better than ever.
I'm positive of that, Already saw some of it. I have indeed seen management's promised land.
Now to get them to see it.
Doesn't matter if you're from California or Canada, Recreational or Commercial, Environmentalist or Eradicationist: If you take the Visioning survey please mention our corals make great fish habitat; That fish spawning young makes them much better at it after a year or two--while fish starting later get caught before they get it right; Tell 'em what you think about giant spikes in landings when most boats are sitting in their slips..
Tell 'em once the cloudcover of poor data has past, clear paths of moving beyond restoration will emerge; That fishing can be made better than ever.
That when management engages the recreational community from a foundation of trust, we'll be headed in the right direction. 
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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