Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fish Report 1/17/12

Fish Report 1/17/12
Tog Trips - Maybe! - Weather's hard to call.
January 19th - Long Tog - 5 AM to 4 PM - $150.00 - 14 sells out.
Friday - January 20th - 7am to 3pm - $100.00 - Inshore in NW winds - 8 people sells out. 
Monday & Tuesday - January 23rd & 24th - 7 to 3 - $100.00 - Regular Tog - 12 Sells-Out.
Green Crabs Provided - Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - Leave a good phone number in case of cancellation & be a little early -- We Like To Leave Early..
Hi All,
Managed a day Friday in westerlies pushing 25. As winds eased off so did we.
Wasn't spectacular but we had a few limits; sent everyone home with dinner.
Those westerly gales also made for some of the lowest tides I've ever seen. Friday afternoon into Saturday there were sandbars fully exposed I hadn't guessed were so big. Made for a goat rodeo - had to keep the Morning Star at Sunset Marina - would have needed a hovercraft to get up our channel..
Despite Sunday's 5 to 10 forecast first being raised to 10 to 15, then 15 to 20, we got off to a good start in light winds.  
The trouble came when my AirMar wind gauge got stuck at 25.. North at 25 is not my kind of ocean.
Then 28.
While moving inshore to take advantage of the lee---the wind break from OC's high-rises, we hit a snow-squall with wind gusts reaching 40.
Some of my guys had come a terrible long way. It hurt to take 'em home. Half off & safely home with a few tog (aka blackfish) for dinner was the best I could do.  
Come Monday we were back in our regular slip. Had an OK day in much better weather. Patrick, who everyone thought had a lock on the pool last year when he lost to Pat's 18+ pounder, managed to take the money this time..
Raised from the cradle to catch blackfish, It's good to see my friends from up north enjoy our conservation efforts in Maryland 
..and while that conservation almost always results in putting fish back; at its heart is keeping dinner.
Among the best fish I've ever had; Alex gave me a slab of smoked tog - sakes that's good!
At an undisclosed location somewhere in Buck's County, PA there's a guy smoking the best fish I've ever tasted. If the world of fine dining ever finds him, we'll be done.
Video of Charlie's 23 pound pending state record tog is up on Coastal Fisherman. http://www.coastal-fisherman.com/ That's three over 20 pounds for my boat.. not sure we'll ever see another; positive we'll be trying.
In the early 80s I learned recreational fishing can severely deplete local fish populations when we pounded on tog.
Coolers full..
Working deck then, I even made a gaff with a hook on each side so I could gaff doubles.
After two and a half years of steady & unregulated fishing pressure our tog were all but gone; we were looking for something else to catch.  
Commercial guys had nothing to do with it.
As with so many of life's lessons, I learned the ocean was not limitless the hard way.
No boundless supply of tog was coming in from offshore to refill our fishing spots. There was no endless queue of blackfish waiting patiently to get on the wrecks & reefs we were fishing down to bare reef.
Writ plain in 30 years of hindsight; Back then we were still fishing Huxley's "inexhaustible seas.."
Been throwing tog back ever since. Get bigger & more numerous that way. Its possible Charlie's 23 pounder was a hunting for a place to call home back then--a yearling.
Had a 3 fish/16 inch size limit on tog when there were no legally binding size limits of any-kind on our reef fish..
There's a lot more tog habitat nowadays, awful lot more: Where cbass & summer flounder will flourish in sea-whip meadows, Tog require much more robust habitats -- places with holes or ledges. What we might have once called oyster wrasse; Tog that used to live on the Mid-Atlantic's now-missing estuarine oyster reefs, plus those under & in natural-rock coral reefs at sea, have taken to the caves and caverns of shipwrecks and artificial reefs in a big way. .
Artificial reefs are colonized by tog after just a few years, as soon as new reef becomes grown-in enough for them to feed.
How many tog depends on that reef's complexity, its caverns and caves, and also what regulations its fishers abide--If Any.
Where sea bass feed much of the year on plankton, hovering far off the bottom nabbing anything small drifting by in the current; Tog are reef dependant for their groceries. They feed on mussels foremost; crabs, then the tubularian hydroid, Tubularia crocea (what many of us might know as tog grass) and other grass-like growths especially if -or because- they have tiny mussels along their stems: Tautog's entire diet is sourced from hardbottom reef ecologies.
Each and every reef we build can be made to propel the tog population upward - just need the right amount of catch restriction..
Important: When field interviewers collect information on an individual's catch, that data is pristine. It's the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey (what we call MuRFSS) that creates fantasies of catch from that perfect data. What MRIP (MuRFSS Rest In Peace or marine recreational information program) does is grind that pristine data up differently. It should --better-- compare estimated catches against licenses or registrations. Our new recreational fisher head-count providing some platform for truth, I believe the very best test is in the For-Hire Vessel Trip Reports -- A day-by-day, boat-by-boat accounting of catch.
For instance, when comparing party/charter for-hire catch against a number of anglers on private boats, if the "Catch Per Unit Of Effort" or CPUE of the private boats is 2X higher, that should trip a red flag for the private boat estimate's closer examination..
That is precisely what we have no means of doing now and is why the Massachusetts April 2010 recreational cod estimate threatens every fisher north of Cape Cod, Is why "Emergency Closures" happen while fishers wonder, "What are they thinking?!"   
MRIP was supposed to come out Friday the 13. These new recreational catch estimates have scientists at the NE Fisheries Science Center "Scared to death" according to Jim Weinberg, head of the NEFSC.
That's a bad place in life, being scared of better information coming out. It's a really bad place for scientists to be.
In the purely academic construct, scientists should always welcome tighter & tighter data..
Its on the regulatory side the fear lays.
MRIP has to revel some really big mistakes.. All those years when no one would budge, when catch estimates were infallible and unchangeable, when fishers breathed a sigh of relief in underestimate and cried mercy in overestimate; All That Accumulated Bad Data Must Now Be Expelled From Our System.
Before Homo academicus had any idea there was a molecule called oxygen, scientists experimenting with "phlogiston" in the late 1600s were sure they had "proved" all forms of combustion created a weightless, clear substance called phlogiston--even exhalation: When a mouse was put under a glass jar, it would die: It wasn't oxygen depletion but 'phlogiston increase' that proved their theory.
Recreational fisheries are now MRFSS' mouse.
I believe that's where we stand in fisheries restoration; a place where time and again catch-restriction is given phlogiston's credit for increased populations while management fails to see how very limited those successes are. Where catch restriction on trawling allowed hard-bottom reefs to regrow and now most of that growth is lost; Where catch restriction had the happy accident of creating a super abundance of spawning sea bass and now spawning populations are far smaller; Where recreational catch data was used broadly in so many new regulations it had to result in some successes simply because we had no restrictions previously..
The easy stuff is done.
Now more regulation often results in more bankruptcies, in less tax revenue -- and only rarely in more fish.  
I think THAT is why a top scientist told me, "We're scared to death."
Pushed back, I hear MRIP's new data sets are supposed to be released the week of the 23rd.
Then we get to see what has scientists so concerned..
If they really release it this time.
Here are just a few of the data sets I'm curious to see in the new MRIP program.
New Jersey's shore fishermen did not catch 72,000 tog in April, 2010 - they almost certainly caught under 1,000.
Massachusetts private boat fishers did not kill 1,500,000 cod in April, 2010 -- they almost certainly killed under 10,000.
Maryland shore fishers did not catch 36,000 flounder in Sept/Oct, 2007 - they almost certainly caught less than 500.
Maryland private boat fishers did not keep 18,572 tog in Mar/Apr 2010 - I doubt very seriously they even kept 100..
Maryland for-hire fishers certainly did catch more than zero sea bass in May/June 2010 -- As by law, we even told the goverment exactly how many.. how sad for an official estimate.
Not just scientifically dubious, these MRFSS assertions of recreational catch are simply impossible: These and many, many others could not possibly have occurred.
But management continues to use these data sets as though their verity was unquestionable. Assertions of overfishing result in larger size limits, shorter seasons & smaller bag limits while obfuscating the truth of habitat/ecology's importance; of fishery science's ability to manage populations for maximum spawning potential; And, in MRFSS incredible vagaries, state by state recreational fishing regulations have been allowed to become a political chess match instead of regulation borne of biological truth..
Regulations too tight waste economic potential; too loose squander biological gain.
We need MRIP to offer truthful catch estimates.
We need scientifically sound data to advance fishery restoration.  
Lets have the truth of catch for all to see -- Will MRIP even offer truth? -- The data's been released internally at NOAA/NMFS for at least a month..
Time to make it public.

Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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