Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fish Report 10/19/12

Fish Report 10/19/12
Was Good
Lost Reef
Sea Bass To Close
Massachusetts private boat anglers have pulled off yet another miraculous catch. Their Grady Whites & Boston Whalers have, yet again, outfished the entire Atlantic Coast's For-Hire Party/Charter fleet in May & June 2012
There may only be 10 or 15 letter writers -- each & every one counts!
Hi All,
I have no trips to announce. Not yet at least.
Apparently we're finished with sea bass season due to MRIP catch estimates.
Massachusetts is estimated to have had a sky high increase in bsb catch. That will shut down the entire coast north of Cape Hatteras.
For now: Painting & Glassing -- Maintenance.
Lots of that.
Perhaps some writing & lobbying.
Fishing was good to excellent toward the end, so long as you didn't mind the distraction of summer flounder while you were sea bassing. There were some big distractions.
One day I was kicking around with a light crowd, told 'em the sea bass were 40 feet thick--they were. Clients dropped down and up came two flounder with no sea bass.
Another day we had very fine cbass fishing with only two fluke on the whole boat.
Still another day I watched two trawlers working. One's captained by a fellow I know. On his last trip longlining for swords & tuna he realized he was closer to Africa than North America -- Enough. Bought a local day trawler, has a MD IFQ (individual fishery quota) for flounder. He was towing up on a hill that day: In Sand. I know in years past he's caught his whole year's quota in just a few days: In Sand.
A local, he knows the guys who trap our live-bottom reefs..
Another trawler, an out of state trawler, was working one of my tog holes. We catch sea bass & flounder there too of course. Even pulled up a sea whip there recently growing on sandstone & gave it to a Maryland geologist.
The first day I saw the out of state trawler he gut hung, stuck on some rocks. I saw him working there again 2 days later, back & forth as a farmer plows his field.
One of the areas I have so often asked NOAA to look at, this reef was growing--increasing in size; sea whip was doing wonderfully.
So were that reef's fish.
Now however, unless my radar was wrong, I doubt there will be any coral there when we finally get to inspect the substrate with video.
Or many fish.
That our reefs are real & vital habitat--Essential Fish Habitat--continues to escape management's attention: Reefs in the Mid-Atlantic do not exist on a computer screen and therefore do not exist to science & management -- yet.
Boy do they exist for fish & fishers.
At least this one used to.
Director of MD Fisheries, Tom O'Connell attended our MD Artificial Reef Committee meeting Thursday evening. Refreshing to see keen interest from the boss.
The committee voted to cut a check for a truckload of Oyster Castles -- Allied Concrete's reef blocks. (now 3,108 blocks by the rail since April) A wonderful turn of events.
Another part of the discussion revealed some oyster folks were disappointed in a Chesapeake reef deployment. A collaborative effort, Simpkins Dam was demolished to allow fish passage/spawning; The dam's rubble used for oyster restoration. When they seeded the rocky reef with spat on shell the seedlings slipped between large rubble and wouldn't stay on top.
Well, I suppose spat should be set on material that matches the reef..
In fact, I think spat on shell is only perfect for one application -- put & take dredging.
Maryland began the Oyster Repletion Program in 1927.
That's nearly a century ago.. At the meeting I asked if there was a shell reef that could be pointed out as a success: "No."
It was noted that my previous estimate of two boat-loads of privately funded Maryland reef balls for 2012 was wrong - that 7 boat loads had been deployed.
Now; I can throw a couple reef blocks into the Atlantic & know we're growing reef; Know that no matter our lack of industrial scale, coral & fish will result of our efforts. I truly appreciate the efforts of my Chesapeake counterparts against deeply entrenched & well-funded 'shell as reef restoration' theorists.
Still, it remains that as railroads were being laid across the East Coast oyster catch was increasing: In 1880 thirty to forty railcars a day were leaving Baltimore loaded with oysters.
There were other ports.
1880 was not the peak of harvest.
In all of 2012 we re-reefed a fraction of one day's catch in the 1880 season..
Looking forward and also approved at the meeting, we're going to take several bargeloads of boulder down-bay near the VA line and see if raised vertical surfaces will work better than shell as a reef substrate.
Ocean's turning green clear-out to the canyons.
We have to try something different; have to hurry.
Were it up to me I'd build hollow reefs overlaid with boulder -- stack concrete pipe and cover; Put the whole reef to work as a biofilter instead of only the veneer.
That government can be a grinding machine unwelcoming of change is evident everywhere. In the Bay we have adherence to oyster policy designed almost a century ago for a put & take fishery based on oyster tax collections; The original plan remains in the new task of ecosystem restoration.
Off the coast we have a zooxanthellae based reef ecology that's not in the science yet. Reefs wanting of any protection, conservation or enhancement--any recognition--under the Magnuson EFH provisions; Reefs that expand and contract at the whim of stern towed gear operators.
The realness of where we fish and what we actually catch evades eyes transfixed by computer screens: There is no reef in the Mid-Atlantic, Oysters only grow on shell -- screen says so.
Screen also says recreational catch is nigh impossible to predict; That no one could ever accurately guess the pogo-stick of catch without MuRFSS & MRIP's help.
Management: "Thank Goodness For Catch Estimates."
The Magnuson rewrite under President Bush 43 had stern language to address our inaccurate recreational catch estimating program called the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey or MuRFSS. Like oyster repletion, it too had been designed in a different era & for a much broader purpose than accurately estimating fishing effort in fine scale. Owing to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, the 2006 Magnuson rewrite called for revamping of MuRFSS by 2009 so recreational catch estimates could be used to accurately estimate catch in two-month periods called 'waves' and also by state landed, as well as type of fishing or 'mode' -- shore, private/rental boat, party/charter.
Finally begun several years late, I believe the new estimating program, MRIP - Marine Recreational Information Program (or Murfs Rest In Peace) has failed in many respects -- And therefore failed completely to upgrade recreational catch estimates.
To ensure fishers were on the up & up, Annual Catch Limits & Accountability Measures were also written into the law to take place well after the catch-estimating repairs were made.
They go into effect now.
Catch Estimate Repairs Be Damned.
Where MuRFSS asserted an increase in Massachusetts private boat (no party/charter) sea bass catch from 26,827 in May/June 2009 to 221,028 -- a two hundred thousand fish increase over the same period -- The "New & Improved" MRIP then estimated those same catches at 34,493 in late spring 2009 and, like a Polaris Missile, climbing to 448,181 in 2010 -- A two hundred thousand fish increase in an estimate that was already off by two hundred thousand..
Readers may recall that estimate had cbass fishers in hot water then..
Sea bass are mostly caught below Cape Cod as bycatch in the region's vitally important scup fishery. Catch rates reported to me are between 10 & 20 scup per sea bass although some anglers do specifically target cbass. Here suddenly the estimates show sea bass more numerous - by far - for private boat fishers: Three Times More Numerous.
I think MRIP is twice as bad as MuRFSS & probably 420,000 fish too high here..
Regular readers will not be surprised that this Massachusetts private boat estimate is twice as high as the entire East Coast's party/charter catch for May/June (wave 3) and only mildly shocked that in 2010 the Massachusetts private boat fleet below Cape Cod was estimated to have caught more than the entire East Coast's for-hire fleet in all of 2008, 2009 & 2010 added together.
Readers will also be well versed in the NJ Shore March/April tautog estimate, how in 2010 it grew from an unfathomable 70+ thousand under MuRFSS to a lobotomy-giving 170,000 under MRIP.
Those shore-bound NJ anglers would have been thrilled to catch a thousand tog that time of year -- headline news for tog fishers.
Asserting they instead caught 173,092 tautog reveals utter contempt for scientific accuracy.
Then too we have For-Hire skippers such as myself surrendering data to the Government in mandatory VTRs. (vessel trip reports)
In May/June 2010 I sent in many VTRs showing sea bass catch. So did every other Maryland cbass skipper.
The official MRIP estimate is zero/none/skunk for party/charter sea bass during the two months. Now we're "Skunked" again in July/Aug 2012 as well.
We TOLD them we caught fish, almost exactly how many; Put a stamp on it and sent it to NMFS -- Their official estimate: ZERO Sea Bass.
I can go back in regulatory timeline and see specific exactly which two-month wave estimates have affected sea bass regulations -- never broadly, but in single spikes of data.
For instance, the MRFSS survey in 1997 had NJ's Party/Charter catch at an astronomical amount: 1.8 million sea bass in Sept/Oct -- Overfishing By Statistic Was Begun.
To this day a "Coastwide" management plan despite evidence for the need to regionally manage these reef fish, we paid for that 1997 estimate with an increased size limit; up from 9 to 10 inches in 1998 and a two week closure in August.
Impeded only by a 1 inch size limit increase, NJ's Party/Charter fleet catch was estimated to have decreased from 1.8 million in 1997 to 0.0068 million in 1998.
Uh Hu.. Looked like Bad Statistics to me, even back then. When I complained about the data & especially the closure (but not the size increase, that was OK by me) I was told --published in the federal register-- to take my clients striped bass fishing..
And now, with no repair having been made to our catch estimating system, in 2012 we are again accused of overfishing by statistic.
Encumbered by the coast's tightest regulations -- 10 sea bass @ 14 inches with fewer weeks to fish -- Massachusetts private boat anglers have pulled off yet another miraculous catch. Their Grady Whites & Boston Whalers have, yet again, outfished the entire Atlantic Coast's For-Hire Party/Charter fleet in May & June 2012 -- at least according to statistic.
Connecticut too is in on the act. Their wave 4 (July/Aug) sea bass catch increased from 3,000 in 2011 to 86,582 in 2012. Because their sea bass are apparently enormous with an average weight of 2.26 pounds each, they are estimated to have caught almost 200,000 pounds of cbass.
Add to that Massachusetts' 556,000 pounds in wave 3 and, accused of being a million pounds over-quota, in these 2 data sets we see most of our "Overfishing.."
Sadly, things did not go so well for Massachusetts anglers in July/August of 2012. Even with the creel limit doubled they could not quench their insatiable demand for fresh sea bass having only caught 7,594 sea bass in high summer. Things went better for them in 2010; they caught 121,484 in July/August back then.
Similarly, Connecticut anglers allowed their sea bass to go unmolested in late spring; Their wave 3 estimate is zero.
So: Almost 750,000 pounds of sea bass in two data sets for MA & CT with adjoining sets at 30,000 pounds total..
New York's catch too has shot from under a hundred thousand in 2011 to over 330,000 in May/June -- and only 2,000 of those fish came from party boats...
Miraculous Catches All: Owing to Accountability Measures from the 2006 Magnuson re-write coming into play, If nothing is done, sea bass will be closed for the rest of 2012 and severely restricted in 2013.
We have to pay back what, statistically, was not ours to take.
The Rt. Honorable MRIP serving as Judge & Jury -- GUILTY!
We Stole Those Fish
..and now must pay them back.
MuRFSS/MRIP are as Crevecoeur's birds feasting on the live flesh of our fisheries, An avian camouflage blinding management to even the most basic ecology; We are as a slave he found chained and caged in the woods. Fed only fetid water with his eyes having been devoured by birds though still he spoke: Catch data shall as slowly & painfully bring our economic collapse.
We are denied rights of the accused, rights going far beyond the 6th Amendment to the year 1215 when King James was given the Magna Carta: For 15 years management has had no part of changing/correcting a recreational catch estimate. Whatever center-point statistical estimate rests upon computer screen is used as if High Science found in astronomy & chemistry -- Catch Estimates Are Not Open To Discussion.
In no philosophy of testable science is there inclusion of data no one believes. Fisheries is the only science that allows--encourages, such data. No One Believes NJ Jetty Fisherman Caught More Tog In March & April 2010 Than The Whole Coast's Commercial & For-Hire Fleets..
MuRFSS/MRIP are not our "Best Available Science."
They're not science at all.
Our best science, real fisheries science, sits unused on bookshelfs in Universities where no constraint of creating timely regulation stifles scientific inquiry.
We must encourage fishery managers to now strike a new course:
To now pursue Ecology; Reef Habitat Is Vital To Reef Fish Restoration:
To now pursue Philopatry: Spawning Site Fidelity Is As Important In Every Fish Species As It Is In Salmons:
To now also pursue biology as a means of fishery restoration: Forcing Spawning Behavior Is Crucial To Increasing Populations.
Management COULD force ALL sea bass into the spawning stock as once they were. But, with a single-focus on catch estimate data, have instead allowed the black sea bass spawning stock to contract to just 3 year olds. Where once even many age zero fish were spawning, now only fish legal for recreational catch are; Where once the entire marine population of sea bass was actively spawning, now only a fraction are.
Some in management also argue habitat fidelity, claim it is unestablished. With thousands of tag returns - including hundreds of my own - there are no fliers. That very nearly all sea bass will return to the same reef to spawn can be asserted just as surely as predictions of tide or solar eclipse -- its in the science.
Had this recent trawl event occurred on reef in Caribbean waters it would have made front page of USA Today; A reef's loss demanding of reparations by environmental & fishing communities alike.
If management understood habitat production & factored it into management, Massachusetts' rising sea bass population would be added into stock assessments as new production, not subtracted as catch in coastwide quota..
For now we have none of that -- not one bit.
From a knowledge of habitat we could base a true picture of where our restoration lies based on present-day holding capacity. With knowledge of spawning-biology, philopatry (homing/natal fidelity) & engineered/protected habitat expansion we can take the Mid-Atlantic's reef fish populations higher than any historical number.
Able & Kaiser (1994) "..habitat degradation has as important an effect on fisheries as overfishing."
Bell 2005 "The basic steps needed to repair severely damaged fisheries are now well recognized; the quality and area of supporting habitats must be improved and fishing effort must be reduced."
Roberts 2007: "Disregarding the ecosystems in which target fish live is perhaps the most egregious failure of fisheries management."
Our ability to destroy habitat always precedes our learning how to restore it. Fishery "restoration" implies an understanding of what's been lost. We're nowhere near that level of competency; have yet to begin even the most basic habitat research.
With increases in habitat & management strategy focused on maximizing spawning potential, many reef species can be made more prolific than ever.
I believe we are in marine fishery management's infancy, a time when fishery restoration was thought to simply be a matter of catch restriction. Regulation will always be central, but so too is learning how to make more fish..
That day may come, but we're about to lose a great part of our sea bass season to bad data.
I believe we can prevent that if people will write.
Tell NOAA Chief Dr. Jane Lubchenco you don't believe Massachusetts' private boats caught more sea bass than the entire Atlantic Coast's Party/Charter Fleet, Tell Dr. Rebecca Blank, Acting US Secretary of Commerce too.
Tell your state's fishery representatives, tell NMFS Regional Administrator John Bullard - Its his call.
Tell Assistant Secretary Eric Schwaab & NMFS Head Sam Ruach but Most of all, Write to Your State Representative & Senators, Write to Joe Biden.
This impending closure is based on bad data - our nation's worst science. Regulation chokes remaining fisheries while ongoing & historic habitat impacts lessen chances for restoration.
Needs Fixing.
Addresses Below.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
Write a short note - sample below; You should include your email address in modern snail-mail correspondence.
There may only be 10 or 15 letter writers -- each & every one counts!
Vice President Joe Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20501
Secretary Blank
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20230
Secretary Lubchenco
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW - Room 5128
Washington, DC 20230
Assistant Secretary NOAA Eric Schwaab
NOAA Fisheries Service
1315 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Director NMFS Sam Rauch
NOAA Fisheries Service
1315 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
John Bullard
NMFS NE Regional Administrator
55 Great Republic Drive
Gloucester, MA. 01930
Greetings Dr. Lubchenco,
Once again bad catch estimates endanger a recreational fishery.
Because of just a few data spikes, NMFS is threatening closure of the EEZ to recreational sea bass catch.
One of these estimates has Connecticut fishers experiencing an 80 fold increase in sea bass catch; Another has Massachusetts private boat anglers landing more sea bass than the entire Atlantic coast For-Hire fleet.
This specific closure begs your immediate attention as does the lack of statistical stops in any recreational catch estimate.
You should strongly consider redirecting fisheries toward biology, philopatry & ecology: Leave the estimates as they were designed--a general guide.
Prevent the closure.
Repair our nation's fishery restoration model.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Berlin, MD

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