Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fish Report 12/15/12

Fish Report 12/15/12
Council Meeting
An MRIP Dandy
Reef Building! Reef Building!
Reservation Service Is Ready To Send Christmas Gift Certificates For Future Trips.. 410 520 2076
No Trips To Announce
Not Willingly, But The Fed Did Open Sea Bass In January/February. At least until they decide to close it. Might nick a few cbass as bycatch, but you can bet I'll stick with my knitting -- We're going tog fishing this winter. Season opens January 1st.
Those trips will all be announced by email as weather reports firm.
None are scheduled as of now.
Hi All,
While I'd far prefer telling tales from the deck; Tales of youthful anglers being steeped in fishing's lore, of old-timers catching as they did in their youth, of family bonds and friendships firmed at sea during an awesome bite: Among the many joys of fishing I offer instead emergency closures teaching clients our fish are in trouble.
Problem: Too Many Fish.
Perfectly legal solution, Encouraged even: Close the fishery so there can be even more fish.
Thankfully a different path is chosen.
Went to Baltimore this week to watch management unfold, to see our regulatory system at work. I also went to make comment. Managers are always telling me how important it is to be there in person to make comment, that email & snail mail can be ignored but not a microphone.
Every moment offering possible insight, I booked a room at the Pier 5 Hotel on the Inner Harbor at $289.00 a night - $340 after taxes. Parking was $44.00 more.. Downtown Baby.
Although I don't drink it, at least they gave me a bottle of wine. Got a free bowl of cereal as well. Too bad the TV didn't work. No time to watch anyway.
I attended Wednesday afternoon's sea bass discussion. Of crucial importance, the Council was debating whether Accountability Measures must be brought to bear at once or in some slower fashion. Presumed Guilty because of catch data, the sea bass fishery north of Cape Hatteras could, in a snap, be legally be closed for all of 2013.
The Council votes unanimously to remain open in 2013 while getting to the core of this management issue.
We could still have the shortest season ever and with less than half our current possession limit, but at least now we have a chance.
I have never been more sure management is fully aware & focused on sea bass. I have never seen effort to save what's left of our economic stability from inside management like I do now.
With new constraints of Annual Catch Limits & Accountability Measures from the Magnusson re-write, its never been tougher for them either.
I know Maryland & MAFMC are pulling hard for recreational fishers, am 100% positive. The Chesapeake Bay State, Maryland, is dedicating a lot of hours to this coastal issue. New Jersey reps, surely swamped with Hurricane Sandy worries, were pounding on the sea bass issue. Council Chair Rick Robbins & XO Dr. Moore are deep in the fight.
Believe me, I know what it looks like when Council couldn't give the south end of a north-bound rat what happens to your business & fishery: This ain't that.
Yet guys in the audience would have been hard pressed to know it. Fully engaged, Council working harder on our behalf than I've ever seen; The for-hire party & charter skippers present were allowed very little opportunity to comment - maybe 6 of us in 2 days with stern admonishments to HURRY.
Most present in the audience thought they'd wasted their time & money in coming.
Everyone present was told to leave the meeting hall at precisely 5 PM on Thursday - lease expired, hall rental over, equipment being packed; Boat Payment? No, it was Check-Out Time.
I see & appreciate the course senior management is steering, especially regarding ecosystems: I really appreciate their forward thinking.
I marvel at political maneuverings and am glad they're pulling for us.
I understand this present-day quandary is exactly a result of well meaning federal legislation levered against bad data; I understand Congress thought managers would have far more refined catch-estimates to base regulation from by 2009.
Managers didn't get MRIP's new data until early 2012. Its not at all what was promised and still needs a lot of work.
Accountability Measures & Annual Catch Limits are now upon us. There is no, "What if the recreational catch data ain't ready" clause.
Before the next Council meeting in Alexandria I hope to create an atmosphere where MRIP in its present form is as starved for oxygen as my business is for clients.
I hope NOAA or US Commerce, someone with authority, delays Accountability Measures until recreational catch data is actually firm for a period of several years. I hope that, somehow, accountability is seen as multidirectional.
Allow me a recently-found comparison of data from the old Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MuRFSS) against the "New & Improved" Marine Recreational Informational Program (MRIP).
Allow another example of how badly wrong the new MRIP program has gone, another example where substituting data worse than we had before has so-hampered management's view, their perception of what we catch, that their full regulatory might is brought down in emergency closure on a fishery thought fully rebuilt.
Here from the "old" data system Congress had thrown out:
MuRFSS - Scup - Massachusetts - For-Hire - July/August
2004 19,547 40.3
2005 12,557 46.7
2006 49,624 27.7
Notice although there are wild swings in catch -very wild I think in a for-hire fishery that's doing well- the PSE (margin of error) is pretty firm in these estimates. Anyone could look at this chart and reasonably conclude the Massachusetts for-hire fleet generally catches about 20 thousand scup in July & August. And, Gosh, it sure looks as though they caught 4X more in 2006. (that would be an incredible event in real world fisheries)
You'll recall, "A numeric sequence is said to be statistically random when it contains no recognizable patterns or regularities." (from Wiki - 'statistical randomness')
Below is the "new & improved" MRIP chart for Massachusetts For-Hire Scup in July/August for the same years. I put the MuRFSS estimate in brackets {} right for easier comparison.
Estimate Status Year Wave Common Name Total Harvest (A+B1) PSE
FINAL 2004 JULY/AUGUST SCUP 752,942 {19,547} 48.9
FINAL 2005 JULY/AUGUST SCUP 1,382 {12,557} 67.3
FINAL 2006 JULY/AUGUST SCUP 76,908 {49,624} 46.2
Uh Hu.
That's the kind of make-believe data draining digits from my business's checkbook.
Must be embarrassing.
I think MRIP said something like: 'That's what you get until we get more money for sampling.'
Actually it was this, exactly: "To improve precision we would need to substantially increase the size of our intercept sample, which would mean talking to significantly greater numbers of anglers. That, in turn, would significantly increase the cost of the surveys."
Estimating 733,400 more scup (thirty-plus years of summer catch) in two months does not offer recreational fishers & managers the statistical improvement mandated by Congress. Errors like this have nothing to do with interviewing anglers; its inexcusably flawed, wholly illogical.
Following that ludicrous assertion & equally indefensible; the ensuing summer's estimate is lower than what for-hire fishers likely put on the dock during any good-weather Saturday.
People with boats like mine are living on the edge of bankruptcy while MRIP touts its improvements. Our economic stability is now lost to bad & worsening data as regulators' need for true & correct data increases.
Federal regulations requiring draconian catch restriction for any assertion of over-harvest are here too soon, are going to destroy remaining businesses with data no one believes.
The recreational for-hire reef fishing industry is dependant on habitat production too. Yet NOAA's coral ecologists concern themselves primarily with "Reef Building Corals."
The Mid-Atlantic's sea whip & star coral communities; so vital to lobster, sea bass, summer flounder & tautog off our coast, will never form an island atoll. Our corals "only" form vital fish habitat in a region scientifically thought to have no reef habitat at all.
For coral ecologists it's always "Reef Building, Reef Building!"
Its as if we were aside Darwin as the Beagle explored South Pacific atolls searching for the secrets of land formation. One of the most famous scientists of the day, Charles Lyell, thought land--clearly seen eroding away--was formed by life, by corals. You can go to East Coast mountain tops today and find shell fossils. Geologists often found signs of sea life where there were abrupt changes in the land. More than a century before plate tectonics, these 'crustal plates' colliding about which explain earthquakes & rising land masses in our time: Science knew nothing of them when Darwin sought to support Lyell's work on his now-famous cruise. Darwin's 1842 book, "Structure & Distribution of Coral Reefs" was an attempt to confirm Lyell's geological theory and is in no way associated with our modern concern for corals. There is no mention of fish at all in the work let alone fish habitat; yet I believe this is where the term "Reef Building Coral" originates.
Darwin wanted to demonstrate the slow formation of land. Even 30 years later Darwin's friend and fellow scientist of great renown, Thomas Huxley, would never consider coral in a fish habitat sense. Huxley was involved with fisheries and made a famous statement on the diminishment of fisheries in 1883. Today we call it Huxley's Folly: "Any tendency to over-fishing will meet with its natural check in the diminution of the supply ... this check will always come into operation long before anything like permanent exhaustion has occurred."
Now, in 2012, NOAA is still guiding our nation's mindset toward a concept of coral's importance based on whether a coral is "Reef Building"
..on whether corals can form land.
Nevermind fish habitat, is it Reef Building?
'No matter its just any coral, we can't protect "any coral." Tell me, does it build reef?'
"Oh, that species of coral. That's not a reef building coral."
"That's a gorgonian, a soft coral, and not on the list of species we need to study."
Institutionalized vocabulary holds up fishery restoration. I can't tell you how many times I've heard an ecologist say, "Oh, they're not reef-building corals."
I expect even Darwin would have expanded to "Habitat Forming Corals" had he known how badly-wrong his friend Huxley was..
((if you're wondering what the heck I mean by corals off Maryland's coast, please see YouTube videos on my website's front page.))
Been crunching data, working hard on my 'age at maturity' thesis. Readers may remember I believe sea bass spawning age has shifted 2 years older because of increasing size limits. (which, of course, stem from regulatory tightening based on bad data)
At the Baltimore Council meeting I heard senior staff of both ASMFC & MAFMC say, "The scientific monitoring committee does not want to raise the (sea bass) size limit because of concerns over skewed sex ratios."
Although I've held that very position for years, you can safely bet your last dollar they were not saying that because of my work.
In 2004 I thought because population density had suddenly been reduced along DelMarVa that our region's sea bass would swiftly return to a younger spawning age.
They never did.
It's not population density -- no, no, no, -- it's either the visual cue of what size fish are around (backed by brute force as only nature can?) or some pheremonal secretion in older fish that blocks younger fish from spawning..
If density were the control we'd be humming along, cycling in & out of crazy-high sea bass populations.
Now; I write about males a lot but they are really a proxy for "age class." Because we currently believe all sea bass start as females and only transition to male if need be for spawning, I hold small females without similar sized fully-transitioned males nearby are not in the spawning stock; That only females comparable in age/size to nearby transitioned males will be responding to spawning instinct.
In sea bass a male in "breeding plumage" is very plain to see with its pronounced blue forehead -- a "knothead" sea bass.
We caught fewer than twelve mature male sea bass under 9 inches this year. We were looking, watching.
In 2000 we would have had 100 -even a thousand- on board every day.
My first attempts at regulation were based on the statement, "All sea bass have spawned by 9 inches, some twice."
Back then it was a true statement.
Now virtually no nine inch fish have spawned.
They won't for almost 2 more years.
Then, just when spawning urge kicks in, we catch 'em. . .
Houston, we have a problem.
Assertions of over-fishing will not point us in the right direction.
Our region's sea bass population is stable or in slight decline despite commercial & recreational effort in this region being at an all-time low.
If this idea of shifting age at maturity holds, and I believe it will, then more catch restriction can not fix it. I believe management will actually have to loosen regulation to reinvigorate spawning production.
Believe me, there are those in management who can not stand the idea of loosening any regulation -- not one.
I believe this spawning pressure/age at maturity lies at the very core of Fishery Management, of Surplus Production, of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) & Optimum Yield (OY).
Our ability to fish with any amount of real pressure is, I believe, found in forcing an earlier spawning age. That "iron-clad" rule of Murawski's, "It's a nearly iron-clad rule of fishery management that species become far more abundant when they're being fished at the appropriate level" is created by forcing younger "age at maturity." *
In sea bass we've turned that response off. I really want to switch it back on.
Where once the whole population outside our estuaries was in the spawning population, now only the oldest are.
Working hard on a layman's proof.
Very hard.
Just about clinching it, I recently heard Gary Shepherd, NOAA's preeminent sea bass scientist, describe how male sea bass use their large dorsal-fin spines to stab & blind smaller males in aquarium settings during spawning season.
What a curious thing.
Explains why our nearshore reefs languish. Little guys used to rule the spawning world inshore because of much higher fishing pressure; where inshore there were once few larger fish, now sea bass production is idling along at a slow pace because there's a handful of larger fish everywhere..
Nearshore production has crawled to a halt with a 12.5 inch limit. I suppose somehow the little guys know they'll get their eyes poked out.
Used to be off the hook with 9, 10, 11 & 11.5 size limits -- crazy good.
I really did limit out on sea bass more days than not in 2003 - fishing was outstanding.
I really did write in 2001 that I'd never seen sea bass fishing so good.
Explains how a LOT of habitat can be useful to sea bass restorationists too - spread out those angry males.
This work will have to be carved in stone (or fashioned into a catch estimate?) before it's accepted or even experimented with by management
..even though we already did the experiment large scale through the 1990s.
And every added layer of catch restriction can be traced to a few huge, isolated spikes in the data. Spikes that look remarkably like the scup estimate above.
Its a young science, lots of growing pains.
More on shifting age at maturity before Christmas.
Frozen.. Ready For A Fresh Fish Dinner.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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