Friday, December 28, 2012

Fish Report 12/28/12

Fish Report 12/28/12
Bit of Toggin.
Complex Bit Of Work
Tog Fishing: Tuesday & Thurs - January 1st & 3rd, 2013 - 6:30 to 3:30 - $120.00 - 15 Anglers Sells Out - Hunting Fairly Close To Home.
Wednesday - Jan, 2cnd - Fishing 7 to 3 - $100.00 - 8 Sells Out - Big West Wind - Hunting Closer Still.
Friday looks like a wash..
Sailing Saturday & Sunday, Jan 5th & 6th in what appear to be light westerlies - 6 to 4 - $125.00 - 15 Sells Out.
Reservations Required @ 410 - 520 - 2076.
LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - Weather Cancelations Are Common In Winter - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way..
No Live Fish Leave The Boat - Dead & Bled - Period. (selling live catch demands a higher level of CG & Fisheries regulations -- I have a recreational boat with plenty of paperwork already..)
All Regulations Observed - 4 Fish @ 16 Inches.
Green Crabs Provided. You're welcome to bring any hard bait: Lobster, White Crab, Blue Crab: Even Gulp Crab .. No Squid, No Clam = No Dogfish. Cbass jigs OK away from the tog bite IF they're working and not tangling (look for the skipper there at such times.)
Be A Half Hour Early - We Like To Leave Early.
Clients Arriving Late Will See The West End Of An East Bound Boat..
Season's Greetings All,
New Year's Day should play. Not a trip for those who enjoy spending all night with the lord of misrule. Ocean's a bad place when a hangover kicks-in. Guys cursing each passing wave while their friends make 'digestion in reverse' video for YouTube aren't doing anyone any favors.
If you're going to howl at the moon, TiVo some fishing shows and stock up on Advil.
If you want fresh tog maybe we have a shot. A Dramamine would be cheap insurance..
Tales of 20 pounders take hundreds of trips to produce.
Does happen, but I'm just trying to catch fish; trying to put a catch together. No magic. We're going fishing. Its perfectly possible that the pool winner will be under 10 pounds.
Speaking of pool fish, because many clients have realized 24 inch tog grow to be jumbos before 16 inch throwbacks, we tag a lot of fish. Our tog pools are by length: A fish tagged and thrown back is as good as one in the box.
Yes, sea bass are open. I'll let the big boats go hunt them watching for my chance in some flat-calm weather.
Make no mistake, sea bass are only open for January/February.
We're nowhere near out of the woods for 2013 & 2014's regulations yet...
Managers, you see, need a broad focus. They have to study and work with many fisheries; have to regulate All our fisheries -- not just sea bass.
When I am able to go to Council & Commission meetings there are no recreational lobbyists - only commercial & environmental. Those lobbyists do not miss a thing & they do not go for free..
Letters readers and others concerned with the sea bass fishery have written are the extent of sea bass lobbying.
Sea bass are a pain in management's neck. Managed from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras as one population, the fish have yet to respond as a single unit. Where from 1990 to 1999 all of Southern New England (SNE) (CT, RI & MA below Cape Cod) was estimated to catch fewer sea bass than just my clients & I were landing with a 90 foot party boat. Now, aided by warming seawater and statistical shenanigans, the Massachusetts private boats below Cape Cod often "catch" more sea bass than every party/charter boat along the entire East Coast combined.
Pretty big transition: A very bold assertion found only in the recreational catch estimates.
One has to wonder where the truth lies..
I'm positive the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey data (MuRFSS) is questionable. The National Research Council, quite nearly the 'Supreme Court' of U.S. science, issued its critique in 2006 which Congress then used to order our recreational catch estimating system overhauled by 2009. ( )
Couple years behind schedule, in early 2012 NOAA began to publish estimates from its new system, the Marine Recreational Information Program or MRIP. These new estimates are running concurrently with MuRFSS although not publicly available after 2011. MRIP also back-calculated MuRFSS data to 2004 for side by side comparison.
It is my opinion that whatever causes errors in MuRFSS reverberates more loudly in MRIP; that we have had no repair of our catch estimating system at all. In Fact, catch estimates have gotten worse, are less reliable.
I do not make that assertion lightly. I have many data sets from both systems that are supremely dubious. Still, MRIP's wild flyers fly higher - offer management a dimmer view of true catch.
In fact, both the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) and Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission (ASMFC) are using old-style MuRFSS estimates to base 2013 sea bass recommendations on: It would appear the management community does not trust MRIP's data yet either..
Sadly, just as management's need of sound data is at its greatest, the estimates have grown worse.
I'm working on a piece that folds our most modern knowledge of sea bass biology & behavior onto management's single-focus, always-tightening, catch restriction based solely on MRFSS/MRIP. This "catch estimates only" view creates a far different path for fishery restoration than a broader look at available data might.
Believe me, its a complex bit of work to show how, coming from no management at all in the 1980s & early 1990s when we always caught 3 to 6 million cbass--many of which had not had their first birthday; To how recreational fishers catching about 3 million age 1 sea bass with our new 9 & 10 inch size limits created a sustainable fishery. How just a little bit of catch restriction drove our populations to new highs--and those growing populations allowed numerous fish to escape harvest and grow old.
When we tried to catch them all and had no regulation we caught many.
When management began we were catching MILLIONS and the population grew splendidly - every sea bass in the ocean was a spawner.
That was then.
Today's sea bass fishery is wanting. Fish-production has declined and for-hire fishers are in near economic collapse due to ever-tighter catch restriction & successive emergency closures caused by assertions we caught about 1 million 6 year old sea bass..
I doubt we even caught that many.
Declining production has nothing whatever to do with what recreational fishers are doing ..except that we're following regulations.
We do not have an 'overfishing' situation; There is a stable population of bigger fish. By any measure party/charter boats are catching far fewer fish than ever before.
Management's single-focus use of MRFSS catch estimates is allowing Loud & Clear biological signals to pass unnoticed. For the human-side of the fishery to survive & sea bass to flourish, management needs a bigger, broader inclusion of science than MRFSS/MRIP.
3 million pounds of quota could have equaled over 7 million sea bass in early (9 & 10 inch) management beginning in 1997.
But MRFSS estimates have the average weight of our sea bass as 1.1 pounds in early management.
Would have been nice fishing..
But it never happened.
From the "1995 Review of the Development of A Joint ASMFC/MAFMC Plan For Black Sea Bass" page 55: "In spite of a potential maximum age of 15 years, the age structure is highly truncated with only 4.5% of the stock in 1993 greater than age 3."
From the 1993 NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-143, BSB EFH Source Document: 50% are mature at about 19 cm SL (7.5 inches) and 2-3 years of age (O'Brien et al. 1993).
Here from the EFH Source Document 1999: [brackets M. Hawkins] "Wenner et al (1986) & Alexander (1981) found mature fish at 10-11 cm (age 1+) [sea bass of 3.9 to 4.3 inches would actually be age zero] off South Carolina & New York; a majority of fish were mature at about 19 cm [7.48 inches] TL [total length] and at an age of about 2 to 3 years." [Solidly age 1]
Assuming all these scientists could measure, its evident they simply had bad aging data. We now know that these "2 to 3 year old sea bass" were really age 1 ..almost exactly 12 months old actually.
The assertion "..with only 4.5% of the stock in 1993 greater than age 3." actually translates to 'only 4.5% of the stock in 1993 was greater than age 1.'
I would not dispute that. That is what we had then.
I was allowed to put a 9 inch size limit on sea bass by the Nichols family in 1992, years before legally required(..was running their beautiful 90 foot Lydia partyboat.) We saw rapid cbass population growth on every reef site.
More importantly, we know virtually every sea bass had spawned by 9 inches back then -- had spawned during age 1.
I believe fewer than one fish in a thousand has spawned by 9 inches today, that virtually no age 1 sea bass are spawning now. During pre & early management they all used to.
"Age at maturity" is well known to shift throughout the animal world; here we see it in sea bass. For them its not population density that shifts maturity, its the size of the other sea bass around them.
It is true that all 3 year olds (13 inches) have begun to spawn today - that's right when we're allowed to catch them.
We directly target the spawning population just as they begin..
Where management's path diverges from biology there's real trouble for fish & fisher.
You'll recall MRFSS estimates have the average weight of our sea bass as 1.1 pounds in early management.
But because we had to measure almost all of the fish we caught during early regulation (they weren't obviously too large to bother measuring) those 9 & 10 inch sea bass must have averaged 3 fish to a pound -- not 1.1 pounds apiece.
More recently, MRFSS estimates our sea bass at 1.5 pounds average in the late 2010s and now 2.2 pounds as our May/June 2012 average.
Regulatory Actions Are Decided By Weight
..and these are very generous weights. According to the latest "weight at length" and "probability of age at length" charts by Dr. Gary Shepherd it means most recreational sea bass landed in 2012 were 6 to 9 years old..
Bad data paints a bad picture -- Something Has To Be Wrong.
There's no possible way we could honestly be construed as "over-harvesting" sea bass if our fish were really that heavy/old. We are either A) Taking many fewer pounds because weights are poorly estimated and fishers have not exceeded quota at all; or B) Taking older fish out of an obviously healthy stock that wouldn't effect future production anyway and the quota is set too low.
The Mid-Atlantic Party/Charter fleet always had landings in excess of 2 million sea bass up until 2003.. Now we are thought to have landed approximately 250,000 in all of 2012 and, Huh?, are so far over-quota that the entire economy surrounding sea bass must be brought to an emergency halt? We've lost all of our fall fishery, much of our spring fishery and stand to lose a lot more -- soon.
A collection of spikes in the private boat estimates are driving claims we've gone over-quota.
In that collection of sky-high catches are sky-high weights.
Emergency Closure!
According to MRIP, the average weight of a Massachusetts private boat caught sea bass was over 4 pounds in the summer of 2012 and 2.1 pounds that spring.
Once a wallflower in the recreational sea bass fishery, Massachusetts is now often 'responsible' for more than half of all recreational sea bass catch north of Cape Hatteras.
The trend in data spikes continues in 2012 with our emergency closure.
In 2012 their catch estimate spiked by 700,000+lbs to 1,100,000 pounds of recreationally caught sea bass. That means Massachusetts caught twice as much sea bass as all Gulf & Atlantic Coast party/charter-- 2X more than every party boat & charter in the entire range of the fishery.
An interesting & timely aside: of 89 party/charter fishing businesses advertising at - a Massachusetts fishing directory - only three list sea bass as a target species.
Of 443,000 pounds of sea bass estimated to have been landed in 2012 by party boats along the entire length of the Gulf & Atlantic Coast - 402,000 pounds were landed in Massachusetts.
That means everyone else caught 41,000 pounds: The lowest party boat catch ever.
There's an Emergency here all right..
Fact: No amount of sea bass catch in one region affects another region accept in winter. Every single biologist associated with black sea bass recognizes their habitat fidelity. There is no possibility a southern NJ fish will decide to take up residence off MD next summer, let alone a huge school of Massachusetts sea bass wander down here, nor our fish wander up there: They'll spawn exactly where they have spawned before.
An oddity occurring nowhere else in the literature, readers could find in the MRIP data where sea bass spring abundance only occurs in even-numbered years off Massachusetts in recent times.
Massachusetts - Sea Bass - All Recreational Effort - May/June (see recent even numbered years)
Estimate Status Year Wave Common Name Total Harvest (A+B1) PSE Harvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSE Landings (no.) without
Size Information
FINAL 2000 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 15,896 38.8 24,881 42.6 0
FINAL 2001 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 30,270 40.0 30,401 47.2 0
FINAL 2002 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 79,171 37.9 163,966 41.9 0
FINAL 2003 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 38,461 23.5 68,488 23.7 4,495
FINAL 2004 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 38,059 35.7 52,083 35.3 0
FINAL 2005 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 105,613 60.0 202,046 56.9 0
FINAL 2006 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 25,692 66.5 37,414 68.4 0
FINAL 2007 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 42,929 58.7 44,711 56.2 0
FINAL 2008 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 117,207 54.6 174,426 52.6 0
FINAL 2009 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 73,784 31.4 129,651 34.3 0
FINAL 2010 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 489,269 62.9 666,833 63.4 0
FINAL 2011 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 92,901 36.2 147,981 38.5 0
PRELIMINARY 2012 MAY/JUNE BLACK SEA BASS 379,116 26.3 788,402 25.8 0
My goodness. Those catch estimates sure jump around a lot..
Other than MRFSS/MRIP showing incredible increases in catch for one region, everything else regulators are looking at indicates earlier management was more succesful: Those smaller size limits, year-round seasons & higher quotas were better for sea bass. Its evident in this data there was a broader spectrum of age classes in 2003/2004 than at any time before or since.
Consider too sea bass habitat has expanded north, that we should be seeing higher quotas given more habitat available to ever-greater numbers of spawning fish.
Again; other than MRFSS/MRIP, all available data actually shows more and more of our catch is below the size limit, that fewer fish are growing to old-age.
Yet in MRIP virtually the entire Massachusetts private boat summer of 2012 catch is comprised of 9+ year-old sea bass...
Its Fake - There is no emergency in sea bass except management's myopic use of bad catch data.
What's true is bad data's creation of real emergencies within the party/charter fisheries.
If the pounds are right then the quota's wrong -- we're catching sea bass just before old-age gets 'em, the stock must be healthy.
If the numbers are right and applied with true fish weights then the pounds are wrong and we're under quota.
Its inexcusable to ignore so much science in favor of using MuRFSS catch estimates that were ordered replaced by the NRC & Congress.
Its truly inexcusable to ignore Reef Habitat & Reef Site Fidelity in the management of reef fish.
Fishers are being driven to the edge of solvency time & again by bad data, by estimates no one believes but are used anyway without even a consideration for 'margin of error' - even when statisticians themselves beg its use.
If management will take the enormous steps of seeking truth in catch estimates; Of lowering the recreational size limit to rekindle younger age-class spawning; and of actually conserving, protecting & enhancing sea bass Essential Fish Habitat as called for in Magnuson, we'd swiftly find greater numbers of sea bass.
I believe from that base we could engineer larger populations than anyone has envisioned.
That would be good management.
For now we're teaching small sea bass not to spawn while encouraging clients to find something else to do..
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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