Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fish Report 1/15/13

Fish Report 1/15/13
Going Toggin
Its The Law
Ishmael's Thoughts
Plus exciting bonus section!
A Short Regulatory History of the Recreational Sea Bass Fishery
Oh dear....
Tog Trips: (few or no sea bass)
Friday - 1/18/13 - 8 to 4 - One Hour Later Than Normal - $100 - 10 Sells Out.
Sunday - 1/20/13 - 7 to 3 - $100 - 10 Sells Out - Both Inshore Trips In NW Winds - Inshore Water Temps Are Still Fine.
Saturday is booked -- So Sorry -- Every man has his price..
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. (I Believe The Live-Fish Black Market Is Hurting This Fishery)
All Regulations Observed - 4 Fish @ 16 Inches.
Green Crabs Provided. You're welcome to bring any hard bait: Lobster, White Crab, Blue Crab, Hermit 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..
3,444 "Oyster Castle" Reef Blocks By The Rail..
Greetings All,
I'd have preferred to fish all week. Rain in the forecast precludes the notion.
Lot of meetings to keep us busy..
Last week we had "king tides," so called because sun & moon are both at their closest point to earth. Made for a strange bite early in the period in very slack water. Tog bit as normal when currents caught up to tide height. We were using 12 ounce sinkers in less than 50' of water one day..
Biggest tog for the period was over 13 pounds. Respectable, but not up to Alex's regular standards.
Terry had the biggest client release with a 22 inch female. I let a fine looking bull swim away with an ALS tag. Returned that one to the gene pool with pleasure.
Also had a chopper blue & tagged a cod, fried some sea bass..
I'd give Don the "Hot Rod" award; he was on fire Sunday morning with back to back double-digit fish.
Many clients did not limit out on tog. Others did.
On our 12 hour trip I was disappointed that no one caught a 25 fish sea bass limit.
This turned out to be a very good thing because Maryland's limit for January/February this year is 15 fish. I had forgotten all about it. We actually did have a few limits.
Threw back many 12.25 inch sea bass that would have looked good in butter..
Uncle MuRFSS needs to be locked up.
Seeing tiny tog too, really little fellows. Seeing them across all water depths and habitat types. More than I've ever seen; I wonder if the 16 inch limit is already creating a benefit.
Tog, unlike sea bass, do not appear to have a shifting spawning age--at least not that's been seen yet. Himchak, 1982, (Pete Himchak remains in NJ Fisheries, serves as a representative on the MAFMC) his early work found 16 inch tog had far more eggs than smaller fish. Many states' size limits are still below 16 inches. I wonder what tog fishing would be like today had everyone begun with the larger 16 inch size limit..
Realistically: The fishery would probably be closed due to over-harvesting of recreational quotas while beach goers complained of tautog spines in their feet.
That was cynical,
but accurate.
Many folks are antsy that party/charter are allowed to catch sea bass this January/February, that we'll bore deeply into 2013's quota. Its causing disputes within industry and bitterness within the private boat fleet.
At most all party/charter will put about 35,000 pounds of a million-plus pound quota on the dock in winter. For comparison Massachusetts private boats are estimated to have landed 665,662 lbs of sea bass last May & June.
The party/charter catch will be real. The private boat catch is not. But it still subtracts from quota.....
If Pearson, 1932, & Linda Mercer's 1978 works are to be believed, virtually all of the Southern New England (SNE) sea bass fishery is a result of now warmer waters. We have Turner's 5.3 degree increase in Buzzards Bay from 1987 to 1997, and we have Hare's 10 degree increase in the Gulf of Maine over a much longer time span. Sea bass as a fishery in Southern New England is therefore a recent development; a gift which management has, so far, squandered.
Now the fishery is beginning to encroach even on the southern-most reaches of the Gulf of Maine, has come around Cape Cod to New Hampshire in its steady march northward.
Readers should be mindful sea bass populations occur even to Florida and remain a popular target. No contraction can follow in the southern Mid-Atlantic's population as sea bass carry north: If anything, because Cupka et al. (1973) reported that both sexes mature at smaller sizes (14-18 cm SL) (5.5 to 7.1 inches) in the South Atlantic Bight, the southern Mid-Atlantic should enjoy a surge of spawning production as sea bass spawn at younger ages than 2 decades ago in now warmer water.
That's hardly the case however. I'm reporting that with our current 12.5 inch size limit, both sexes now mature at 11.75 to 13 inches. Used to be every sea bass had spawned, some twice, by 9 inches.
Now none have.
I'm trying to convince management we've lost 2 years of spawning production from every single sea bass.
Talk about a tough sell..
In management's world catching less always means more are left in the sea. No amount of spawning reduction can change that perception; at least not until they hear it from their own.
Management's zeal to chase vaporous catch estimates--their whack-a-mole stomping of 'overfishing' wherever its spotted on a computer screen--has created, I believe, the smallest spawning stock of sea bass ever known in the southern Mid-Atlantic. We're keeping fewer sea bass than ever before but are accused of 'overfishing' the recreational quota; They're making fewer sea bass and blaming us..
Management, fishers & the environmental community: Few grasp how loosening the present day size limit can reinvigorate spawning, can create a far greater population of spawning sea bass.
Yet that will be how we make a lot of sea bass, create huge populations..
That and tossing some rocks in the water, some oyster castles maybe.
To reach understanding readers will need to see past the data that got us here.
Overfishing, you see, is no longer a problem for sea bass, hasn't been for over a decade..
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission or ASMFC is responsible for state waters. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, MAFMC, regulates federal waters outside 3NM.
Our recreational catch estimating programs are: Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey or MRFSS, and a new program, the Marine Recreational Informational Program or MRIP.
"Waves" are 2 month periods of estimated catch: Wave 1 = Jan/Feb, Wave 2 Mar/Apr, Wave 3 May/June..
Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) are quotas with a buffer, a safety margin. Accountability Measures (AMs) now require recreational fishers to 'pay back' overages seen in catch-estimate data; AMs have the potential to completely close any fishery for a year or more if estimates have recreational users taking more than their ACL, our Annual Catch Limit --- Its The Law.
Recreational catch data gained enormous strength in the 2007 Magnuson re-write as Congress believed their mandate for greatly improved recreational estimates by 2009 would be fulfilled. Congress & Regulators in 2007 believed the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey (MRFSS) would be replaced with a functioning system of recreational catch estimation before Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) & Accountability Measures (AMs) were employed beginning in 2012. Fishers are now more dependant than ever on firmer recreational catch data to prevent industry upheaval.
As demonstrated so often in my Fish Reports, however, there remains no accurate representation of real catch. With no repair in sight, recreational fishers--particularly for-hire (party/charter) fishers & recreational supply trades--have become more vulnerable than ever to unpredictable & erratic spikes in MRFSS/MRIP estimated catches and ensuing regulatory tightening in Accountability Measures.
It troubles me National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will not present their case for closing black sea bass with readily available MRIP data, with data from the new catch estimating system that Congress mandated, but instead will only use MRFSS, the old system that Congress & the National Research Council said to get rid of.
There are no catch estimates available on the MRFSS web site for any species past 2011. I do not know if every species is being managed exclusively with data unavailable to the public, but I do know sea bass are.
Ostensibly because, 'that was the data always used before,' the path of directives for middle-management to use, or not use, MRIP grows more complex: First managers are told they have to use MRIP, then ordered to return instead to MRFSS. I have to wonder if the new MRIP data is simply not trusted..
While readers can believe I'd applaud a more skeptical approach to catch estimates by management; it remains that Accountability Measures were originally set to commence 3 years after repairs to recreational catch estimates were made.
The evidence would suggest we are not three years past a trusted revision to catch estimates.
I look forward to the addition of the Salt Water Registry's data to MRIP. It must be here, in the estimation of effort, in the counting of people going fishing where pristine field data is converted to mush.
No logical method of management can be devised where an important aspect of the knowledge is corrupt.
During the early years of catch restriction every regulatory tightening created benefit to a population; it did not matter how baseless an accusation of catch was ..so long as fishers took less.
Now management needs real accuracy or they're going to destroy several recreational fisheries and their suppliers.
NMFS used MRFSS data to close sea bass.
They do not want to use MRIP.
Why? Because it's no better?
Maybe MRIP's worse?
Like I said, I'm really looking forward to the addition of the Salt Water Registry's data to MRIP.
You see, if x anglers bought licenses but an estimate requires XXX anglers to be correct, then there has to be closer scrutiny.
I still maintain a simple check of VTRs (Vessel Trip Reports. VTRs are filled out for every trip by the party/charter trade) Comparing VTRs against an estimated & standardized 'percentage of the fishery' would highlight flyers and incorrect zeros in MRIP data.
For instance, NJ party/charter's MRIP average is very-roughly 5,000 tautog landed in March/April for the last 8 years. I expect their VTRs would show less. If NJ party/charter were concluded to generally catch 70% of that state's total tautog in March/April, then the 2010 NJ shore estimate of 38X that value (174,000) would have drawn attention for closer inspection..
Its vitally important to understand no argument can be made for habitat production, say for a small artificial reef's contribution/production of 40 tautog per year, when management doesn't even blink as terrible estimates come through.
Were MRIP at last corrected, honest catch estimates will almost instantly spotlight habitat production as a necessary accompaniment to catch restriction.
Statistical illusions of catch are destroying the human side of the sea bass fishery. There is no danger to fish from regulated recreational users; We are no longer in those dark days when scientists feared entire populations would vanish from the earth from hook & line fisheries.
Instead we have computer-screen catches creating economic disruption in Emergency Closure where there are many fish; We have screens of catch so outlandish--yet accepted--that no real habitat production model would seem to matter against the backdrop of catches swinging hundreds of thousands of fish year to year. We have such fantastic fabrications that biology, philopatry & physiology never enter the conversation. Now Accountability Measures loom like a guillotine, ready to punish we evil, greedy overfishers at long-last because the data says we need to learn our lesson..
Vessel Trip Reports are universally distrusted in the management community.
I think that's because many managers have been conditioned to believe the estimates. There are often huge discrepancies between MRFSS/MRIP & VTRs..
Can't speak for every skipper, but my fish counts are good. In fact, so are the counts when field interviewers feeding data to MRFSS/MRIP are aboard -- they're perfect.
I believe the estimates go crazy not in 'how many fish did we catch per-person' but in baseless assumptions of effort, of "How Many People Went Fishing:" by taking a pretty good estimate of how many each angler would have caught ..and multiplying it too much. There's where the giant errors are created.
That's EXACTLY why the Federal Fishing Registry was created, to get a head-count. That's why we now have fishing licenses where there were none before.
Except those licenses have not been folded in to the data yet..
Like a TV pitchman, "But Wait! It Gets Better!"
I did hear from the senior federal statistician. He sent some of the not-generally-available 2012 MRFSS sea bass data. He told me on the phone that weight was MRFSS & MRIP's worst strength, that catch estimates do better with numbers of fish, that their conversions to pounds was, he felt, shaky.
Readers will realize, of course, all recreational quotas are set by weight..
Therefore we convert not-so-good estimates of fish landed into horrible weights of fish landed while ignoring VTRs as much as possible.
And use that data to cause economic catastrophe.
Melville wrote of Ishmael's thoughts when he had to bunk with the tattooed savage, Qeequeg, as they awaited their final voyage in Moby Dick: "Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian."
Management holds VTRs as their worst data--an untamed savage, yet a simple check of VTRs against an estimated 'percentage of the fishery' would highlight likely flyers and incorrect zeros in MRIP data..
Sea bass really are the simplest fishery to restore. Throw rocks overboard & force them to spawn young; We can quickly make more than ever before.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076
A Short Regulatory History of the Recreational Sea Bass Fishery:
(all MRFSS data)
1996, Joint ASMFC/MAFMC Black Sea Bass Plan Adopted.
1997, Published too late in '96, management is begun with a 9 inch limit. Listed as a goal is increasing the size limit to 10 inches.
1998, Size increase and late summer closure because a 1,220,000 fish spike in NJ's for-hire 1997 estimate to 3,100,000 sea bass causes regulatory reaction -- Regs go up 1 inch to a 10 inch size limit.
Then, with only that 1 inch size increase, NJ for-Hire's 1998 catch-estimate dropped to 186,000 or about 3 million fewer sea bass the following year.
A 1,220,000 sea bass spike -- 1 state, 2 waves, 1 mode: There were no other spikes in other state's data nor in NJ's private boat estimates.
Combined estimates for catch amount to 4,721,000 sea bass boxed-up by anglers in 1997. Of those, 799,000 fish were thought harvested by private boats -- 10.8% Private Boat vs 89.2% Party/Charter.
This Year's Emergency Closure is based on estimated landings of 1,769,000 sea bass. But in today's fishery MRFSS/MRIP credit private boats with catching 1,205,000 of them or 68.1% - 6X the percentage of the fishery held earlier.
Its not as though outboards are a new invention. Even allowing a million fish here and there, the trend in regulatory tightening is seen plainly on the party/charter side -- our catch is actually reduced when regulations tighten, but catch erupts wildly & uncontrollably and then subsides swiftly on the private boat side.. I seriously doubt private boats accounted 5% of Maryland's sea bass landings in any year ever. While that percentage changes by state, I have yet to meet a skipper who thinks private boats are landing more than half. There's a method to truthing catch-data here, of calculating for-hire's percentage of the fishery with Vessel Trip Reports -- VTRs can help paint a much clearer picture than MRFSS/MRIP alone..
2001, Size increase to 11 inches and a spring closure.
With a beautiful, fast 90 foot party boat carrying at about 2/3rds capacity I landed 29,626 bsb in Sept/Oct, 2000. I was running one of only 3 boats going from MD in fall & certainly the only boat going daily. Fishing was very good.
MRFSS has MD for-hire wave 5 landings at 237,307 with a PSE of 51.4 - The centerpoint of this estimate is absolutely at least 180,000 fish too high. The PSE spread goes from zero to 485,000 sea bass..
NJ's estimate too played a hand in this 2001 regulatory tightening as they shot from 242,000 sea bass in fall '99 to a solid 3/4 of a million in fall of 2000. They also caught 'just' 178,000 sea bass in May/June 1999 increasing to 698,000 in May/June a year later. No other states showed an increase in late spring although NY's summer estimate climbed from 6,500 in '98 to 42,000 in '99 then to 209,000 in year 2000..
3 states, 3 two-month waves - 1.3 million sea bass.
2002, increase to 11.5 inches & no closed season -- NJ "catches" over 1/2 the quota and that's that.
2003, increase to 12 inches with a short fall closure -- NJ declines slightly in 2002 while DE increases from about 110,000 in 2001 to 560,000 sea bass in 2002.. MD's up 200,000 from '01 to '02..
MD for-hire 'catches' 311,000 sea bass, but again I'm absolutely positive this is at least 100,000 too high.
To be sure, there was an increase in abundance & catch along DelMarVa & southern NJ from 1995 to 2003. However, the increase is over-represented in the data even though it was the best sea bass fishing I've ever seen.
The regulatory history is driven by single mode/single wave/single state estimate spikes and not broader multi-state/multi-mode/multi-wave increases; Its either private boat or party charter and never both; our catch increases are rarely seen across time as in real life; statistically they happen swiftly inside a two month period and melt away..
Once the size limit hit 12 inches & then 12.5, sea bass production fell off in the southern Mid-Atlantic & so did catch.
The Spike-Free Regulatory Peace from 2004 onward was shattered when our smallest quota ever was exceeded in 2009. . .
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.
In 2012 their estimate spiked by 700,000+ 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.
In 2009 MA upset the balance of MRFSS forcing an emergency mid-season closure. NY & NJ both had 300,000 pound increases in their for-hire estimates as well.
MA wave 4 private boat was up 250,000 pounds from 2008's 20,000 -- VA private boat would be up 115,000 pounds from just 10,000 the year before - NY's private boats were up 160,000 pounds in wave 3 from just 30,000 & NJ's private boats were up 145,000 in wave 3 plus 220,000 pounds in wave 4..
I believe discovering what causes these spikes in private boat catch is singularly important to fixing MRIP -- to making the new system better than the old.
I firmly believe it is a confluence of spikes that creates regulatory reaction, that a real path to our temperate reef fishes' management lies hidden behind catch-data's smoke and mirrors; That statistical trickery blinds management to science ready & available for restorationist's use.

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