Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fish Report 1/21/13

Fish Report 1/21/13
One Trip
The Gloucester Meeting
Sprechen Sie Deutcsch Herr Dunn?
Sorry, I have no trips to offer this week based on the forecasts I'm looking at.
I do see the cold snap breaking next week.
Long Tog and Some Cbass - Monday - Jan 28 - 5:30 to 4:30 - $150.00 - 16 Sells Out.
Tog With No Cbass Likely - Tuesday & Wednesday - January 29th & 30th - 7 to 3 - $100.00 - 12 Sells Out.
Long Tog - No Cbass Likely - Thursday - January 31st - 6 to 4 - $125 - 16 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. (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..
Just a good idea that needs to move forward; a company called Hardwire down in Pocomoke builds light-weight military vehicle armor and bullet-proof materials. They're now offering schools a product, a whiteboard; something teachers find useful every day made more so in the most dire of circumstances.. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm0vjVvaEwc (copy & paste into your browser)
3,480 "Oyster Castle" Reef Blocks By The Rail. (804 @ Jimmy's Reef)
Greetings All,
Long range weatherman was dead-on a couple weeks running. Different story this weekend. Lot of cancelations.
Did sneak Monday in. Unadvertised, it was a special trip for a couple guys who helped me through a very bad financial time during December's sea bass closure.
One of the first fish over the rail was a 15lb 11oz tog that would lose the pool.. Lot of limits. Memorable day.
Personally, I caught a dogfish and a couple throwback sea bass; couldn't buy a tog. Tagged 23 though.
Look forward to going again after this cold-snap.
There's a lot that's wrong with our present method of fisheries restoration.
I believe NOAA & NMFS sense it, are listening
..were listening at a meeting in Gloucester.
As Ajax was cast into madness and slew his own army's herds thinking them the enemy, so too has NOAA/NMFS treatment of catch-estimates as hard data created a regulatory madness.
Recreational fisheries are no character in one of Sophocles' plays, however: This is real life.
If we have not arrested the irrational & imprudent use of MRFSS/MRIP by June of 2013, then all of 2014's sea bass season may well be lost, CLOSED ALL YEAR because of Accountability Measures.
Pretty sure we'll have a devil of a time just keeping our already much-shortened season in place for 2013..
NOAA invited seven recreational fishermen up to Gloucester for a meeting on Thursday, January 17th.
Russ Dunn, NOAA's Recreational Advisor to Undersecretary Lubchenco, called the meeting. NMFS new NE Regional Administrator, John Bullard; and second in command at the NE Fisheries Science Center, Russ Brown, also attended the all-day affair.
Dunn's opening statement came straight from the party-line, 'Big improvements in recreational data.. We're eliminating statistical bias in our catch estimates.. Things are really looking up.. yada-yada.
John Bullard, once Mayor of New Bedford, allowed that he didn't know a lot about recreational fishing but knew we, "don't like to be regulated."
Engagement begun, I fired first for the recs: "Recreational fisherman recognize the need for regulation, we all understand what happened before there were rules: We just don't like to be regulated ..unfairly."
Then I did my best to roll Russ Dunn's honey-covered MRIP all around in a fire-ant colony's worth of bad catch estimates..
Two months into his new job as NMFS Regional Administrator for the North East and Mid-Atlantic, John Bullard had to close sea bass by Emergency Regulation because, while Rhode Island's private boats caught just 7,600 pounds, Massachusetts private boats had "caught" 665,700 pounds of sea bass: Well over half of our entire coastwide quota. That number represents two-hundred fifty thousand more pounds of sea bass just in May/June 2012 (in about 6 weekends really) than all Massachusetts party/charter boats caught in all the May/June periods from 1984 to 2011 combined & all together.
Six Weekends By Private Boats Equaled A Quarter Million More Pounds Than 28 Years Of Professional Effort.
Yes Sir, Mr. NOAA Cabinet Member In Charge Of Recreational Representation Sir, That Is Some Improvement.
Every fishery manager rolls their eyes when anglers complain of bad data. Its a joke; "Oh look, Rec-Fish Doesn't Like The Data." Ha Ha.
There was some of that at this Gloucester meeting too -- Briefly.
Then a room full of statisticians & scientists, the uppermost layers of our region's fishery management, listened.
That's a switch.
Make no mistake, Bullard & Dunn's thinking is grounded in their own press releases--but they did listen.
Here's another one they heard and the last one I'll use in this report:
MA Party/Charter Boat Scup: "New & Improved" MRIP estimates in left column, MRFSS in {brackets} right and here much tighter..
Estimate Status Year Wave Name MRIP MRFSS 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
These are party/charter boat estimates, usually a much better estimate than private boat. Did the entire multi-state region's party/charter fleet collect and pummel MA's scup into the stone age in 2004? Did that incredible over-pressuring lead to fishery collapse in 2005?
No, it did not. The old-style MRFSS, while hardly firm data--awful really, MuRFSS offers managers a far better idea of what the real fishing was like.
High praise sung at the beginning of the meeting quickly lost tempo. Seemed to. I believe it was a genuine response..
Salvos back & forth; RFA's Jim Hutchinson beat Dunn over the head so badly with NOAA's failure to declare a "fishery disaster" after Sandy I thought his ears would bleed.
Dr. Tony DeLernia, NY's At Large Council member, was constantly in the discussion; Capt Rick Bellavance, Capt Skip Fellers and two For-Hire captains from Massachusetts all weighed in equally.
Numerous skirmishes erupted along the lines of survey data, the information that gets taken from individual anglers. Survey at night, survey in one spot, survey the skunks.. Capt. Rick developed an email based catch reporting system that would save an awful lot of paperwork..
I kept trying to point out MRFSS/MRIP CPUEs (a "catch per unit of effort" measure) were pretty good, that the intercept part of the system wasn't bad enough to create either the craziness of MRIP's new data, nor of MRFSS. I think its in the multiplication, in deciding how many people went fishing where the catch estimates turn sour: That the estimates of how many fish caught per-person aren't so bad, its when they multiply it by an unknown number of people that we get in trouble.
That's why we have the new Federal Registry, why we have all these new saltwater fishing licenses, to get a head count and strengthen the data at its weakest point.
Hutchinson sensed his sword had found a chink in their armor and lunged. He was right. Boss-man Bullard got steamed, I mean he was ticked when he learned licenses, the salt water registry, hadn't been used yet yet: "They're using the phone book's White Pages to survey fishermen? Who's in the White Pages these days? Why isn't the license data being used?"
That's when I knew the trip had been worth it. Our Regional Administrator now knows we're not blowing smoke, knows there's something seriously wrong with the data.
It made him mad.
If statisticians get taken behind the woodshed for touting MRIP as a great improvement before its primary ingredient was folded in, before they'd re-calculated catch estimates with a firm head-count from the registry; Their reprimand won't be as bad as what fishers experienced: Life savings drained twice in 3 years because of catch-estimate driven emergency closures, fishers have endured far more than a loss of pride.
Statisticians will come back and say, "Not our fault. We express a margin of error (PSE, proportional standard error) for each and every estimate. Management must make use of PSE as a sliding scale to improve accuracy."
MRIP wrote in their newsletter: "If we had more money for more intercepts..."
I wonder if more intercepts/interviews would have shown a 750,000 fish summer-over-summer difference in Massachusetts party/charter scup was a bad idea. I wonder how, exactly, managers are supposed to decide where in this enormous PSE spread of one-million five-hundred thousand to zero scup is the correct number? Would more intercepts have shown how 1,382 scup is really just a Saturday's landings?
Round it goes..
At the meeting I explained how I thought Vessel Trip Reports (a VTR is a page of data party/charter skippers fill out each trip) ..I explained how VTRs could be used to red-flag MRFSS/MRIP data for obvious outliers & under-estimates through a "percentage of the fishery" table. How, for instance, because Maryland private boats would only rarely account even 10% of our state's sea bass landings, the 2012 estimate where party/charter landed fewer sea bass than private boat, thousands less; That estimate should be flagged for review.
I also pointed out where VTRs show high levels of catch that are completely absent the data such as May/June 2010. We were catching cbass and carrying clients, we were telling NMFS all about it in our mandatory VTRs ..and got a goose-egg both in MRFSS and the 'new & improved' MRIP data. A zero where there were many.
Personally, I believe the new data is worse than the old. Congress & the NRC ordered the old data replaced in the mid/late 2000s. Its taking a lot longer than anticipated. New & much stricter regulations threaten entire fisheries. Repairs to the data were supposed to occur 3 years before regulation stiffened.
Now, with no repair in sight, here come Accountability Measures where rec fishers have to pay-back overages of quota be they real or imagined..
No longer flared, he took a two edged sword,
And fain would sally upon an empty quest.
He struck his head and cried out; then amidst
The wrecks of slaughtered sheep a wreck he fell,
There first for a long while he crouched speechless;
By ill, so swell the misery of this curse.
(From the translation of "Ajax" by R. C. Trevelyan at http://classics.mit.edu/Sophocles/ajax.html )
Later in the day a troop of habitat specialists came in and gave what I found to be an irritatingly flimsy overview on what NOAA's habitat focus is. Where was all the squiggly-line math showing fish production increase & decline in the addition or subtraction of habitat?
I said, "The complexity of recreational management is driven by MRFSS/MRIP. That complexity so overwhelms available energy on all sides that no attention is devoted to where fish come from. Everyone's watching for the next set of catch estimates to see if they need to react, to see if the saloon doors burst open with six-guns blazing -- Dance! Pow, Pow, Pow!"
When the data, no matter how preposterous, says Dance!, everyone has to move: Shorten that season, Up that size limit, Emergency! Emergency! Close The Fishery!
"Its not real" I said. "You could set your recreational flounder size limit at 17 or 18 inches and walk away. It doesn't really have to change every year."
"The ocean's turning green; that's real. We're 'restoring' oyster reefs primarily with a "repletion program" designed in the late 1920s & once funded by a tax on oyster landings."
(In an entire year we don't put back the oyster reef substrate that was taken out in just one day--just from one port--and that was still in the age of sail..)
I said, "The change in habitat is so big and across so much time that generational shift has removed the sting. If anglers of the 1950s saw all the habitat loss of today, all at once, we'd sure hear about it."
For over a decade I've been filming nearshore corals off the DelMarVa coast. The same law that says NOAA has to prevent over-fishing--that says NOAA has to dance when the data goes Pow; that law also details actions it must take for Essential Fish Habitat.
So far as our corals are concerned, they've taken none.
But they're coming.
Or so I'm told.
I pointed out there were more sea bass landed commercially in the 1950s than in every decade since combined, That white marlin were once abundant just a few miles off the beach in blue water, that huge swaths of seafloor habitat have been lost for generations..
A pall settled over the conversation. The habitat squad, already at port-arms, snapped to attention and marched out.
They weren't part of the earlier conversation and wouldn't join in the rest of it.
Everyone else stayed all day.
John Bullard said, and I quote exactly, "I wish someone would show me how to make fish."
Habitat is NOAA's single greatest tool. They have no idea its might. Never will so long as NOAA Habitat remains unengaged.
Dr. Russ Brown from the NE Fisheries Science Center stayed at the table all day. He's got an ear to the ground, is listening to fishers' ideas. I hope he calls NMFS's preeminent sea bass scholar & researcher, Gary Shepherd, soon and asks about shifting "age at maturity" in sea bass.
Dr. Brown knows about the phenomenon, is clearly more familiar with it and in much deeper fashion than I. Common in the animal world; no one has applied age at maturity shift to the management of sea bass.
Like more coral, maximized spawning production from as much of a population as possible would be a useful tool in management's kit; useful if we were trying to create super-abundance..
Russ Dunn, who called the meeting, sat on Dr. Lubchenco's Cabinet the last 4 years representing recreational fishers. I suspect he was drawn deeply into the Gulf Oil Spill disaster and that's why we haven't heard from him in these parts.
During a break we spoke privately about habitat -- about artificial reef.
Dunn said: "We really need to have a discussion about Attraction vs Production. Every time artificial reef comes up people back away from it."
Great Gracious Gertrude.. Really? Still?
This "Attraction vs Production Debate" stems from work several decades past where fish colonizing new artificial reef were rightly concluded to have come from other nearby reefs.
However, this argument against artificial reef is formed from the conclusion new reef must forever rob surrounding natural reefs of fish & concentrate them on man-made bottom, thus "Attraction."
Supporters (if there are any left outside NOAA's Cabinet) hold these now-concentrated reef fish are more susceptible to fishing pressure and so, instead of contributing to fishery production via Essential Fish Habitat processes, these guardians of long-disproven science argue artificial reef actually causes overall reef-fish populations to decline because they continuously draw fish away from other reefs.
Here's what I've found to be true. So long as action is taken to regulate catch: More Coral Equals More Fish.
The seafloor's natural rock, ancient river bottoms, stones and boulders dropped by glaciers and bergs; All these natural hardbottoms develop a stationary community of life such as hard and soft corals that we call reef.
Artificial reef substrates mimic rock. Not an especially difficult task.
Fish have no care one way or the other so long as their needs are met. The better they feed and avoid predation, the better they'll spawn. The more fish they produce, the more we can sustainably catch.
If management would think it through, at least they'd be forced to admit we must first have natural reef before attraction could become an issue.
Trust me, we still do not have natural reef in the nearshore waters of the Mid-Atlantic--at least not according to science & management's literature.
(see videos on my website for Mid-Atlantic natural reef)
Could change, those habitat guys say they're coming..
If management would really think it through, they'd have to conclude creating habitat, building artificial reef, cannot possibly concentrate mid-Atlantic reef fish: Creating more reef can only thin reef-dwelling fish populations, addition of more & more habitat must disperse reef-fish as new habitats are colonized.
It is a perfectly natural response on the fishes' part that they then attempt to populate these new reefs.
"Habitat Production" from artificial reef would be said to have occurred when succeeding generations of these first colonizing fish have begun to feed, shelter and spawn upon now maturing reef.
Reef building capitalizes on the deeply ingrained instinctual spawning strategy of habitat fidelity; While some reef-fish will wander nearby looking for new spawning habitat, most return precisely to where they've spawned before.
I watched a trawler work-over a piece of natural hard-bottom reef for 3 days last October. While some patches of sea whip remain on the east side, I know from bitter experience there will not be as many fish caught over that habitat during the next decade, not until its shaved-bare areas have regrown. The reef's habitat production cannot resume apace if it is impacted again in the meantime.
I had been encouraging scientists to look at this particular reef because it was growing-in nicely.
Much of that natural reef's growth now absent, it illustrates precisely the only way reef habitat can contribute to our fisheries decline: In habitat loss.
Oyster reef loss compounds our coast's worries owing to the bivalve's importance to water quality as well as physical habitat: I believe oysters are as important to white marlin as they are to striped bass.
In the late 1800s oystermen were taking over 900 rail cars of oysters a month out of the Chesapeake from the Port of Baltimore alone.
There were many ports.
The Ocean's Turning From Blue To Green Because Of Unfiltered Bay Waters
..and we put back, what, a dozen rail cars worth of substrate in 2012? Maybe?
A habitat-loss impact big enough to change the ocean while the very top of NOAA still debates Attraction or Production in reef restoration..
When NOAA knocks down a dam; herring, shad & striped bass could be said to be "attracted" to the new 'artificial' release of fresh water. Its a certainty they would have gone somewhere else to spawn otherwise, that they're 'natural' migratory inclination has been disrupted.
Is the future spawning production of these first anadromous fish colonists to a newly available river simply a natural result of now-increased habitat, or some artificial contrivance restorationists should shun because it is different than what was there previously..
Were someone to build a wood duck nesting box on a back-creek pond and then add many more boxes over a decade's time; Is that effort scorned or embraced by wood duck restorationists? Must these artificial ducks be of lesser value because they came from artificial tree-hollows?
I recently anchored over a four year old artificial reef and watched clients bow-up on tautog at a steady pace for about 45 minutes.
Nearby are reefs built in the late 1960s now grown-over with half a foot and more of hard coral. Reef fish absolutely prefer these live corals growing on artificial substrate over historical hardbottoms that once flourished with growth ..but are now gear-damaged collections of broken shell and sand waves.
Initial colonization; this new reef will get better as more growth & more tog settle, feed, grow to maturity, and spawn there.
It's no coincidence this same language; spawn, breed, feed, grow to maturity, is found in the Magnuson-Stevens Act concerning Essential Fish Habitat.
Men who fished the Mid-Atlantic before my time tell me of habitat loss in square miles - in huge dimension. Their experiences & our era's smaller-scale habitat impacts point in one direction only: Whether recognized by today's management or not, seafloor habitat restoration is a key component of fishery restoration.
I hold that where hardbottoms are completely lost, absolutely no restoration of that area's reef fish is possible without first restoring lost substrate..
Then too we could theorize about taking away each mound of Manhattan granite from Sandy Hook Reef, removing each and every shipwreck and artificial reef from upper NJ to Cape Charles, VA.
Here is where we'd see exactly what 'attractionists' truly fear: By removing reef we'd create the unnatural tightening of remaining fish populations on smaller & smaller areas of reef. Habitat must contract in order to compact fish populations. We'd swiftly pound them down, overfish them; At the same time their production would suffer mightily.
This is precisely what must have happened to fish populations as our natural reefs were cut away 30 to 60 years ago. Because of advances in electronic navigation, stern-towed gears grew more accurate in hang avoidance. When less-robust bottoms such as sea-whip meadows had all been exploited--leveled; only larger rocks & shipwrecks were left..
Fish knotted up.
Populations collapsed.
No regulation in the 1970s & 80s. We pounded newly found shipwrecks into lifeless hulks.
Now the artificial reef habitat footprint is growing & regulation preserves fish upon every reef.
But the data has us overfishing..
Back in Gloucester, Russ Dunn--our Cabinet Level Recreational Representative--was pondering artificial reef's usefulness in fisheries restoration.. To me it's as if General Tommy Franks ordered: "Drop those Predator Drone controls and grab your flintlocks men, al Qaeda's coming over the fence."
Attraction vs Production debate?
NOAA should ask Bill Figley & Bill Seaman to create an "artificial reef as producer" team; Then ask Bohnsack if anyone still agrees with him about 'attraction' and, if so, form a "reef building is bad" team: With all of NOAA's cabinet & upper-State level managers present who insist we have a "production vs attraction debate," let the two teams sort it out.
Readers will have seen this before. Its not new theory, this idea of artificial reef as producer.
From 1969, California Fish Bulletin 146, Man-Made Reef Ecology: Summary & Conclusions, Page 198...
Brackets{ } are mine. Parenthesis are original.
..it is apparent that "non-productive" areas of nearshore ocean floor can be made "productive" by installation of relief structures {artificial reef}. Initially, these structures attract fishes from surrounding areas and present a substrate suitable for development of the complex biotic assemblages {reef growths, e.g. mussels & coral} typical of natural reefs. As these new reefs mature, biological succession occurs and fishes which may have been initially attracted only to the structures are incorporated into the reef community in response to increasingly available food and shelter. Ultimately (in about 5 years) a natural situation is attained and the plant & animal populations exhibit fluctuations typical of reef ecosystems.
John Bullard take note, I believe building artificial reef "Makes Fish."
Apparently, so did these Californians 44 years ago.
I'm positive I could take the boulders alongside any single New England country road and "make" 100,000 pounds of sea bass off Maryland's coast.
Lot of lobster too.
With enough barge-loads of boulder we'd likely be able to get the Chesapeake bio-filtering again; make an awful lot of fish while doing it.
Turn the ocean back to blue..
Despite their short coastline, Alabama has the largest share of red snapper quota in the Gulf.
A vibrant fishery due solely to artificial reef substrates sited after 1954; where there was no previous population that had been overfished or lost by other means, theirs can only be called a manufactured population of snapper.
Therefore, because artificial reef built of their own labor is the cause of Alabama's red snapper production, NOAA & NMFS's claim of a red snapper "fishery restoration" is actually the pilfering of Alabama's work--and of every other Gulf state's reef building.
Claiming our sea bass too. Guvmint's fish now. Ain't our'n no more.
Data proves it.
In effect, NOAA & NMFS are saying: "Since there's no real reef in the Mid-Atlantic, at least none that we can find, you boys won't mind if we confiscate your artificial reefs' production and take credit for restoration, will you? Remember to be nice now, we write the permits too.."
Having utterly failed to even find nearshore reef habitat in the Mid-Atlantic, let alone investigate historical loss of hardbottom reef and its inseparable causality to declines in reef-species abundance; NOAA couldn't possibly have met the tasks laid-out by Magnuson-Stevens to Preserve, Protect & Enhance Essential Fish Habitat.
Instead of saying Thank You for confiscating our reefs' sea bass production in the absence of restored natural reef production, we get Emergency Closures & Shorter Seasons while the public sees an unending stream of "Recreational Fishers Over-Harvest" "Over Quota" & "Emergency Action" press releases: The public 'knows' this is all because of fishers' greed.
Here's a vocab word, Traduce: Merriam-Webster defines it thusly: To expose to shame or blame by means of falsehood and misrepresentation.
How many pounds of sea bass did those Massachusetts private boats catch?
How much natural reef marine restoration has NOAA participated in? Haven't discovered it yet??
Gloucester meeting could have gone 2 more days and suited me.
Wrapping up, our Recreational Representative, Russ Dunn says, "We know it will never be as good as it was; We'll never have 120 days of red snapper, We'll never have sea bass as good as it was."
I about bit my tongue in two. I do not like that word from leadership: Never.
I said to Russ, "If Churchill had said 'never' that way, we'd all be speaking German."
Accept fishing will "Never Get Better" and we'll be lead into a dystopian philosopher's dream, lead into a flood of failing recreational fishing businesses due to harsh regulatory requirements sourced of data's failing.
And We Are.
Law-writers assumed we'd have solid, dependable catch estimates by 2009. This avalanche of stricter regulation would have been fairly & easily dealt with had there actually been an improvement to the data.
Rather than repair, however, catch estimates have grown worse.
By restoring water quality and re-creating lost habitats we may soon find ourselves pondering, 'What do you call a fishery that's better than ever?'
An engineered fishery for sure. We'll wordsmith it as need arises.
Until we fix the data & get management's arms wrapped around the idea of where little fish come from, we'll continue to have to call fisheries that are better than ever: Closed.
Roll some boulders off a barge & force fish to spawn early.
Instead of Never As Good,
We can make fishing Better Than Ever.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

Blog Archive