Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fish Report 1/30/13

Fish Report 1/30/13
The Toggin
Their Education
Couple New Trips
Long Tog - Saturday - 2/2/13 - Cold - 5:30 to 4:30 - $150.00 - 16 Sells Out.
Tog - Sunday & Tuesday - Feb 3 & 5 - 6 to 3:30 - $125.00 - 12 Sells Out.
Long Tog - Wed, Feb 6th - 5:30 to 4:30 - $150 - 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. Temps are dropping, cbass are few & far between inshore.
Be A Half Hour Early - We Like To Leave Early.
Clients Arriving Late Will See The West End Of An East Bound Boat..
3,528 "Oyster Castle" Reef Blocks By The Rail. (828 @ Jimmy's Reef)
Greeting All,
Monday left everyone sore. A forecast of ten to fifteen south coming fifteen to twenty in the afternoon became rain, sleet & ice at twenty-five knots out of the SW by 10:00 AM.
One fellow, a dedicated Connecticut angler, managed a couple fish over 10 pounds. A pillar of Churchillian resolve fishing forward of amidship boated 3 keepers. With only 17 tog aboard, had it not been for high winds the scent of skunk would have hung heavy along the rail, myself included.
Got in on time with a partial credit around the rail.
I am often stunned by my client's generosity. Jim brought a tub of home-made tog chowder that was simply the best chowder of any kind I've ever had - Ever. Chilled to the bone & wave-beaten, that hot chowder and some fresh Russian bread for dinner made the world a different place.
Monday a clunker, Tuesday was among the best tog trips this season.
Alex gets many species of fish smoked at -- I'm telling you, This is as good as it gets. If you're in the Philadelphia area, this guy's worth looking up.
Good stuff of life aside, we remain challenged by our methods of fishery restoration.
I've been writing to NOAA/NMFS & MD Fisheries to Have The Debate, the debate over Attraction vs Production; Make It Happen.
Its just amazing that in a system perfectly content to bring instant economic hardship to the whole coast's for-hire reef fishers from vaporous catch estimate data, our reef-fish do not have a reef habitat component in management: We have yet to discover ANY natural habitat in our nearshore waters.
Attraction vs Production.. I went back and researched many college texts looking for what might have created this huge divide..
I believe what I found, what I knew I'd find, will be enlightening; That perhaps it will encourage NOAA/NMFS & the States to consider actually having this debate, and using the result to guide future restoration efforts.
Here a brief look at our present state of habitat knowledge in way of prologue.
The tide is slowly turning on habitat ignorance. An investigation has begun with extensive habitat works in the canyons off DelMarVa and southern NJ. See Nose around here some and you'll see snowy grouper and other odd goings-on.
I also hear they've discovered large bubblegum corals -- alive. Paragorgia arborea, see
I've seen pictures from the 1970s of these corals as tall as a man. One of the principal scientists on the deep-water expeditions told me before this cruise he'd never found any but the smallest juveniles - tiny ..but he knew those juvis had to come from somewhere, there had to be a spawning population down there.
Now we have this -- -- an opportunity to "Make Comment" on that which even scientists know very little, an opportunity to comment on stern-towed commercial gear impacts to these corals.
We really can't guess how important the deep water corals are to fish. From the stories I've heard and a few I've read, I'm pretty sure we'd lost a lot of these corals by 1980.
I predict the conclusion will be, "These are species of unknown abundance and should be treated as endangered."
OK good.
Investigation begun, there is light being shone on deep habitat. Sixty miles out and more, we know something about the bottom.
Between our inlets and these deep-slope canyon waters, however, there's habitat too: Essential Fish Habitat.
In its simplest form my argument that we must have once had a far greater sea floor habitat footprint than present stems from changes in how we fish recreationally, stems from eyewitness accounts of habitat loss over the last 70 years, and from commercial landings of sea bass which were greater in the 1950s than in all decades since combined..
We know oyster reefs are all but lost; spend millions annually putting them back. But at the very heart of this enormous oyster restoration effort is a 'repletion program' from the late 1920s if I recall the date. Up until recently we only put shell back; often spat-on-shell, shell with oysters already growing on them from government hatcheries just as originally intended by an oyster repletion program paid for by a century-old oyster tax.
All fine & well if you want to keep oyster dredging alive.
Hasn't helped much with fish habitat or water quality restoration.
Hasn't helped at all actually.
But there have been big changes in oyster restoration of late, at least in Maryland. There are more and larger sanctuaries & a more watchful eye on them. There's a tightened approach of tributary by tributary restoration rather than scatter-shot across the Bay's entirety
..but save a couple train cars worth of reef balls--each & every unit hard won by volunteers--the rest of the effort's money is going into shell.
Here's how I see it; shell might--just maybe--kick start those reefs again. Hasn't worked yet in over a century of trying, but perhaps this time.. Then, in just five or six centuries, we'll begin to see robust three-dimensional fish habitat again because oysters want to grow UP, want to get into better feeding position.
Where shell works as a reef substrate new oyster growth will form reef. Doing it since about the Civil War, building these shell piles. I do admire tenacity.
And, if it really does work this time, maybe the Smithsonian will have cryogenically-preserved collections of life we can use to to re-seed Bay waters as we say good-bye to algae and jellies these five centuries hence.
The most studied hard-bottom loss in the world -- the Chesapeake's oysters.
We're using shell to restore reef-height loss measured in yards & meters.
Knocked the reefs down. Got to build them UP.
Boulder & large cobble would restore fish habitat a lot quicker, put the oysters where they're trying to get to begin with.
Allowing reefs to form of 'natural' substrates involves centuries if not millennia.
Although oyster hardbottom studied beyond any other, our ocean is turning green in oyster's loss
..and we're "restoring" sea bass with no habitat idea whatever - none.
NOAA Cabinet Member on 1/17/2013: "We really need to have a discussion about Attraction vs Production. Every time artificial reef comes up people back away from it."
At sea I believe much of our great fish factory has been ground to dust, that the Mid-Atlantic's seafloor habitat of pre & post WWII was almost entirely lost in the rise of industrial stern-towed fishing gears; has been for over three decades. With no recognition of what was and no rebuilding blueprint to work from, management begins: If fishery restoration architects envision an outhouse in place of a factory, no one can argue.
An irritating but necessary aside as I amble toward discovery of where the deeply held belief, "Building Reef Only Attracts Fish" came from: There are those who believe we're getting along just fine with fishery restoration, who believe an argument for habitat is pointless because we're 'doing so well' with catch restriction.
Moreover, some of these folks argue changes we've made accidentally and over many decades are for the better, That habitat loss serves industry's purpose, That we shouldn't even try to change it back but instead work with what we have now.
Then too, Catch Restriction Can Do It All: ask almost any manager: "We're making big improvements to recreational catch data."
Here's a quick rundown of the bloopers I've found just in a quick look at Maryland's 2012 MRIP recreational catch data for two species.
A) MuRFSS has MD private boats catching 1,000 more cbass than party/charter in May/June while MRIP has it as 4,000 more cbass caught by private boats. I doubt private boats caught one in ten of Maryland's party/charter sea bass..
B) For July & August MRIP has private boats catching 1,700 cbass and party/charter catching none/zero. We party/charter skippers told the government exactly how many sea bass we caught every day in MANDATORY vessel trip reports -- VTRs. I reported to NMFS that I caught sea bass EVERY DAY in July & August. We sent in our daily catches. If we are not compliant then we could easily find ourselves without permits.
C) The "new & improved" MRIP data for Maryland summer flounder illustrates how baseless these estimates are, Shows they're much more of a slot machine's spin than an estimate of real catch.
Is it because MD's private boats suddenly developed a taste for cbass that they've abandoned their May/June flounder? Estimated at zero flounder caught this spring while trouncing party/charter sea bass effort, that's what the data implies.
D) Then, when no one was looking in Sept/Oct, shore fishers stepped up and extracted almost 80% of our state's flounder landings for the period..
Pepto & Zantac sales soar when data spikes. Conversely, there's a collective sigh of relief when anglers & management see the slot-machine's wheels spin to a low number or zero: Ah, we can relax regulation and show everyone how good it's working.
Flounder are that this year. Little light spinning: Winner! Those fishers get a break from tighter management.
Sea Bass didn't.
I believe we're so busy maintaining this fictitious, fabricated & misleading veneer of knowing, of pretending recreational catch data creates knowledge suitable for use in hard quota, that the biological functions surrounding fish production have been demoted, relegated to forgotten back offices because our front-line defense against over-fishing, and thereby only offense for fishery restoration, is in controlling catch.
Those habitat folks sure are useful when NOAA/NMFS need pretty pictures though...
So I had a cabinet-level NOAA rep, our recreational rep, say to me recently; "We really need to have a discussion about Attraction vs Production. Every time artificial reef comes up people back away from it."
This is always in the undercurrent. I wrote about it many times before I met with Russ Dunn.
But I've never written about education's role, about what's in the college texts..
Readers Must First Understand: The argument 'building artificial reef is bad' stems from thinking new reef "Attracts" fish from surrounding (natural?) reefs and makes recreational catching easier. Therefore, building new reef lowers reef-fish populations across a broad area; building new reef lowers "biomass," the total weight of all reef-fish in a large area by facilitating extraction--the catching.
The argument 'new artificial reef creates production' maintains new reef is indeed an 'attracter' in it's earliest stages, when fish are at their lowest levels. However, as time passes new reef substrate is colonized by every manner of naturally occurring growth, e.g. corals & mussels -- and indeed fish too. As these first colonizers begin to spawn and, through habitat fidelity, fish/coral/mussel populations increase upon this now-maturing reef; and because previously existing nearby reefs are still in production & remain well populated, a contribution to fishery production must be said to have occurred as a result of new reef construction.
Reef building's a good thing. Getting people who were taught differently in college to think positively about this industrial restoration tool remains a challenge.
I own many college texts that I have used in self-education. Along the Fisheries shelf are numerous titles dating from the 1970s, some much earlier, to present.
Although it ceased to be used as a college text in about 1992, Lackey & Nielsen's 1980 effort, "Fishery Management" holds illustrative examples of thinking in a time when National Marine Fisheries Service had recently been the Bureau of Commercial Fishing, a time in which many of today's top managers were being educated.
Take for instance this sentence from page 259: "Commercial fishermen are disinclined to spare ten fish so that anglers, in their hilarious ways, may catch five."
One would hope perceptions may have changed.
From that same college text we come to what I believe is at the heart of the "Reef Is Bad" Attractionist argument: page 286: "In contrast to the success of increasing wildlife populations through provision of cover, fisheries management utilizes artificial cover principally to concentrate fish for harvest."
Maybe that's what they did; two paragraphs below on the same page, Nielsen & Lackey reveal how reef building would come to be used in our time: "Although provision of reefs in moderate amounts may effectively concentrate fish for harvest, reefs in excess have much the same effect as submerged vegetation in excess. That is, prey fishes may become over abundant and game fish will be so widely scattered that they are difficult to locate."
As a fisherman who shares the apex predator position with true aquatic hunters, I read 'prey species' as, among many, red snapper & sea bass. "..over abundant" would be good.
Rounsefell's 1975 text; "Ecology, utilization and management of marine fisheries" adheres to the 1961 California study, "..artificial reefs must be quite large to offer an increase in population..." & "Initially, these structures attract fishes from surrounding areas and present a substrate suitable for development of the complex biotic assemblages 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.
A re-write of Rounsefell's 1953 work; Everhart, Eipper & Youngs's 1975 text, "Principles of Fishery Science" creates confusion with their logic. This college text describes early reef works and tells us the first US artificial reef was built on the McAllister fishing grounds off Long Island with "broken masonry building materials" (I have it on good authority the reef's still there.) The text then describes "The use of artificial reefs to improve sport fisheries in coastal marine waters has been developed, probably from the knowledge fishing is good near sunken ships." In the next paragraph, "The first really substantial effort to construct artificial marine fishing reefs was in 1953 in the Gulf of Mexico by the Alabama Dept. of Conservation working with a charter boat club. Altogether, several thousand auto bodies were dumped in the Gulf floor off Alabama. Results were excellent. Snapper fishing became phenomenal and there were snappers were there were none before. However, the auto bodies disintegrated in from three to five years..."
The authors then describe the California study, but with an emphasis on materials used and not their ecological findings as Rounsefell himself was doing at exactly this time in a new text.
The artificial reef section concludes with a short section on what we would now call FADs, or Fish Attraction Devices, that float or are suspended mid-water.
Unlike sea or bayfloor substrates meant to increase an area's oyster or coral reef footprint, FADs work exactly as described: that's what students were left with -- Attraction.
Perhaps most to my point, William F. Royce's, "Introduction to the Fishery Sciences" has no mention of reef that I can find. It does, however, go on in great length, in fantastic mathematical examination, about production.
Here is our brick wall, where the notion "We'll never see it as good as it was," comes in. For Attractionists 'Production' is a static number, something suffered in bad times or enjoyed in good. Habitat holding capacity, "K" they call it in fishery production formulas, is a theoretical boundary: In the eyes of Attractionists, K remains constant.
In the eyes of reef building Productionists, K is a value that is lowered in hurricane's impact & raised with each dollar spent on substrate deployment.
Grow Coral, Make Fish: Raise K.
Recent texts touch more firmly on habitat loss, even as causing a diminishment of production, but their editors don't dare stir the ire of deeply entrenched Attractionists at the head of every totem: Artificial Reef Is Bad, Concentrates Fish For Easier Harvest.
Jennings, Kaiser & Reynolds' 2001 text, "Marine Fisheries Ecology," has only the briefest of mentions: "(like FADs..) Artificial reefs also attract fish and make them more accessible to fishers." (citing Pickering & Whitmarsh, 1997) Curiously, a section on 'effects of fishing on reefs' only deals with prey & predator abundance, there's no mention about physical disturbance or reef loss due to gear impact there. Then the authors devote an entire section to "Direct effects of fishing gear on the seabed" where every bit of science showing physical disruption to sand, mud or stone is brought forth, but no tie is made that I can see between fishery production and habitat loss save a mention of juvenile cod survival in sponge beds. (keep in mind the reefs we have along DelMarVa have yet to even be found by science) The authors do point out, however, that artificial reefs "..are usually made of tyres, concrete blocks, or scrap iron, and are sometimes treated as a cheap waste disposal option!" (exclamation point original - Reefs Are Bad)
The 2003 FAO conference collection titled, "Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem" discusses numerous works--has a chapter on "Impacts of Fishing Gears on Marine Benthic Habitats" yet, so far as I can tell, has no mention of artificial reef as a means of habitat restoration.
Norse & Crowder's 2005, "Marine Conservation Biology" offers a section on page 68, "Extinction by Loss of Habitat" followed immediately by "Trawling and Loss of Habitat." Chapter 12 of this text was written by Les Watling, "The Global Destruction of Bottom Habitats by Mobile Fishing Gear." Likely because of Attractionists' taboo, the simple & pragmatic approach of re-creating hardbottom communities lost to stern-towed gear by building artificial reef is not to be found here.
Precht's 2006 work however, "Coral Reef Restoration Handbook," is loaded with artificial re-reefing strategies..
We know beyond a doubt that loss of complex habitat decreases fishery production.
Rolling rocks off a barge can put it back.
A layman's collection of works, there are scientists at the top of this game whose knowledge goes incredibly deeper than my own.
Variations in management's perception of artificial reef illustrate the need to have a real "Attraction vs Production Debate."
Soon would be good.
NOAA/NMFS cannot turn a blind-eye to habitat loss in the nearshore waters of the Mid-Atlantic forever. Once discovered, need of habitat restoration before there can be real & lasting fishery restoration will be glaringly obvious.
Like it or not, artificial reef is the only reason we have robust sea bass & tautog fisheries below Sandy Hook, NJ.
Production in grand scale awaits, Creating Engineered Reef-Fish Populations.
Get this debate over with, Discover Reef Building's Strength.
Making fish is as easy as rolling rocks off a barge.
More Coral, More Oysters, More Fish.
Raise K.
My Regards,
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservation Line 410 520 2076

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