Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fish Report 3/16/14

Fish Report 3/16/14 
Sea Bass Opening Week 
Heavy Maintenance 
Fighting Back  

Offering Sea Bass Reservations. Just Opening Week For Now – I'll Allow Transfer Of These Tickets But No Refunds – Monday, May 19th to Sunday, May 25th – Sea Bass – New 15 Fish Limit – Still 12.5 Inches – 6 AM to 3:30 PM Long Trips - $125.00 – You Know We're Going To Count & Measure..

Still 8,700 "Oyster Castle" reef blocks by the rail – 2,524 at Jimmy's Reef – 1,746 at Ake's – 360 at Lindsey Power's..  

Greetings All, 
Back & legs sore from driving an 8 pound grinder; Mike & I have been using 16 grit disks on the deck. 
Soon have a fresh coat of non-skid on for the season. 

Dredging's going great too I'm told. Need plenty of water under the keel. 

With many more boat projects to come, Coast Guard inspection, and Reef Foundation duties; I've been busier–still trying to get our sea bass fishery resolved. 
Even went to DC and was welcomed, really welcomed, by Senator Mikulski, Senator Cardin & Congressman Harris's Staffers – even met with Senator Cardin himself for a few minutes.. I also had opportunity to meet with other Maryland Representatives' staff. 
What an amazingly busy place, with truly sharp & dedicated people. Beyond the bluster of day to day politics lies a world of brilliant staffers who's job it is to accomplish their boss's goals and relate constituents' concerns. In the next election they may have a new boss – but for many this is their career. 

All these folks were surprised to see pictures of corals growing off our coast. 
I left 8 x 10s with them. . .

But I don't think they were surprised at our troubles with MRIP catch estimates. 
Below is the piece I wrote for Staffers to try and explain how bad-estimates are undoing the public's trust in fishery management; the piece I wrote to try and explain my deep dissatisfaction with catch estimates' influence on regulation. 
Feel free to share it with your DC Senators & Representatives' Staff too. 

We are ignorant of so much in the ocean, even our corals evade science's sight. 
These catch estimates are the poorest imitation of science, yet their inaccuracies are presented by regulators as gospel. Instead of honing & refining regulation, catch estimates amplify management's ignorance.

Among tasks at hand, getting the sea bass fishery out from under catch-estimate's ax and pushing for MRIP's repair are perhaps first. 
Then, with help from wind energy I think, we can turn the ocean blue again.. 

At the very least, I will not have surrendered. 
Grab a beverage and read this piece. Send it off too. 
We have more say in Government than a simple vote – Write. 
Sometimes they read. 


This Email Is Shorter Than It Looks! 
Lots of Catch-Estimate Tables; Swiftly Taken-In Tables.. 

Greetings All,
Below I hope to quickly show how the entire history of sea bass regulation is founded primarily from enormous spikes found in MRFSS/MRIP catch-estimates, spikes in catch that exist only on a computer screen.. 

MRFSS: Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey. Dates: 1980 to 2012.
MRIP: Marine Recreational Information Program. (the Congressionally mandated repair to MRFSS) Dates: 2012 until truly repaired..
"Wave" is a two month estimating period. For instance, March/April = Wave 2, and May/June = Wave 3.. 
"Mode" is a description of who is being estimated – For-Hire (party & charter boats) or Private Boat (recreational fishers) in this work. 
"PSE" is a statistical term describing an important aspect of confidence. Managers, however, do not use PSE spreads, at all; even though they may be huge. Management, to streamline process, uses only an estimate's centerpoint. An estimate is said to be "inaccurate" if it could be more than 100% off from the 95% confidence level which is statistically expressed as a PSE greater than 50. 

Just The Estimates – Monty Hawkins, 3/14/14
MRFSS/MRIP Catch Estimates: A Short Regulatory History of the Recreational Sea Bass Fishery:

With the permission & blessing of the Nichols Family, I began self-regulation on sea bass & tautog in 1992 aboard the party boat O.C. Princess, Ocean City, MD. 
For sea bass, a nine inch size limit was chosen because I'd been told by a biologist, "All sea bass have spawned by 9 inches, some twice." Within months I knew regulation was going to work, that we could undo the damage done by industrial overfishing. Sea bass fishing became better - Instantly. By August, 1992, we could see healed hook wounds from Kahle hooks in numerous sea bass from nearshore reefs, especially reefs less-known or unknown to others. 

1) Fed/state sea bass management in the Mid-Atlantic began in 1996 when the Joint ASMFC/MAFMC Black Sea Bass Plan was adopted. 

2) 1997: Published too late in the Federal Register for '96, management is actually begun in '97 with a 9 inch limit. Listed as a goal is increasing the size limit to 10 inches.

3) 1998, Size limit up 1 inch for a 10 inch size limit, plus a late-summer closure because an increase of 1,220,000 fish is estimated in New Jersey's 1997 For-Hire estimate. This takes the New Jersey For-Hire Estimate to 3,100,000 sea bass. No other state or mode varies from previous years by a noticeable amount. It's Extremely Important To Consider & Remember The Assertion That JUST New Jersey For-Hire Caught Three Million Sea Bass In 1997. The Recreational Total That Year Was 4,721,000 Cbass Caught. This Estimate Is, Of Course, Junk. I argued against it and especially the August closure, yet failed to gain traction. I was told, in the Federal Register, to take my clients striped bass fishing – quite impossible along the coast in high-summer.. While exact numbers in the estimates are nearly worthless; we did, however, catch a lot of sea bass back then; just one year into management; just one year after wholly-unregulated sea bass fishing had ended. 

4) 2001, Size increase to 11 inches and a spring closure. Regulation in this early period tightened when New Jersey's Y2K For-Hire estimate Alone & Again put coastwide recreational fishers over-quota. 
2002, increase to 11.5 inches & no closed season. A twenty-five fish bag limit is begun. Tighter regulation sources, as ever, from New Jersey For-Hire "catching" over half the 2001 recreational quota and that's that.
Prior to this first bag limit, anglers could keep as many legal sized fish as they caught. In late fall, for instance, this could easily exceed 100 fish per person ..Still, from 1997 to 2003 the sea bass population grew fantastically. One could say 'exponentially' in very precise definition; Exponential population growth despite incredibly higher recreational removals than today. 

5) 2003, increase to 12 inches with a short fall closure. For once, New Jersey actually declines slightly in 2002 while Delaware increase from about 110,000 in 2001 to 560,000 sea bass in 2002.. MD's up 200,000 year over year from '01 to '02.. In the estimate MD For-Hire 'catches' 311,000 sea bass, but I'm absolutely positive this number is at least 100,000 too high. Fishing was awesome.

6) 2009 – Size limit increased to 12.5 inches, but I don't remember exactly why and can't find it. Note: 2008 is the first year Private Boats are estimated to have caught more sea bass than the For-Hire fleet in the Mid-Atlantic with 63% of total landings. A Tumultuous Year; in early fall, 2009, an Emergency 180 Day Closure is declared based on estimated 2009 coastwide landings of 1,769,000 sea bass, or about half what the New Jersey For-Hire fleet alone had been catching previously. Estimates credit Private Boats with another percentage of the fishery increase in 2009, catching 74% of the coast's sea bass. This is several times the percentage of the fishery they'd held earlier, and a much greater percentage of the fishery than professional skippers believe Private Boats capture. 

7) There was a regulatory peace beginning in 2004. That peace was shattered when our smallest quota ever was exceeded in 2009. . .
The 2009 emergency sea bass closure bases primarily from Massachusetts wave 4 July/Aug Private Boat catch being up 340,000 pounds from 2008's 33,000 or 2007's 9,000 pounds.. (see table immediately below) There were also increases in Virginia's private boat, up 115,000 pounds from just 10,000 the year before – New York's private boats were up 160,000 pounds in wave 3 from just 30,000 & New Jersey's private boats were up 145,000 in wave 3 plus another 220,000 pounds in wave 4.. 

Since 2009 Sea Bass management has come completely unglued. 
Its not as though outboards are a new invention. Their catch sure is though..

Even allowing a million fish here and there, the downward catch trend from regulatory tightening is plainly seen in party/charter estimates. For-Hire catch is factually reduced when regulations tighten; Regulation's Effect Is Real. 
Catch on the private boat side, however, is reported by the estimates to erupt wildly & uncontrollably, then subside swiftly. There is no apparent regulatory control over the Private Boat mode. That, of course, is not at all true. Private Boat Catch Is Increasingly Restricted, it's just not seen in the estimates. 

Massachusetts Private Boat  —  Note Percentage of the Fishery
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSEPrivate Boat %
FINAL2007JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS9,00668.78,76070.538%
FINAL2008JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS21,21376.432,85874.058%
FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS270,46034.7372,32134.292% 

Massachusetts For-Hire
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
For Hire % 
FINAL2007JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS14,58660.018,62162.562%
FINAL2008JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS15,23948.517,87146.042%
FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS22,38433.930,21739.58%

The regulatory history is driven by estimate spikes. Only rarely are broader multi-state/multi-mode/multi-wave increases a factor. 
In the early years, estimate spikes were seen primarily on the For-Hire side. Now it's virtually always on the Private Boat side, and never both. Catch increases are rarely seen across time, across recreational sectors & across state lines as in real life. Estimate spikes never resemble real biological fish production.
In the estimates, fishing doesn't get better over time, it's all of a sudden. 'Statistically' these catch increases happen swiftly, inside a two month period, and then melt away.. 

8) In 2010 we had a "gunshot start" for the first time ever; a race-like opening for sea bass in late May because of the 2009 emergency closure. The season closed October 5th. In the lower Mid-Atlantic there was a four month open season with a 12.5 inch size limit and 25 fish bag. 

9) 2011 – Season Closed From Jan 1st to May 22nd--And All of October. Gunshot Start Again. 

10) 2012 — Overages in the Private Boat estimates threaten to close sea bass for all of 2014. The worst two catch estimate sets in 2012 were in New Jersey & Massachusetts. 

This table offers a May/June\ July/Aug Comparison of Massachusetts Private Boat Catch. Their bag limit, for instance, doubled to twenty fish in July/Aug 2012, Yet Catch Declined By 600,000 lbs.. Compare especially the summer estimates & Bag Limits Shown In Last Column. Note also the 2010 spring estimate.. Only In MRIP Could Such Things Occur.. 
Massachusetts' May/June, 2012, spike represents how half of the recreational quota can be made to suffer a regulatory seizure owing only to a single spike in the estimates. Massachusetts' 2012 estimates were a huge component in the Accountability Measures struggle. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSEBag Limit 
FINAL2009MAY/JUNEBLACK SEA BASS34,49351.372,68252.120
FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS270,46034.7372,32134.220

FINAL2010MAY/JUNEBLACK SEA BASS448,18168.6610,38069.220
FINAL2010JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS121,48156.2202,68354.920


FINAL2011MAY/JUNEBLACK SEA BASS77,39742.9124,30945.420
FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS36,70439.464,79238.620

FINAL2012MAY/JUNEBLACK SEA BASS276,31534.3616,51233.310
FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS7,77468.316,37265.820


New Jersey – Private Boat – No Special Regs In 2007.. Just Random Numbers. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)

11) Owing to foresight by an ASMFC Commission member, the winter period from Jan 1st to Feb 29th, 2013 is reopened & the October Closure is reduced to 2 weeks. May, however, is still nearly lost to southern Mid-Atlantic sea bass fishers. A year-long 2014 closure is defeated owing to an incredible effort on the part of management.

Recreational sea bass fishers in the lower Mid-Atlantic may yet lose 15 more days of season & 5 fish off their bag limit in 2014 because NY Private Boats are estimated to have caught more sea bass in two late-summer months of 2013 than the entire Atlantic Coast's recreational for-hire fleet caught ALL YEAR! New York's Private Boats are said to have made their all-time record high catch when New York's own party/charter For-Hire operators were; owing to Hurricane Sandy's destruction, factually having their second-worst summer of sea bass fishing in a decade. 

This assertion of New York private boat catch flies in the face of reality—no one in industry or management believes it -- Yet the estimate stands firm & has sopped-up fully a quarter of the MAFMC's recreational 2013 sea bass quota: While New Jersey also has a spike, this one New York estimate is why we're accused of being over-quota; This estimate is why our season's under pressure again.  

Some Tables..

Last Set Key; this table has been modified so New York For-Hire & Private Boat can be compared. I was unable to change the colors in the PSE boxes for Private Boat, but did change the PSE values exactly as MRIP shows. An estimate is said to be inaccurate if it could be more than 100% off in the 95% confidence level (50 PSE.) 

Personally, I often see estimates I believe are several orders of magnitude too high; and, in an abject display of foundational knowledge's absence, I also commonly see estimates that are impossibly low.  

Note spikes & percentage inconsistency, especially for 2013. The 2013 New York, summer, Private Boat estimate represented here is Greater Than All For-Hire Catch, Along The Entire Coast, All Year. 

Readers Should Also Be Made Aware That The 2013 NY Private Boat Estimate Is Based Upon Finding Thirty-Three Sea Bass In Intercept Sampling. Not 3,300 – or 33,000 - Just 33.. I was recently advised there was an error on the website where this information was gathered; that the true number of sea bass was more than 100% higher at 78 individual sea bass.. Whether 33 or 78, how so few fish become 240,000 & then half-a-million pounds is beyond my comprehension. 
Repairing only this estimate would lower the recreational estimate below MAFMC's 2013 recreational quota. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest 
NY For-Hire
PSETotal Harvest 
NY Private Boat
Catch Ratio

FINAL2001JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS10,18247.065,82842.113%

FINAL2002JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS3,01653.1 12,00337.220%
FINAL2003JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS13,57626.445,33031.423%

FINAL2004JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS9,85557.115,38655.140%
FINAL2005JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS5,42636.350,73260.010%
FINAL2006JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS41,09964.938,50843.852%

FINAL2007JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS91,16814.837,68655.871%
FINAL2008JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS18,07040.339,83455.831%

FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS23,52634.4 183,77559.111%
FINAL2010JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS53,77032.783,51348.739%

FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS11,32653.153,74052.517%

FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS73,31136.9127,87159.127%


Last set again key; this table has been modified so New Jersey For-Hire & Private Boat can be compared. 
Here you should note carefully the Private Boat see-saw starting in 2005, but especially the percentage value in 2013.
Estimate StatusYear WaveCommon NameNJ For-Hire 
Total Harvest
PSENJ Private Boat 

PSEFor-Hire %

FINAL2001JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS 461,14019.8223,91228.067%

FINAL2002JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS22,37723.999,01323.118.3

FINAL2003JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS85,38514.8115,13224.643%

FINAL2004JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS40,22569.3137,95035.623%

FINAL2005JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS48,59130.7216,83338.018%

FINAL2006JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS7,03938.224,14848.129%

FINAL2007JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS74,70830.1151,35345.533%

FINAL2008JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS33,41127.414,33052.870%

FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS97,02333.2194,79042.033%

FINAL2010JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS31,52226.282,52136.928%

FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS17,29134.117,43540.832%

FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS63,69932.2117,98240.935%


Below you can see from a broader, multi-state perspective, how the gap has grown between For-Hire & Private Boat. These two tables show how after Hurricane Sandy sea bass fishing was tough for professionals – yet MRIP has the private boat guys filling their freezers to bursting. 
All Mid-Atlantic For-Hire BSB Landings – New York to Cape Hatteras
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest Total
Weight (lb)
PSEFor-Hire %
FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS52,72919.357,73319.641%
FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS149,28222.8199,57722.437%

All Mid-Atlantic Private Boat BSB Landings (mostly NY & NJ) 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest PSEHarvest Total
Weight (lb)
PSEPrivate Boat %
FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS75,92238.7107,28238.659%
FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS254,48534.8453,61037.563%
PRELIMINARY2013JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS420,61127.1786,67827.9  96%

Below is representative of pre/mid 2000s percentages. Note For-Hire & Private Boat Percentages In Last Column – An Amazing Switch. 

Mid-Atlantic For-Hire Annual Landings  Historical 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest 
PSEHarvest Total
Weight (lb)
PSEFor Hire %
FINAL1993BLACK SEA BASS4,529,97525.33,645,09328.677%
FINAL1994BLACK SEA BASS1,950,91115.01,752,21515.662%
FINAL1995BLACK SEA BASS5,103,31418.24,859,58018.680%

Mid-Atlantic Private Boat Annual Landings  Historical 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest 
Private Boat
PSEHarvest Total
Weight (lb)
PSEPrivate Boat %
FINAL1993BLACK SEA BASS1,355,97010.91,104,87113.923%
FINAL1994BLACK SEA BASS1,207,03020.81,063,51225.138%
FINAL1995BLACK SEA BASS1,305,04920.11,168,81828.7    20%

A "true believer," if there were one, would have to think Private Boats have increased their share of the fishery from about 25% in the 1990s to 96% in 2013.. 
Professionals Do Not Believe Private Boats Catch Above 50% Of Coastal Sea Bass..

After the 2009 Emergency Closure, I & others had high hopes MRIP would be an actual repair, that the new estimating system would offer an improvement. 
Instead, below are several of the first estimates I found when MRIP was "revealed" to the public in January, 2012 (four years late). I was made instantly aware the long-awaited cure for bad estimates had not been found, that MRIP would offer no repair to our recreational catch estimates. 

Where present-day management is wholly-dependent on catch restriction, we must find a method of actual improvement to our recreational estimates, we must discover the truth of recreational catch.
We must also steer management toward other means of fisheries improvement. 

Massachusetts Wave 4 (July/Aug) For-Hire Party/Charter  See Any "Improvement" on the MRIP side? Any at all?

Estimate StatusYearWaveSpecies  New MRIP  {Old MRFSS}PSE  or MRIP's Margin of Error Spread
FINAL2004JULY/AUGUSTSCUP752,942        {19,547}48.9    or      20,000 to 1,450,000
FINAL2005JULY/AUGUSTSCUP     1,382       {12,557}   67.3    or        Zero to 3,200
FINAL2006JULY/AUGUSTSCUP  76,908        {49,624}46.2   or       6,000 to 140,000

Here's another: 
This MRIP table starts in 2001 - should have 13 years. Where the year is omitted the estimate is zero. New Jersey Shore Tautog, Wave 2, Just March/April – Just Tautog Caught From Shore Along New Jersey. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE

And its MRFSS counterpart.  
Note carefully how the "new & improved" MRIP estimates dealt with MRFSS's 2010 inconsistency – They added 100,000 fish!!!
Species: TAUTOG - 2007 to 2011 -- NJ -- Shore -- '07 = zero -- '08 = zero -- '11 = zero  

I believe Congress thought the old catch-estimating formula's failing was MRFSS' dependance on a scatter-shot telephone survey to calculate private boat & shore effort. 
That's why Congress created the very unpopular salt-water fishing license law. I supported the fishing license because I can plainly see how it could tighten up our catch estimates. 
Now I understand the MRIP team plans on experimenting with salt-water license data beginning in 2015. 
That's what was supposed to sharpen the estimates. An IMPROVED PHONE SURVEY was THE REPAIR offered by MRIP. That's what was supposed to take place by 2009!!! 

These estimates are a mess. A hundred thousand more fish added to the dumbest estimate ever.. Estimates that make no sense to industry at all.. 
I believe a true repair can be fashioned by using federally mandated fishing licenses to determine phone survey/mailing targets & by using For-Hire "Vessel Trip Reports" (VTRs are catch reports filled out daily) to double check For-Hire estimates. Then, with as firm a number as possible from the For-Hire side, do a "Percentage of the Fishery" comparison to look for red-flags in the estimate fields. 

If regulators were made to reconsider each specific spike in the MRFSS/MRIP catch estimates that forced the sea bass fishery's regulatory tightenings, they'd soon discover recreational overfishing only an artifact of their data and not at all real. That would allow experimentation with the sciences of Population Biology & Habitat Ecology.

Fish Do Not Fall From The Sky. 
We must learn how to make fish. 
Surplus-production is the true backbone of fishery management. It begins with fertilized eggs – more fertilized eggs. 
Guided Skillfully By Management, Fishing Pressure CREATES Surplus Production. Sadly, right now management's enveloped in an enormous smoke-screen of bad estimates. I believe history will recognize this period as precisely how NOT to manage a fishery.  
Thankfully, however, we've already witnessed surplus production to do it on purpose. 

Note 1998 to 2004 in the graph below by Dr. Gary Shepherd. 
Churchill: "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."


When management has discovered habitat & begun to manage fishery production, when we've unbuckled them from the ludicrous; Then we'll enter a period of boundless increase. 
I just hope I can hold on to my boat until then. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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