Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fish Report 10/23/14

Fish Report 10/23/14 
The Catching 
Going Long 
Bad Data's Depths

Xtra-Long Sea Bass Trip In An Upcoming Calm: Monday, October 27th - $150.00 - 5AM to 5PM.. 

Now Have Reservation Book Open Thru November 16th For Sea Bass On Our Regular Schedule. 

Saturday's 6:00 to 3:30 - $125.00 – Otherwise 7 to 3 at $110.00..
Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - Weather Cancelations Are Common - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way..  

Be a half hour early! We always leave early! 
..except when someone shows up right on time. 
Clients arriving late will see the west end of an east bound boat. 

Dramamine Is Cheap Insurance! Crystalized Ginger Works Great Too. It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure.  
If You Suffer Mal-de-Mer In A Car You Should Experiment On Shorter Half-Day Trips First! 

Bring A Cooler With Ice For Your Fish – A 48 Quart Cooler Is Fine For A Few People. 
Bring Lunch & Your Refreshment – No Galley. Bring A Fish Towel Too.. 

The OC Reef Foundation Aims To Build Its Single Largest & Most Expensive Concrete Reef Deployment Ever This Fall. (early this winter??) The Capt Bob Gowar Reef Will Become A Cornerstone Of Our Nearshore Reef Restoration Efforts. 

10,583 Reef Blocks by the rail – 3,000 at Jimmy Jackson's – 2,136 at Doug Ake's – 1,125 at Saint Ann's – 558 at Eagle Scout Reef - 537 at Lindsey's Isle of Wight Reef and, just begun, 62 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef.. 

Greetings All, 
Sea bass reopened in heavy weather. Got out Saturday but laid inshore awhile to make sure NW winds weren't going to howl. Hurricane swell & NW winds made for a crossed up, messed up sea that laid out fairly decent in late morning. Got into sea bass and small blues of a couple pounds. High hook had 13 sea bass with many decent fish around. 

With the forecast remaining firm at 25 to 30 NW, clients & crew slept in Sunday. Two clients showed up anyway, their phones having gone missing. 

Monday we sealed the deal for a couple anglers - limited out at our modern 15 fish limit. I think everyone was in double digits. 
Tuesday I had three lady anglers aboard - they limited out first. Another fellow claimed to have limited first, but when I checked his fish he got a stern lecture on measuring instead. 
I remained in pursuit of a hot bite & soon almost everyone was limited  ..except I had three guys who couldn't catch a minnow in a mud-puddle with a butterfly net. 
One fellow had mono on a conventional reel; not unlike sending a US Marine into combat with a flintlock. Gave me a backlash flashback to rental-rods of yesteryear; he wasn't thumbing the spool.
Another had the clicker on and wasn't reaching bottom.. 
Got them catching & up into double digits. 
The third guy was trying all sorts of jigs & spoons with very little success, falling way behind. How in blazes a jig can be red hot some days, yet completely ineffective on other days I can't guess. 
I kept switching lures, looking for "the one." Even fished some bait & caught a few. Fortunately, clients with a limit helped send me home with some for the freezer. 

Although few would argue I'm an expert at catching sea bass; my failing to see what was working & getting on with it prevented success. . . . 

The July/August MRIP Recreational Catch estimates came out. 
We're in trouble, just not as much trouble as I'd feared. Not yet anyway. We're at quota and would be shut down immediately had Maryland's Mike Luisi & others not changed the process. In fact, we would not have had a sea bass season had they not changed the regulatory process.. 

Maryland party boats, surrendering daily catch sheets to NOAA called VTRs (Vessel Trip Reports) pulled another zero. We ocean-going party boats, carrying lots of people, dutifully told NOAA we caught sea bass virtually every day in summer. 
We told them we caught sea bass. NOAA's official Party Boat estimate gives us another Zero. 
We got "skunked" in the estimates for May/June too. 
If your sense of coastal fisheries is derived primarily from data on a computer screen, as any regulator or legislator might, you would have to conclude sea bass are not an important fishery at all along coastal Maryland. It would be irrational to think otherwise. 

There it is. Plain as day from late spring right through summer; a number easy to grapple: 
Zero Sea Bass. 
Why does that Hawkins guy make so much noise about a fishery that doesn't even exist? 

That's what Maryland's Senators & Congressmen might think. That's what came out of the "Economic Impact Study" for the Emergency Closure a few years back. Delaware had a couple-hundred bucks per boat, Maryland had a thousand bucks or so. 'No worries Mr. & Mrs. DC Representative, NOAA has your constituents' best interest well in hand.'

People far removed from fisheries have no window from which to view our livelihood except in data provided by NOAA. Whatever a legislator thinks of our fisheries is, at very best, only in minor part derived by actual constituent reports. It will be information NOAA offers that primarily forms their "Big Picture."

Then too, people much closer to restoration's core efforts; people such as John Boreman, Rick Robins & Chris Moore, people at the heart of regulation also see our fisheries as represented on a computer screen. Believe me, these men are truly gifted and incredibly dedicated. We can be very glad they have devoted their life-long efforts to restoration. I'm positive things could be much, much worse without their efforts, especially of late. There are many more in management who willingly work in marine restoration. Believe This: No One goes to fisheries meetings because they're fun & exciting.. 

Despite all this talent & diligence, however, their vision of the sea bass fishery, any fishery, can only be sourced from data, not from experience. 

So, Maryland party boats are again assigned a zero in the July/Aug sea bass estimate. 
Brilliant people, tasked with the impossibly enormous task of keeping numerous fisheries healthy--and restoring those which are not; Our best managers cannot & will not make 20 phone calls to see if the summer sea bass fishery is important along coastal DelMarVa, they'll keystroke and click their way to their "Best Available Scientific Information" ..and MRIP will lie to them. 

Why on earth would a Congressman, Senator, or even anyone high-up in NOAA concern themselves with a fishery with no catch? 
"That Can't Be Very Important. Lets Move To The Next Issue Please." 
Our recently revamped MRIP estimates are so bad they completely prevent rational thought/rational comparison/rational ranking from regulators & legislators. 

One thing's for sure, New Jersey's new 3 sea bass limit in summer sure knocked the wind out of that state's Private Boat catch. Last year NJ's summer estimate was 250,000 pounds of cbass with a 20 fish limit & five weeks of summer season. Now, with the sea bass limit cut back to 3 fish, NJ's 2014 Private Boat estimate is 200,000 pounds fewer at just over 50,000 pounds. 

Funny, also in MRIP's 2014 July/August sea bass estimate is Rhode Island private boats having their best-ever sea bass catch. They too have a 3 (three) sea bass limit. 

What's really funny is how NJ's For-Hire fleet caught a paltry 6,000 pounds in July/Aug 2013 with a 20 fish limit. This while New Jersey Private Boats, post-Sandy, pounded out nearly their best year ever. Then, while those same Private Boats that just crushed 'em in 2013 couldn't hardly scratch-up a sea bass in summer 2014, NJ's For-Hire guys returned to their roots and caught the most summer sea bass they've had in the last 12 years. 
With a 3 fish limit. 
Wasn't long ago they had a 25 fish limit and didn't catch anywhere near as many.  

Regulations Are Real - Estimates Are Not. 
I absolutely believe management's regulatory response to bad catch estimates has destroyed the sea bass fishery. If left on present course I fully anticipate non-estuarine coastal port party boats to fold as sea bass are regulated out. 
Sea bass populations, however, ARE NOT on the rise owing to unbearable regulation. Owing to biological spawning response triggered by size limit, cbass are in decline from at least northern Jersey to all points south in the management unit.  

We have to prove - PROVE BEYOND A DOUBT - MRIP's catch data is unfit to offer firm regulatory guidance. 
I really think our best shot at finding the truth of recreational catch is in "percentage of the fishery." 
NOAA needs to take all those VTRs, the forms we report catch on every day, and convert them into catch. Then, by going to all participants, discover what percentage of the fishery the For-Hire (party/charter) fleet has. This would instantly create a method of testing estimates for misrepresentations of catch. 

For instance, If NY's May/June sea bass were traditionally split 50/50 between For-Hire and Private Boat - and VTR reports indicate the 25,000 pound summer 2013 estimate is somewhat accurate, then the Private Boat estimate could reliably be shown to be about 490,000 pounds too high, or 25% of rec quota too high..
Along Maryland's coast very few Private Boats participate in the sea bass fishery. They have rarely caught even 15% of the Party/Charter catch. In this case VTRs would first raise MD's Party/Charter "zero" sea bass caught to at least VTR reported levels, and also raise the Private Boat estimate of 281 pounds to 15% of Party/Charter's catch. 

Another way of looking at it: If private boats normally catch 7 cbass for every 10 in a given state's For-Hire fishery, and suddenly take just one; or, more in keeping with out troubles, take 70 or even 700 cbass for every For-Hire 10 - then a red flag would be raised to closely examine the estimate.
At the very least a "Wet Paint" sign could be placed on the estimate so management wouldn't use it to increase/decrease regulation until its accuracy was resolved. 

I am certain the many examples in MRIP where Private Boats catch even up to 97% of a state's cbass are wildly incorrect. (95% Private Boat NY July/Aug 2013 -- 97% Private Boat NJ July/Aug 2013) 
For every boat owner there are HUNDREDS, maybe thousands, of anglers who cannot afford a boat (or have better sense than to buy a boat) ..that's what keeps the For-Hire industry in business! 

I carry Private Boat owners every week, every single trip in winter. They like not having to scrub..

I believe percentages of cbass caught between For-Hire & Private Boat remain fairly constant from region to region. It may be 50/50 off NY and 15% Private--85% For-Hire off Maryland - but it won't change much within a state or region. If more Private Boaters are going fishing because fishing's great, so too are that region's For-Hire boats carrying more people..

Vagaries that cause trouble in catch estimates always run crazily away from anyone's perception of a "normal" division of Private Boat/For Hire catch. 

MRIP field interviewers found just two cbass among MA Private Boats in May, 2010.. Those two fish became 650,000 pounds of quota-crushing cbass in MRIP's May/June estimate. 
Yes, you read that correctly. And, yes, I wrote it correctly. 
Two sea bass became: 'Call The National Guard!!! Those Bastards Are Over Quota Again!'  
The estimate can be mathematically expressed as forming a 92 to 8% split favoring the private boats. It is stupendously, blatantly ludicrous to anyone familiar with the fishery. I actually had Massachusetts For-Hire skippers laugh out loud at a meeting when I showed them the estimate. 
It never could have happened
..but regulations promulgated under the weight of this estimate are perfectly within protocols for anyone whose view is 100% computer data driven. 
Having lived the sea bass fishery since I was a teenager, I think the fishery rather vital. We sure carry a lot of folks. 
Anyone who's view is 100% data driven, however, must think I'm paddling with one oar. 
"Maryland party boats don't even catch sea bass!" ..sez so on this computer screen. 

It is necessary to create a clear picture of where management has diverged from a true restoration strategy because of bad catch inputs. The acceptance of rotten data as "scientifically sound" has poisoned restoration efforts, prevented rational consideration, and precluded rational regulation owing to our "best available science" being fiction.. 

Management is convinced the trouble w/catch estimates is funding. "We're not funded." 
Before it was "We don't have a head-count. A license would fix everything." 
Now we have a license - everyone's registered. No Improvement - just a claim of improvement. 

They already have VTRs. Getting fishermen to tell them various percentages shouldn't break the bank. 'Percentage of the fishery' calculations would carry regulators much closer to the truth. 

What we know about fisheries management from its 30-some years of existence is that regulations can be devised to restrict catch--to prevent extraction. If the number of fish taken annually is less than current spawning production, then restoration via population growth is begun. 
If more fish are surviving spawning than are being taken, the population of that species must grow. (unless predation or disease is increased thereby raising the natural mortality rate..)  
We may continue to fish & extract fish while a population grows. (always called a 'stock' in fisheries circles) A stock can increase, sometimes magnificantly, while fairly robust fishing pressure is occurring. 

I believe what we've missed by relying so heavily upon catch estimates is a biological response predicted throughout the biological world: In every creature from virus to blue whale, every species has variations in spawning productivity owing to habitat capacity, age at maturity, predation - on & on. 
I believe extraction can be fashioned into a tool to increase natural spawning production. I'm positive of it. 
I also believe increased habitat can foster population growth in many species, but most obviously in reef species. 

When our sea bass population doubled & doubled in the Southern Mid-Atlantic between 1995 & 2002, every sea bass in the ocean was a spawner. Now catch has declined by at least 80% and so has the stock; yet the spawning age of sea bass remains as though they were on guard to prevent habitat overcrowding. They used to all spawn by age one. Now they All spawn by age four.. That's an effect of size limit - which is an effect of over-regulation  - which stems solely from bad estimates. 
I was there in the bad old days. I know what overfishing looked like and fought to repair it. 
What we're seeing today is bad management that looks pretty on a computer. 
Painful as hell at sea. 
Squandering an already rebuilt fishery for the sake of data no one should believe. 
Squandering biological and economic potential to make a computer happy. 
Squandering by regulation while accused of overfishing. 

Catch estimates need fixing. Not "press release" repairs we often see, real repair. 
Not, "In general, annual MRIP catch estimates for the entire management unit of a species inform federal stock assessments and are used for specifying annual catch limits and determining annual adjustments to regulations to prevent overfishing."  
Not, "..With these improvements in place, we can say with confidence that we have enhanced the quality of our estimates." 
We Need Real Repair. 

Then we need to immediately repair sea bass regulation so the fishery can rebuild. 
And, while it's rebuilding, if NOAA happens to take notice reef fish actually live on reefs, that knowledge could be crafted into an even greater restoration. 

We already posses the knowledge needed to make sea bass more abundant than ever before - Ever. 
Management will need to see clearly through MRIP's catch-estimate fog, however, before they discover a true path to restoration. 

No One Can Argue Today's Managers Aren't Experts At Fisheries. Blinded By Bad Data; Failing To See What Worked Is Preventing Success. 

My Regards,

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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