Thursday, October 09, 2014

Fish Report 10/9/14

Fish Report 10/9/14
Flounder? Ugh! 
Reef & A Fish-Fry 
A Few Thoughts 

Just One Trip Then Back To Work. 
Going Friday - 10/10/14 - Because Flounder Either Can't See Because Of Too Much Recent Ground-Swell, Or They're Too Busy Spawning, We'll Target Triggerfish. Anticipate A Very Light rail.. Trip Departs at 7 & Returns Around 3 - $110.00 - Weather Forecast Is Perfect.. 

Also Opening Saturday, October 18th & Sunday, October 19th to long sea bass trips - 6 to 3:30 - $125.00 & the rest of October until November 2nd on our regular schedule..

Sailing Only When Weather & Regulation Allow. 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. The Capt Bob Gowar Reef Will Become A Cornerstone Of Our Nearshore Reef Restoration Efforts. 

Reef blocks previously weighed 30 pounds apiece. We took 24 each trip. New blocks weigh very nearly 100 pounds each; we load 10 daily. Taking out more tons in fewer blocks..
10,520 Reef Blocks by the rail – 3,000 at Jimmy Jackson's – 2,136 at Doug Ake's – 1,115 at Saint Ann's – 558 at Eagle Scout Reef - 504 at Lindsey's Isle of Wight Reef and, just begun, 42 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef.. 

Greetings All, 
Had very nice catches of flounder two weeks ago. Goose egged on those same fluke last Sunday & Monday owing to swell I think, but laid-into the triggerfish. 

Been asking MD DNR to regulate triggers & spadefish for nearly a decade. It remains there is no regulation. 
I've tagged a fair number of them. Returns show a strong habitat bond to summer spawning sites with an inch of growth each month. I've had no year-to-year returns; have no idea if they migrate and, if not, if they even survive our winters. A more dedicated tagging effort is required to understand triggers in the Mid-Atlantic ..but first you'd have to pry a recreational dollar away from striped bass & flounder. 
Or do it ourselves. 

For this trip we need only know this: Triggerfish are delicious & there's no size or creel limit. 
Will almost certainly catch a lot of small bluefish that do have limits &, sadly, no flounder at all because I doubt conditions have improved offshore..

October used to be a busy month; its profitability decided by weather. 
Nowadays October is maintenance time, regulation having killed the early fall sea bass fishery. 

Did manage to drop reef-block number 3,000 at Jimmy Jackson's Reef this week. 
If I ever get around to writing a book you can expect tales of Jimmy in it. Although his lost talent is well-preserved in art & decoys, I have considered it a nearly sacred duty to create a long-lasting reef in his name. Almost there... What a shame.  
Life is forever about adjusting and moving on; there are other reefs to build. Tomorrow, for instance, we'll likely drop blocks on the newly-begun Brian Sauerzopf Reef. Perhaps even put a mooring there for several barge deployments of concrete pipe over the next few weeks. 
I also have an idea the Reef Foundation will soon have its first corporate sponsor. That'll open a new chapter in reef building. . .

I recently attended a fishery meeting about the ASMFC/MAFMC's new flounder management amendment. Quotas may be shifted; there are many considerations..  
One thing that surfaced again is recreational release mortality. Presently it's thought we kill more flounder by release than we take home to cook. 
True Statement. That's actually what they think. 
That's a LOT of dead flounder. 
Bet my boat doesn't have half a dozen dead releases a year. 
But when we ask about the "best available science" - ask where that assertion stems from - there's no work. Management has no idea what the true release mortality is. Nor do they have any idea what hook types best prevent virtually all mortality. 
I put it to bed a long time ago. I know what hooks are allowed on my boat. 
You may have noticed .guv doesn't pay much attention to my work. They have to do the work themselves  ..unless a bunch of fisheries staff just agree on a general 'release mortality' - a  percentage used in all recreational calculations likely based on incredibly few observations. 
For catch estimates they HAVE to use the "best available science." In the case of release mortality, "best available opinion" is fine.  

Indeed, a Councilman recently swayed the vote on reopening January & February to recreational sea bass effort by noting 'all sea bass die when thrown back.' 
Now there's some best science available. 
Perfectly true in the trawl fishery which is wide-open in winter. A damn lie for the hook & line/trap fisheries. 

Sure are a lot of tag returns proving sea bass release survival. I even had a large sea bass bite again the same day we released it - in 125 feet of water. 
Try as we might to get them interested, NOAA & Council/Commission have no release mortality science to base management decisions on. 

There's no science - yet a huge part of our quota for many species is vaporized by release mortality estimates. . . 

Fellows are telling me they're seeing sea trout - good sized fish. I believe the reason we're seeing an increase in sea trout is not because of recreational or even commercial regulation; I believe the upturn is almost wholly due to mycobacteriosis in striped bass. 
Reduced striper populations have allowed greater ecosystem use by trout (weakfish) & also alleviate the direct predation of young trout by stripers. Yes: striped bass EAT sea trout, especially little trout. 
That the striper population has been cut almost in half by disease is a very good thing for sea trout. 
We have buoyed striper populations these past 30 years with no consideration of other species - no consideration whatever. Now disease has done what management would not by rebalancing available habitat & forage. 
Mycobacteriosis (simply mico or myco, the nasty red lesions seen on striper bass's flanks in its end stage.) Mico has relieved pressure stripers put on the ecosystem so that now other species - Especially Blues & Trout - can grow older, be more productive at spawning &, perhaps once again soon, be a worthwhile target of recreational anglers in the lower Mid-Atlantic where striped bass have held sway these many decades. 
We have other serious studies that need attending-to along the coast; studies that would truly push US fisheries restoration efforts into a far more productive period. 

Perhaps most easily grasped would be consideration of seafloor habitat. Here are two videos I made to illustrate some of the issue.
Here's another that was shot by Nick Caloyianis & Clarita Berger from my boat. 
The first section of Nick & Clarita's short work contains stills that had once been wonderfully recovered reef. When a local trawl skipper announced "I have a tow through there!" to a small fleet of recreation users & a trap boat fishing the reef one day nearly a decade ago, I knew that particular reef's recovery would be short-lived.. The first section, therefore, illustrates fishery production lost to all user groups. The second half is video of a splendid reef I once thought was natural rock but now think the substrate more likely sourced from heavy-weather barge loss. If you've never seen a pet flounder, you should watch. 

So many species are utterly reliant on reef habitat ..yet you can pry our fisheries science apart page by page to discover We Have No Consideration Of Our Mid-Atlantic Nearshore Reefs In Any Management Plan, Nor Any In Science At All. 

Far more complex than simple habitat response is black sea bass's response to regulation. 
When I began boat-regulation in 1992 I put a 9 inch size limit on cbass because MD DNR's Nancy Butowski told me, "All sea bass have spawned by 9 inches, some twice." 
The stock instantly began to flourish under self-regulation. Despite ever-increasing recreational catches, our sea bass population truly climbed sky-high when federal/state regs began in 1997.
By 2003 we had the greatest sea bass population anyone could remember - but already production was in decline. 

I believe the species' natural response to 'habitat capacity' is in play. 
What was true then about size/age at maturity is decidedly untrue now. In today's sea bass population there are no sea bass at all spawning by 9 inches - less than one in ten-thousand anyway. 

Absent is the biological driver that once propelled young fish into the spawning population.  Today's population withers despite fantastically greater catch restriction. 
We can see it's positively not the number of sea bass on a reef that drives age at maturity. Whether by physical size or a pheremonal response I couldn't guess - it's the size of surrounding fish that create spawning's urge, not their number. Small sea bass either do or do-not spawn young according to the presence of larger fish.

Counterintuitively, during the pre & early regulatory period when sea bass were size limit protected only through age one, the region extending just 12 NM from an inlet was likely our most productive sea bass spawning area. 

That's saying something given the vastness of sea outside that small area.. 

In the early 1990s small males dominated every reef as regulation began.
As Y2K drew closer I could tell at once how much fishing pressure a reef had simply by the size of its males. Small males transitioned from female while young implied heavy pressure. No small males at all on a reef meant there was very little fishing pressure at that spot..

The twelve nautical-mile semi-circle of heightened productivity back then is now simply dead. What was the 'ring of fishery production' is now inactive. Removed by 12 inch size limit, there's no impetus driving small fish into the spawning class. 

There's also the present-day use of recreational statistical catch estimation from a system completely absent Bayesian stops. It is perfectly true that catch-estimates no one in management believes are often ground through the system regardless of faith in the data. "We can't fix it" has gone on for so long that bad data's effect has deeply scared policy. Regulations today have deeply rooted biological & bioeconomic effects on our fisheries stemming only from catch-estimates that can withstand no logical scrutiny. Because these effects are perceived in fish populations they also affect commercial landings as well.

I believe if management comprehended habitat & forage in restoration strategies, and management were further strengthened with an understanding of regulators' ability to biologically force maximized spawning production (or at least avoid minimized production,) while creating a method of removing bad data's cancerous scaring from policy; I believe fishery science & restoration policies could be brought to their full potential in our time. 

My truthful opinion of what management has done without those corrections, especially in sea bass regulation and in regulation's effect to sea bass populations, would turn the wheelhouse windows blue. 

When "Wave 4" July/August MRIP sea bass catch estimates come out we could easily be facing a year-long closure - for catch that never actually happened - again.  

You can imagine a salty-tounged skipper's explosive response to that.. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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