Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fish Report 12/28/14

Fish Report 12/27/14 
One Last Sea Bass Trip
Going Toggin  
Caddy's "Marine Habitat & Cover" 
Comment On New Rec-Fish Policy Below Signature 

One Last Sea Bass Trip: 6AM to 4PM - Wednesday, December 31st - $125.00 - 18 Sells Out (and bloody unlikely) - Weather Looks Good - Jigs Ought To Work - Reservations Required. 
Sea Bass Re-Open May 15th. 

Skunks are always possible while tog fishing. 
Going Toggin! 
January 1st, 2nd & 3rd - Thursday, Friday & Saturday - 6:30 to 3:30 - Tog Only, Sea Bass Closed - Green Crabs Provided - $125.00 - Reservations Required - 16 Sells Out - If You're Going To Celebrate The New Year By Howling At The Moon, DO NOT GO FISHING.  

Reservations at 410 - 520 - 2076 — They Answer 24/7. 
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.. 

We provide green crabs. You're welcome to bring any kind of crab you like – even lobster, even plastic. 


No Live Tog Leave The Boat - Dead & Bled - Period. (I Believe The Live Tog Black Market Has Hurt This Fishery ..But Not As Much As Bad Sea Bass Regulations)
Agreed With Or Not, All Regulations Observed – Maryland: 4 Tog @ 16 Inches – Sea Bass Close Jan 1st. 
If You Won't Measure & Count Your Fish The State Will Provide A Man With A Gun To Do It For You. We Measure & Count — ALWAYS — No Exceptions! 

It's Winter! Wear Boots, Not Sneakers! Fingerless Wool Or Thin Fleece-Lined Waterproof Gloves With Handwarmers Tucked Into The Palms Make For A Comfortable Day..
Dramamine Is Cheap Insurance! Crystalized Ginger Works Great Too. It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure.  

Bring A (not terribly big) Fish Cooler With ICE (or fresh snow) For Your Party.. A 48 QT Cooler Is Good For 2 Guys. Even Now You Should ICE Fresh Fish.. 
Be A Half Hour Early - We Like To Leave Early.
Clients Arriving Late Will See The West End Of An East Bound Boat.. 

Just back from vacation, I have a pile of Reef Foundation mail to go through. Please believe Sue Foster's contribution to our fishing community will be remembered in a memorial reef.. I need all of YOU to Help Make That Happen! 

10,769 Reef Blocks by the rail – 3,000 at Jimmy Jackson's – 2,146 at Doug Ake's – 1,182 at Saint Ann's – 558 at Eagle Scout Reef - 557 at Lindsey's Isle of Wight Reef and, just begun, 151 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef..  

Greetings All,
Relaxed a week visiting w/family over Christmas. Now it's soon time to go togging.
I run my tog trips with a reduced passenger count so anglers can move around--so everyone can get in on the bite.
Doesn't always work, but that's the plan. Not only do tog not always bite; sometimes their feeding area on a wreck/reef can be a fantastically small section. Will sail with 8 to 16 passengers depending on weather & where I want to fish.  
Green crabs are provided. Clients are welcome to bring any hardbait of their choosing, but no clam or squid in winter when cbass are closed. 
While OK I suppose, we'll rarely see an angler fishing plastic abominations which no self-respecting tog would ever chew. I believe any tog caught on scented plastic should be eligible for immediate & swift removal from the gene pool. Unfortunately, I have yet to convince management of same. 
Throughout my career I've watched tog populations closely trying to avoid the fantastic overfishing I took part in during my youth.  
Having already demolished our local fish; from the mid-1980s thru the 1990s I applied little pressure on our tog. From 1992 to 2003 I self-enforced a 3 fish at 16 inches boat regulation. During that time tog populations rebounded quite well, especially in light of our many new reefs. In 2003 I switched to 5 fish at 14 inches (MD's tog regulation then; their first reg from 1998) and soon saw populations sliding downward under heavier pressure. 
Today Maryland's regs are 16 inches & four fish per-person. We've only had a 16 inch limit for 2 or 3 years. I believe we are seeing an increase in tog production by going to a 16 inch fish, especially because every single reef we've built has been colonized by tautog.

The very best method of improving tautog populations would be to get sea bass management squared away. Resurgent populations of sea trout & Boston mackerel would help too. Very few anglers can stand to fish 'just tog' when 3 pound sea bass are coming over the rail by twos. Few party boat owners will schedule tog trips if they can rail their boat with clients for an 'easier to catch' and abundant species.

While we await management's success with other species we're also building more reef.

I am positive habitat creation is important to elevating our region's tog populations. Indeed, if there was more habitat than we could fish, tog populations would have to climb. It remains, however, that management is only concerned with preventing overfishing. No state or federal policy I'm aware of has expressed any interest in adopting "habitat increase" as a means of tautog population increase or restoration - just catch restriction 
..but habitat is getting their job done. 
Believe me, if we still had 1987's reef footprint off Maryland's coast, our tog wouldn't last a week with today's fishing pressure. . . 

Recreational catch estimates remain, at best, a wild guess. I doubt even one MRFSS/MRIP recreational catch estimate for Maryland's reef fish is correct - not one. Yet catch estimate data is almost entirely what decides recreational regulations. Our tog fishing rules are therefore decided by random lottery. The 16 inch rule happened by luck ..bad luck some would say. 

MRIP's estimates run sky-high when catch is up. That's why MRIP asserts Massachusetts' Private Boat anglers caught more sea bass in two months than all US For-Hire Party/Charter Boats caught all year. 
Conversely, MRIP runs low when catch is in decline. MRIP has Maryland Party Boats catching zero sea bass for all of 2014. We have to tell NOAA about every single fish we catch - have to report the sea bass we catch almost every single day; but we're "officially estimated" to have caught zero sea bass. That's why NOAA can look my DC Representatives in the eye and tell them, "the sea bass fishery is not important to Maryland." 
If readers think high & lows balance themselves, I invite you to look closer. The highs run far too high to ever balance with reality. . . 

While on vacation I took to reading Dr. John Caddy's 2007 book "Marine Habitat & Cover." I wish I'd learned of his work sooner. In Kurlansky's "Cod" & "The Big Oyster," in Callum Roberts' "Unnatural History of the Sea" & in Caddy's work too I see where deep research has lead to conclusions similar to my own formed from a lifetime of fishing. Here from a paragraph on page 129 of "Marine Habitat & Cover" by Dr. John Caddy: "What is interesting from the perspective of this book is the implication that the loss of local populations may be caused by damage to or depletion of a special geographically-restricted habitat.. This (habitat) depletion may also be the unrecognized cause of unsuccessful recovery efforts. ..Reversing this situation in the case of damaged ecosystems will be a seems a reasonable postulate that habitat restoration must precede stock recovery. He then concludes this paragraph - and this is all from one paragraph: "Such considerations illustrate why simple monitoring of population abundance is unlikely to offer any useful explanations for local extinctions of marine organisms."
Page after page I see ideas & concepts that have gained no toehold in today's restoration policies. 
I've written it hundreds of times thusly: 'Find what habitats are missing and put them back.' 
I've also distributed over a thousand pens to management (Thanks Alex!) with the same text as my business card: "REEF RESTORATION MAKES FISHERY RESTORATION SIMPLE." 

The "population monitoring" Dr. Caddy speaks of is how commercial & recreational quotas are devised from computer screens filled to infinity with population estimates. Fishery scientists tell management they have XX tons of a given species they can safely take from a total population of XXX tons. 
Management then examines hard commercial catch landings & recreational catch estimates to determine that fishery's best "restoration policy."
There's nothing else to it - so far - just catch restriction.

Among these 'stock assessments' sea bass & tautog have a "Tier 4" fishery assessment. Where scallops & striped bass have "Tier 1" assessments--a far better indicator of a fishery's health; the reef fisheries do not lend themselves well to NOAA/NMFS method of population assessment - Trawling. 
Scientists, of course, recognize tautog & sea bass live where scientific trawl sampling cannot tow. Their population assessments reflect this. Still, they must take a tiny catch and multiply it into an entire population. Like MRIP seeing 2 sea bass landed by Massachusetts Private Boats in May/June 2010 and turning those 2 fish into 650,000 pounds of Private Boat catch; there are bound to be errors when using very small samples to estimate large values. 

So: scientists use trawl sampling to create reef fish population estimates from habitat where where trawls cannot go. 
Then managers use MRIP's wild guesses to calculate recreational extraction so new regulations can be devised to prevent overfishing.  
What Could Go Wrong? 

A lot they suppose. That's why scientists & managers themselves assign our reef species a "Tier 4" assessment. 

Everyone involved with fisheries science & management knows bad catch estimates with a Tier 4 fishery assessment could make for bad regulations. Yet NOAA's path is firm; they allow no managerial consideration of the data - even in a Tier 4 fishery. 

The "restoration" situation is much worse than that. 
NOAA & NMFS have steadfastly refused to acknowledge the existence of our nearshore reef ecologies. 
Because we know every type of stern-towed commercial gear impacts the very habitat where our reef fish feed & spawn, and because we know trawling accounted for incredibly more sea bass in the 1950s & 1960s then is seen in today's landings, " seems a reasonable postulate that habitat restoration must precede stock recovery." 

This is history. Trawling is not destroying habitat today. At least not often. There's not much left. What remains is the big stuff they couldn't destroy back when. 

Based on fishing's history I have a well-studied belief that stern towed gears have "rearranged" a great deal of bottom - smoothed it out. 
The science of Fisheries Ecology tells us this would have a dramatic negative affect on Fisheries Production. 
When I presented a 12 page paper detailing my thoughts on sea bass to a Joint Council/Commission meeting in December 2011; (reposted here at Fishing United - )  the senior staffer presenting sea bass particulars said, "One commenter doesn't like the catch data (an inside joke to management - fishermen never like catch data) and he thinks we should focus on fishery production, whatever that is."

No one argued with her. So far as I can tell, marine fishery production, "whatever that is," remains a mystery to almost all of NOAA/NMFS/Council & Commission. 

Sweetwater managers get it. Have from the beginning. Production in a pond, stream or lake is small enough to grapple. Habitat fidelity is just a given in a pond, and well-established in the salmons.
For now, so far as today's management is concerned, our marine seafloor is populated by fish that fell from the sky - they just exist. For management's purpose reef fish are not a product of environment or habitat and therefore cannot possibly be said to rise or fall as habitat is improved or worsened
..there's nothing NOAA can do for marine fisheries, it's all just random production.
Just like MRIP's catch estimates. 
In fact, the very nature of 'random production' is used to justify MRIPs crazy wanderings. If production were not believed random, then belief in MRFSS/MRIP would create cognitive dissonance, a mental distress, a discord. For recreational catch to pogo-about with such amazing highs & lows there has to be equally inharmonious production affecting availability of fish to the recreational community: "Recreational Effort Is Hard To Predict" ..& therefore so too is production. (whatever that is.)  

Maybe this shameful era of fishery management & science being led by bad catch estimates is coming to end. Here's Alabama's Marine Resources Director, a guy who clearly gets artificial reef production, blasting MRIP in Congressional testimony: "The estimated catch of red snapper was drasticly inflated over previous years. The public has lost confidence in this system; and, frankly, so have the Gulf States.It's at 1:15 in his testimony before Congress.. 

Regular readers will not be surprised to see how closely sea bass and red snapper catch estimates align. 
MRFSS's average red snapper catch estimate from 1982 to 2001 for All US Party/Charter was 584,000 Red Snapper annually. As ever more restrictive regulation would have it, MRIP now estimates Party/Charter to have caught just 46,000 red snapper in 2014. 
MRFSS's average catch estimate for Private/Rental Boats from 1982 to 2001, however, was a touch lower at 509,000 red snapper annually for all US Waters. As with sea bass, MRIP estimates amazingly show virtually no drop in Private Boat catch of red snapper despite today's fantastically greater restriction. MRIP shows 427,000 red snapper taken by Private Boat in 2014.. 

Has red snapper regulation truly had almost no effect on Private Boat catch while demolishing the For-Hire industry? Can this assertion possibly be true? Or has NMFS & MRIP stolen the red snapper fishery too with their bad data. 
I guarantee catch estimates have stolen our sea bass. 

When we force sea bass to spawn young as they did in early management and focus on increasing reef habitat, all Mid-Atlantic reef fish populations will increase steadily. 
Until then management will continue to drag the sea bass fishery down as it has red snapper. This while accomplishing almost nothing from their own regulation. 

Make a donation to help build reef. Any donation is a welcome bit of help, especially for Sue's Reef..  

Write a letter this winter to your state's fisheries director, your DC representatives. Tell them we want restoration policies based on truth, policies that work. 
Comment too on NOAA's Recreational Policy. Do that soon. 
We need NOAA & NMFS on our side. 
To make real progress in fisheries restoration we need management to have accurate catch data & a full understanding of habitat production, "whatever that is."


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD 

Submit Comment To NOAA By COB Wed, Dec 31st, On Their (I Swear) Brand New Recreational Fisheries Policy. 
The National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, was established in 1970. Previously it had been The Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. People still work at desks labeled 'Property of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries'.. It took 44 years to get recognition. You can help secure recreational fishing's importance with a couple keystrokes.
See NOAA's new recreational fisheries policy at -
All written in .guv-speak, you can bet it will be loosely interpreted. 
Submit Your Comment At The Same Link. 
My Comment Was Basically: Stop using bad catch estimates to destroy recreational fisheries - Fix MRIP. Discover habitats that have been destroyed and effect their repair. Reef Restoration Makes Fishery Restoration Simple.
You can also review submitted comments. Some submissions make it plain commercial fishing should remain much more important than recreational fishing. 
I think NOAA needs to learn how to make fish. It's pretty simple & everyone will benefit.  

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