Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fish Report 1/13/15

Fish Report 1/13/15 
Going Again 
Tiny Bumps 

Skunks are always possible while tog fishing. 
Really. It's a frequent occurrence, even with a good bite. Not an easy fishery; the very best toggers sometimes get their head handed to them despite folks all around having done well. 
Then too, sometimes the whole boat can do very poorly. 
If you can't take the heat, and there ain't much of that either, stay out of the kitchen. 

But If That Sounds Like Your Kind Of Fishing, Good! Cause We're Going Toggin Anyway! Tog Only, Sea Bass Closed. 

Long Tog - January 17th - Saturday - 5:30AM to 4:30PM - $150.00 - 16 Sells Out - Very Cold Morning. 
Inshore Tog Trip (maybe, weather's iffy) - January 18th - Sunday - 7:00AM to 3:00PM - $110.00 - 10 Sells Out. 
Pulled Wednesday For Weather. Still have Thursday & Friday's Trips On The Book - January 15th & 16th - Toggin - $125.00 - 6:30AM to 3:30PM - 14 Sells Out. With the forecast holding west at 10 knots & a long-period swell, Thursday looks especially nice. (for this winter!) 

Have White Crabs For Sale AT THE DOCK for the low, low price of just $5.00 per generous dozen. (they're small) There Is No Guarantee We'll Have Whites For Any Trip. Sometimes they all die. That shrinkage is why I prefer greens. We will not be bringing whites with us in the ocean. Green Crabs Remain Provided As Boat Bait.   

Reservations Required for All Trips. 
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 Closed On 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.. 

Please believe Sue Foster's contribution to our fishing community will be remembered in a memorial reef. Help Make That Happen. http://www.ocreefs.org  

Very Good Things Are Happening With OCRF Reef Building. More To Follow In Coming Weeks..

10,802 Reef Blocks by the rail – 2,146 at Doug Ake's – 1,200 at Saint Ann's – 558 at Eagle Scout Reef - 557 at Lindsey's Isle of Wight Reef and, just begun, 166 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef.. 
Our block pile is being reloaded courtesy of Potomac Valley Brick, Inc. of Salisbury. 

Greetings All, 
While plenty chilly, Sunday offered an unbelievable calm. Could barely percieve the sensation of being on the water. 
Unfortunately, the red-hot bite must have been in another ocean. Dern sure wasn't where we were.
Catch a lobster? Bad Luck. Pat caught one about 5 pounds. Instantly dreaming of hot drawn butter, he didn't seem to consider it bad luck. 
Did have a 14 year old out-fish the whole boat. Youngster beat down some mighty talent with three keepers. Most aboard were skunked, myself included. 
Sometimes tog just won't bite. Who can figure it. 
Will go again Thursday. Perhaps this time they'll be hungry. 

I made an error in my last fish report & I apologize. I try hard, really hard, to ensure as great an accuracy as I can muster in both my habitat/fisheries advocacy & business. 
I reported high-hook had 18 tog last week. That was not true & owes only to my mistaken memory. The client in question revealed the truth. I don't want to use any names, but his initials were A. L. E. X. & he had 16 keeper tog, not 18. 
Tog fishing: Last week Alex donated a bunch of fish to scientists, this week a kid cleaned his clock.. 
I doubt he was offered any lobster either. 

Another fellow fished between the kid & the lobster. Hot spot? 
It's A Cruel World. Nothing to do but keep fishing. 

Where NOAA & NMFS are concerned, however, there's nothing to do but keep fighting! 
NOAA will not hesitate to force regulatory-caused economic hardship on recreational for-hire fishers & marina/tackle shop sales when MRIP catch estimates claim there's been too many fish taken. They do not hesitate to CLOSE a fishery if that's what MRIP estimates decree. 

Whether anyone actually believes the estimate is beside the point. 

Widely understood to sometimes be completely off base; I've often shown how a way to test MRIP estimates would be to compare against daily "vessel trip reports" (VTRs) which Party/Charter For-Hire must send in for each trip. 
I've heard, actually witnessed, top-top scientists at the NE Fishery Science Center declare VTRs their worst data.. Boy do I doubt that. 
But then, my view of MRIP recreational catch estimates is colored by several close brushes with bankruptcy & daily irritation with regulations carrying the Mid-Atlantic further & further from fisheries restoration. 

We threw back dozens of nice sea bass this Saturday-past for no other reason than MRIP's recreational catch estimates that no one believes. (at least I don't think anyone would believe Massachusetts private boats fishing below Cape Sea Bass (oops) could catch more in two months than the entire US Party/Charter fleet all year. I hope no one believes that.)   

When people at the top of management & science see wide divergence between catch estimates & VTR reported recreational landings, I suppose they must think the estimates are correct and we're all lying. That's the only way I see their actions can be made to seem rational. 

Either that or they simply haven't looked at Vessel Trip Reports; haven't considered whether a comparison of MRIP estimates vs mandatory reported landings (VTRs) could test for veracity. If not, I have a graph below that may well demonstrate VTRs true value. 

We MUST soon get closer to the way things really are, rather than how they appear on a computer screen. 
We must begin testing/truthing MRIP's catch estimates by comparing VTRs against "percentage of the fishery." 

I've been asking for a few years. VTR data is touchy stuff. There's a lot of delicate information on each daily sheet. We report our VTR data with confidence that NOAA Fisheries won't share too loosely.. 
When I asked MAFMC's Director, Dr. Moore, for very broad data, MAFMC staff swiftly sent 'preliminary investigations' in Excel format. I've include one crucial graph below. 
My contention is whether catch is up/down or flat, the percentages between participants remain the same. For instance: if less than 20% of Maryland's sea bass are usually caught by private boats, then it would take a well-documented shift to move that percentage sky-high as recent NY or Massachusetts estimates have been. 
If there are fewer people chartering boats & buying party boat tickets for sea bass in NY & NJ, there will not be untold new entrants to the sea bass fishery in the private boat sector. If party/charter boats are whacking tautog in Long Island Sound and carrying good crowds, so too are private boats catching in similar/comparable/traditional numbers. 

Because changes DO occur in catch rates, but rarely do percentages of Charter/Party/Private Boat catch change, I believe VTRs offer an excellent method of testing MRIP's estimates for truth before they're used to destroy businesses and harm restoration efforts via management's blind obedience to bad inputs. 

In the graph you can see VTR reported catch in blue. 
Management says VTRs are no good for guidance of any sort because "Guys Cheat On VTRs." 
Yeah, that's likely on occaision. But it's not a lot of guys, and it's consistent. No matter what part of life you examine, cheaters always cheat. 
They also point out, and have for years & years, that not all sea bass fishers in state waters are required to submit VTRs. 
Well, who's fault is that? 

In the above graph For Hire estimates flew sky-high in the early 2000s. Those over-estimates, and those over-estimates alone, resulted in the transition from 11 inches with no bag limit to a twelve inch, then 12.5 inch size limit with a 25 fish bag limit regulations. Congress demanded NOAA fix those estimates - and NMFS did. We know such high levels of catch were unlikely, but those overestimates' accumulated damage in stricter regulation remains to this day. 
Then there was a "Pax Regulandam" (regulatory peace) while sea bass spawning production in the Mid-Atlantic fell of a cliff as their spawning age tripled. NMFS/NOAA know sea bass numbers are in decline, that's why our quotas are shrinking - and so too is our catch. Catch is declining not just because of tighter regulation, but especially because summer availability of sea bass in the Mid-Atlantic is way off. 

In 2009 NOAA issued an emergency sea bass closure owing to miraculous catch in the private boat fishery. No one believes there was a swift and sudden divergence from normal percentages of catch, but NOAA/NMFS catch estimates said Private Boats were suddenly capable of catching some 3X more sea bass than Party/Charter. The resultant emergency closure forced me to dissolve every asset save my home & boat in order to refund advanced sales; a very close brush with bankruptcy. 

Bad sea bass regulations are still forcing boats out of business.

In 2010 MRIP witnessed two sea bass (2) in the Massachusetts Private Boat fleet and turned that observation into 650,000 pounds of catch. Not making this up, it's a fact. MRIP extrapolated two Massachusetts sea bass in "Observed Harvest" into about one third of the recreational quota. 
Nonsensical catch estimates are counted against quota & become harsher regulation. 
We're being robbed. The sea bass fishery north of Hatteras & Mid-Atlantic sea bass production as a whole; a spawning population so resilient it even survived foreign trawl fleets -- that fishery has now been stolen by bad data. 

Some hold these estimates against field interviewers. That's as wrongheaded as MRIP's estimates. When you're being interviewed by a "fish counter" please know their data is pristine - what they submit is as close to perfect as it gets. They have no way of knowing what the big salaries are going to do with it up at MRIP HQ in Silver Spring. I have every confidence that when we have devised a truer method of estimating catch, decades of interviews can be made into better estimates. . . .

There's an artificial reef conference in Florida this week. My kingdom to have gone. 
I asked this question be considered by attendees. It's my understanding that it will be a panel discussion & possibly become a white paper:  
An Open Question To The Florida Sea Grant Artificial Reef Conference, 
I believe it is because of reefing's negative press (tires, units washing ashore, trawl interactions etc..) that upper management, especially at the top of NOAA - including Russ Dunn, our recreational advisor to the Secretary of Commerce in NOAA who told me, "We need to find out about "Production vs. Attraction"..  Upper management clings tightly to the "Attraction vs Production" argument as a device for doing nothing. 
Clearly, and quite easily proven with red snapper in the south & tautog in the Mid-Atlantic, reef builders have every reason to believe increasing marine habitat increases populations of fish known to use reef. 
What are lay people to say to managers when they run headlong into objections such as this recent example from NY where a young party boat skipper was told, "We have no evidence artificial reef building can increase fish populations."  
The idea 'Reef Building Is Bad,' that it's just a "Feel Good Measure," is set deeply in upper management's conscience. What work or works might we use to unseat this notion and bring reef building to the fore of restoration efforts; and, one day, be recognized as the tool most responsible for exceeding restoration targets? 

I'm keen to see what comes of it.. 
Indeed, a pamphlet in the conference's materials contained a Q & A session with noted Artificial Reef Scholar, Dr. Lindberg. Indicative of Florida's commitment to reef research, Lindberg's a University of Florida Professor specializing in Artificial Reef. (My kingdom that the estuary with the greatest documented loss of oyster hardbottom had similar interest & similar professors.)  
Florida's Dr. Lindberg holds: Small fishes that are highly sedentary and highly site attached, meaning they get their shelter, get their food, and complete their life cycle essentially at the same place, for them an artificial reef may very well lead to new production. 
"Complete their life cycle essentially at the same place" - there we have sea bass & tautog. I promise, sea bass, lobster & tautog all benefit not only in addition of habitat, but in thinning of fishing effort. For every new reef built, there are fewer trips taken annually to another ..unless we have new fishing effort. But that would mean new expenditures, new economic benefit in beleaguered fisheries.. 

NOAA: "Oh No! New effort & we still don't really know if there's any such thing as fishery production: Reef Building Must Be Very Bad."

Maryland has approximately 1% of her original oyster reef footprint ..and we're fearful of reef building? 
Men once caught sea bass in wonderful abundance just 7 to 9 miles off Ocean City's coast. The "Bass Grounds" reef was easily found with only rudimentary navigational equipment in the early/mid 1900s. That vast reef-bottom cannot be found at all with today's state of the art equipment. Square miles of reef have become square yards.. 

We have an ocean to work with. It's huge. We have the assets of the United States government, its scientific might & regulatory oversight. We have support for fisheries restoration from huge environmental organizations & many citizens in every walk of life ..yet we can't figure whether growing coral is good for fish; we can't figure whether using bad catch estimates will lead to poor results in every way; we can't figure whether mandatory catch reports (VTRs) offer a sound base for testing MRIP's wildly incorrect catch estimates: We can't figure whether a fishery that survived the entire era of no regulatory oversight at all can withstand today's recreational pressure, we cannot see that MRIP's peyote-induced assertions of unbelievable private boat landings will not undo decades of restoration effort. 

Size & bag limit protected recreational fishing in today's ocean will do no harm, especially when we consider sea bass grew to their 50 year high with no closed season, a smaller size limit & no bag limit. 
Honestly undoing restoration efforts requires eliminating scientific & managerial deliberation in favor of "plug & play" management with catch estimates no one believes. Honestly limiting fisheries restoration effort's potential requires ignoring the existence of nearshore reef habitat lost in an earlier period; requires inaction on Congress's Essential Fish Habitat requirements, and requires artificial reef production be considered harmful to restoration. 

Hey NOAA Fisheries, you're going backward. Those tiny bumps you feel are fishing businesses & boat crews being run into the dirt by a federal behemoth. 

We need our sea bass back while NOAA tries to figure out just how poorly they're done. 
"Oh No, Mr. Congressman, we're not having trouble with sea bass regulation, it's climate change!" 
Sea bass populations climb in the Gulf of Mexico under the simplest of regulation; yet NOAA Fisheries claims the Mid-Atlantic's sea bass are too warm. 

Science fed a steady diet of false information, and management's acceptance of it, is causing the recreational sea bass fishery to come unglued. 
Needs Fixing. 
Soon would be good. 
Really soon.

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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