Monday, January 05, 2015

Fish Report 1/5/15

Fish Report 1/5/15 
Going Toggin - Tomorrow! 
Capt. Kane's World Record 
Hey Secretary Sullivan! 

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. 

Going Toggin Anyway! Tog Only, Sea Bass Closed. 
Long Tog - January 6th - Tuesday - 5:30AM to 4PM - $150.00 - 14 Sells Out. Cold?  YES!  But very light winds & I have from among several places I want to go before inshore waters get too chilly..

I want to go toggin everyday in January, February & March. Not possible. Looks like after tomorrow's trip we'll be breaking ice before we can fish again. Lots of sub-zero temps.. 

New! Currently 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 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.. 

I have a pile of Reef Foundation mail to respond to (and finally time later this week to do so!) 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!  

10,784 Reef Blocks by the rail – 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, 166 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef.. Presently out of blocks but will try to change that this week. 

Capt. Bob Gower's Reef Is Top Of Mind..

Greetings All, 
While my clients enjoyed moderate success ranging from skunk to several limits per-person (lot of keepers tagged) on each of my last three tog trips, it was a client on Capt. Kane's boat, Fish Bound, who caught it. Fellow's name is Ken Westerfeld of Queens NY. 
At 28.8 pounds - 35 inches Fork Length - 35.75 Swept Tail Length, it's positively the biggest tautog ever on rod & reel - A New World Record. 
Pending, of course.  
I personally took the lengths & also witnessed its weight on the tournament-certified scale at Sunset Marina that Larry Jock of Coastal Fisherman photographed for MD DNR's use. 

What a beast.. 

Capt. Kane's website is here. 
An honest skipper who fishes by the book & supports reef building, I'm very glad to see to see him capture a world record - especially for this species! 

And no, the rest of our tog aren't running 20 to 25 pounds. 
We'd have heart attacks aboard everyday! 

No, No, No! 
They're not "Running Big." I've already had several emails, "We're Looking For Some Monster Tog."
It's togging. We're tog fishing. It's no different here in Maryland except perhaps we've been throwing tog back, even big tog, for 30 years. 

I've had seven fish over 20 pounds on my boat in my life. Not one was ever planned for. 
Imagine how many baited hooks have been dropped along this coast before a 28.8 pound fish came up.. 
And now they're running big?  

Please. We're going fishing. But every single reef does have the potential for a big fish, even the most heavily fished half-day reefs. It's my understanding that the current spear fishing world record of 23.9 pounds was shot at the Cape May jetties. Two of my boat's jumbos were caught in easy sight of shore and on not-so-secret spots. A NY skipper had a 20 pounder last year so close to shore you could see buildings in the photo's background. 

To catch big tog you need to have good gear & especially a good drag. There's a reason Alex is forever blowing the drags out of his Avet reels.. You need to be prepared even when it seems like nothing is biting but rats. 
Believe me, I've seen truly outstanding anglers hook tog they could not stop. I've seen men cry because of dropped monsters. It almost always happens during what was otherwise a perfectly normal bite.

Make no mistake, Ken Westerfeld's fish was not caught because of luck. He's really good, a truly accomplished angler. But you could say he was lucky the fish didn't get into steel or coral. As I heard it, the fish was more than halfway up when, despite his drag being set as tightly as possible, it ran all the way back to bottom. 

Whether a tog is 10 pounds or El Grande; when you've hooked one you can't stop, a fish you know is huge from the moment you swing; that's when you become a tog addict. That thumping run is what you'll want to repeat, but win the fight next time. 

Ken Westerfeld did. 
We'll see if we can this tomorrow   
..if they bite. 

We're doing tog right. We've already blown past "restoration." I believe we currently have a greater population of tautog than has ever existed off Maryland's coast. Throughout the species range we'll leave a great fishery behind when we've gone. 
Management can call up all their fabulously impossible tales of recreational catch, they can shout and wave their arms, "Oh No! Shore anglers in New Jersey caught more tautog in March & April than all US commercial landings for 2010! They're even OVERFISHING FROM SHORE! How can we ever stop it! Regulation Help Us!" ..their barnyard stench aside, reef building has already won this fight. 
We're not going to stop building reef either. 

Think I'm joking about that shore catch estimate? Think no data set paid for by the United States could ever be so full of baloney? 

  • Year : From: 2010 To: 2010
  • Species : Tautog
  • State : All States
YearSpeciesMetric TonsPounds$
GRAND TOTALS:-129.3285,151789,459

And Recreational - Just New Jersey Shore Catch in March/April
Your Query Parameters: 
Year:2010 - 2010 
Wave:2 MAR/APR
Geographic Area:NEW JERSEY
Fishing Mode:SHORE
Type of Catch:HARVEST (TYPE A + B1)

Return to Query Page

Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information

There you have it. 
MRIP, the brand new Congressionally mandated repair to our old recreational catch estimating system, says New Jersey's jetty fishermen, sitting on plastic pails freezing their butts off & praying for the first tog of the year; MRIP says those guys caught nearly TWICE AS MANY TOG IN TWO MONTHS AS ALL US COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN CAUGHT ALL YEAR!! 

Managers swear the only thing that can fix our estimates is more money. I guarantee whenever I've had a deckhand who couldn't tie a boat up, cut bait or pass a drug test - there's a solution. 

Capt Dave Marciano of Wicked Tuna stopped by with a friend bent on bettering catch data just after New Years. He didn't know me & I don't watch fishing on TV, but we quickly struck common ground because we both fight nonsensical regulation. 
When I said,"NMFS always gets good results early in management, but.." the famous  skipper finished my sentence in the wheelhouse vernacular, "then they %$# it up!

Believe me, a scientific & management community that accepts data such as above is bound to find their work easily summed-up in simple & familiar language.
It's an affront to all of science in all of history to call estimates such as that, "The Best Scientific Information Available." 

What is National Standard 2?  The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is the principal law governing marine fisheries in the U.S. and includes ten National Standards to guide fishery conservation and management.  One of these standards, referred to as National Standard 2 (NS2), guides scientific integrity and states that “(fishery) conservation and management measures shall be based upon the best scientific information available.”

Despite management & fishery science's abject failure to refute obscenely bad data; managing tautog with a low creel limit and high size limit, combined with expanding robust manmade habitat, has created rock-solid population growth in tautog. 

But they don't get that. Don't get the habitat thing.  

Capt. Amanda Peterson recently told me she was at a NY Fisheries meeting and asked permission to drop concrete blocks for reef building during their boats' fishing runs. She was told, "There's no evidence increasing habitat by artificial reef increases fish populations." 

That sums up pervasive thought in the management & fishery science community. There are many too in the environmental camp who would say exactly that if offered a chance to help build artificial reef. 
These major players simultaneously decry habitat loss for all fisheries while stomping creative reef building at every chance. 
It's not a secret: fish, coral, oysters, mussels & everything else that grows on natural hardbottoms will also grow on manmade substrates. Still undiscovered in the literature, natural hardbottom reef habitat off our coast should very precisely be called "Essential Fish Habitat." It can be artificially mimicked to suit fishes' need with any hard substrate. Fish are too dumb to know they shouldn't spawn on fake reef. 
The reason management can't plainly see the incredibly obvious benefit of reef building is because they've got their attention solely focused on computer screens full of MRIP's wild guesses of recreational catch. Our landings jump around so much that assigning any favorable conclusion to a strategy other than catch restriction is impossible. 

Reduced fishery production ("whatever that is") from habitat loss is locked in science - it's irrefutable. 
Why in Billy Blue Blazes we have such a hard time convincing management habitat creation bolsters fish populations is beyond me. 
If it is true that every habitat impact lowers fisheries production, then it must also be true that every expansion of habitat, no matter how small, increases fishery production.  
Feel free to quote me on that. 
We need that logic to replace management's current, 'Oh No! We can't stop recreational overfishing and there's nothing we can do about seafloor habitat loss!'
We need our sea bass back too. 
NMFS used bad catch estimates to steal the sea bass fishery. 
Management's got sea bass fishermen in retreat, a rout you might say. Our economic blood-spilling continues in Barnegat, NJ where a business with three generations of history just sold, the party boat, Doris Mae. Among their primary reasons for selling was being denied access to "Fully Restored" sea bass in winter. 

For all management's "victories" via greater catch restriction, sea bass are worse off, much worse off, than they were just 6 years into management. 
Recreational management began in 1997. From the very, very bottom of industrial overfishing; by 2003 sea bass were at a 50 year high. Self imposed, along Maryland's coast we'd been using an identical strategy to federal management's beginnings since 1992.

I do not know how it came to be my task to convince this Federal Behemoth that having lots & lots of spawning sea bass is much better than having very few; and having lots & lots of new hardbottom habitat would make their job of "sea bass restoration" fantastically more simple. One voice among many, I've made it my task & I shall not shirk from it.  

I've written about age at maturity shift in sea bass, have written deeply on it. The crux of "age at maturity shift" follows in seven easy sentences: 
We used to release hundreds of under nine-inch male sea bass everyday - even a thousand. Owing to almost 100% of sea bass on marine reefs being engaged in spawning, the sea bass population grew during that time despite massive recreational & commercial extraction. 
Now we see three, four or five (3, 4 or 5 and not 3, 4 or 5 hundred) under nine-inch male sea bass a YEAR and the population is contracting. 
Variations of maturity are commonly seen in the study of populations. Today's much larger size limit inhibits age one maturity in sea bass, delaying reproduction to age three or more. Where we used to throw back hundreds of obvious males daily; now we keep almost ALL of the males we catch. 
It is quite nearly a true statement that All sea bass released today under 11.5 inches are still female.  

Spawning thusly curtailed by size limit regulation sourced only from catch estimate's input, the overall sea bass population is declining despite vast new stretches of now suitably warm rocky bottoms in Southern New England.  

When we put that first size limit on years ahead of fishery managers it was because I'd been told, "All sea bass spawn by nine inches, some twice."
Now virtually no sea bass have spawned by nine inches and sea bass are fewer in number.. 

"Oh No, It's Salinity!" 
"Oh No! It's North Atlantic Oscillation!"
"Oh No, It's Climate Change!" 
"Oh No! It's Uncontrollable Recreational Private Boat Catch!"

Oh No, NMFS, It's YOU

NMFS' own population estimates back up my assertions 100%. 

Theirs is a system focused on catch restriction mandated by recreational catch estimates: statistical estimates that, presently, cannot be overridden by any amount of managerial objection. 
We have irrefutable proof management's scheme for sea bass is not working - the sea bass population is shrinking. That's why sea bass quotas are smaller than they used to be. But there's no interest from NMFS in my lifelong careful observations of shifting age at maturity in sea bass as size limits went up. 
With fewer fish spawning, we have fewer fish to catch. 

Along the Gulf Coast of Florida a recreational angler can keep one hundred pounds of sea bass per-person at ten inches. If that were expressed as a bag limit, it would be about 250 fish per-person. That ten inch size limit regulation was only begun a few years ago. Their sea bass population along the Gulf Coast is growing fast in highly saline, bathtub-warm water. 
Along the Mid-Atlantic our population too grew very swiftly when the size limit was 9, 10 & 11 inches with no bag limit. The sea bass population literally doubled & doubled. Our sea bass have been in decline, however, ever since we went above a 12 inch size limit. 
A 25 fish bag that's now down to 15 -- A year round season that's now down to a few months -- A 12.5 inch size limit up from 9, 10 & 11 -- More & More & More Regulation   ..and the population is in decline. 

"Oh No, It's Salinity!" 
"Oh No! It's North Atlantic Oscillation!"
"Oh No, It's Climate Change!" 
"Oh No! It's Uncontrollable Recreational Private Boat Catch!"

I am fully aware early explorers died trying to find the NW Passage above North America and that it is now routinely used by shipping: the ice has melted. 
Here, however, is how climate change is being spun by NOAA/NMFS as an game-changer for Mid-Atlantic sea bass. 
I first saw a rendition of this data at Managing Our Nations Fish 3. When presented at that huge nation-wide conference it was obvious to me that Dr. Pinsky had no knowledge sea bass even existed below Cape Hatteras, let alone had been fully restored. 
After his presentation I gave him both barrels during a follow-up question period. The sea bass part of his presentation was subsequently withdrawn from conference materials. I could not find sea bass in the MONF3 materials though it featured prominently in his presentation. 

Now it's back. 

Here from the above website: Black sea bass are important to both recreational and commercial fishermen on the East Coast, and each state gets a fixed share of the total catch. That catch was divvied up based on where black sea bass were in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, the fish were most abundant off North Carolina, so that state got the largest share of the catch. Since then black sea bass have moved, but the regulations haven’t caught up. Today, New England fishermen are catching black sea bass as far north as the Gulf of Maine. Meanwhile, North Carolina fishermen often have to motor far north to fill their quota, with the extra fuel costs eating into their profits.

“Our fisheries regulations are built around the idea that fish distributions don’t change very much. When they do, that makes things complicated for fishermen and for managers trying to maintain a sustainable fishery,” Pinsky said.

But changing fishery regulations to reflect today’s conditions won’t be easy, in part because any redistribution will inevitably leave some states with less than their historical share. What’s more, fishery regulations exist to prevent overfishing, and in that respect they have worked—36 stocks have been rebuilt in U.S. waters since 2000. For that track record to continue, any changes to fishery regulations must be made with great care.

“How do you make the regulations effective and yet flexible?” asked Pinsky. “That’s one of the big challenges ahead.”

Strikes me the "big challenge" is making science see past their dagoned computers. The huge swings science "sees" in the Mid-Atlantic sea bass population are mostly due to MRIP/MRFSS catch estimates. 

While Professor Malin Pinsky sincerely believes he is representing truth, the body of his work is supported by recreational catch estimates and makes no allowance for the true shift in spawning production caused by size limit regulation. 

But wait a minute.. Hey Secretary Sullivan! Is NMFS just trying to give New England commercial guys more sea bass quota? Is that why the official estimate for Maryland party/charter is zero* for 2014, while Massachusetts private boats alone catch more sea bass than all US Party/Charter? 
Is NMFS throwing the Mid-Atlantic For-Hire sea bass industry under the bus so they can shuffle quota around to suit old Bureau Of Commercial Fishing ties? 
(*I catch a lot of sea bass. For-Hire boats have to submit daily catch reports and swear to their truth. NMFS would seize our permits if we didn't. No one is apparently seizing anything at MRIP's offices over bad estimates. The Maryland Party Boat sea bass estimate actually is zero fish from January through October, 2014.)

They're using warming as a crutch. It should be the greatest weapon at their disposal. Warming New England rocks should only add to sea bass populations, not shrink them in the lower Mid-Atlantic. 
If sea bass are doing fine, even increasing in the Gulf of Mexico; then NMFS' assertion ours are in decline because of warming waters is full of stink.  
If NMFS will go back to making sea bass spawn young and concentrate on giving them lots of habitat, we'll soon not know what to do with all of them.

Instead, there's a rising sea bass population in the Gulf that they're "watching closely for overfishing," and a declining population in the Mid-Atlantic because of "climate change."  

Great Scott. 
Even Galileo, the father of modern astronomy, once thought comets arose from the earth. 
Misguided restoration policies are killing fisheries. 
We need to fix that. 
Congress begins anew.. They cannot know what constituents do not write. 

My Regards,

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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