Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Fish Report 2/4/15

Fish Report 2/4/15 
Going Toggin In Cold Water: I Do Not Expect Epic Angling
Opening First Two Weeks Of Sea Bass To Reservations 
NEFMC Habitat: The Condensed Version 
New York Reef Foundation 

Opening Reservations For First Two Weeks Of Sea Bass Season. May 15th, 16th & 17th - Long Cbass - 6AM to 3:30PM - $125.00 - Thereafter Regular $110.00 Trips With Saturdays As Long Trips. These Trips Are Non-Refundable. Reschedule? Yes: Owing To Weather. Refund? NOPE. (That's the rules for the first two weeks.. Has to do more with credit card policy than how I'd prefer to run my business.) 

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. 

X-Tra Long Tog Trips - Saturday & Sunday  February 7th & 8th - 5AM to 5PM(ish..) - Very Long Ride - Higher You Reach, Harder You Fall ..But Sometimes It Works. $175.00 - 16 Sells Out. 

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 Nowhere Near 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 Because Of Rotten MRIP Catch Estimates. 
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. 

Very Good Things Are Happening With OCRF Reef Building. If you're ever going to donate, now's a great time! Will introduce "Sue's Reef" Shirts/Pens/Decals at the OC Boat Show Valentines Weekend.. 

Now 10,922 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 286 at the Brian Sauerzopf Memorial Reef.. 
Our block pile has been reloaded courtesy of Potomac Valley Brick, Inc. of Salisbury. 

Greetings All, 
Took a reef trip SuperBowl Sunday with a bunch of volunteers from the diving community. Tow Boat US Ocean City brought our barge out too. Dropped it all on Brian Sauerzopf's Memorial Reef at the Bass Grounds. 
Now we're going toggin. Wind & air temps look OK, at least from this distant vantage. Water temps do not. Curious thing: where in summer bottom temps are always cooler, that's opposite in winter.. We might get bit. We might get our heads handed to us too. These trips will be the exact opposite of "backyard" trips..

There's really not a lot of people in the world who like tog fishing. I've seen sea bass fishers get mad when (how awful) singles starting to mix-in with mostly doubles. A nudge, however; just a tiny bump, is all it takes for a tog enthusiast to stay in the game. 

This time of year water temps focus tog fishing effort into a smaller & smaller region. Sea bass are closed because management must act as though they believe sea bass catch from little plastic boats has been greater than all US Commercial, Party, & Charter catch combined. Because MRIP creates an illusion of catch that never existed, and because these illusions create mandatory regulatory response, Sea Bass are closed. 
With sea bass closed, tog pressure goes up. 

We need to work on that. We need fishery restoration based on biological science, while having as little to do with statistical insanity as possible. Biology, sans catch statistics, can take the sea bass fishery far-far above current levels. 

Making sea bass spawn young was how the fishery survived the blackest depths of real overfishing. Sea bass thrived even when foreign trawlers towed within easy sight of US shores. 
I've been sea bassing my entire working life. I quit High Skool to work party boats in Ocean City, MD. 
In all the bad & all the good, nothing was ever so bad as when management drank MRFSS's catch-estimate Kool-Aid in 2009. 
It's only moderately better now. Were it not for the efforts of MAFMC Council Members, it would be a lot worse - A Lot Worse
Despite regulators fighting for us, we're never more than one bad estimate away from a complete fishery closure. 

Anyone who reads this far in one of my fish reports should write their Congressional representatives and tell them the US Treasury is being ripped off by the MRIP program. I think these estimates are much worse than the MRFSS catch estimating program MRIP replaced. . . . . 

Now: Promise one thing, a lot of tog purists (who would never-ever call blackfish 'tautog') live in New York & Connecticut. 
Funny thing is New York, where so many blackfishers live, has a dead reef program. Maybe it's not completely dead, but no one can find a pulse that I've heard of. 
It's a common refrain among NY reef fishers: "We can't build reef. We don't have a reef program
An awful lot of New York granite construction debris is currently colonized by countless blackfish off the New Jersey coast. 
I've often heard about the rail cars too.. Not so sure they missed out on much there. Yes, everyone has fish on them now - Yes, they're all colonized with spawning populations of our temperate reef fish: But they're not going to last like concrete & boulder will. 

Worse still for NY, I hear dredging operations are actually dumping sand ON TOP of rocks. That's pretty special. 
I heard too about a barge that sunk loaded with scrap iron. When the iron was salvaged - very few tog thereafter. That's because of habitat complexity. Habitat complexity is what creates reef fish production. That barge is still there. Load the thing back up with concrete block & pipe - even some boulder & POW. Blackfish will return. Those returning fish will spawn. That's habitat production. 

Sadly, current theory subscribed to in management has those tautog that would live on that renewed tog habitat as productionless. The resistance behind artificial reef is so poorly thought out that what should be the most effective weapon in reef-fish restoration is, instead, considered a sponge - as sopping up natural production by "attraction." 
You see; scattered all across the top of our regulatory world are people who learned in school, "Artificial Reefs Attract Fish For Easier Recreational Extraction." 

As I've pointed out in my last several emails, however, and despite this theory's obvious need of updating; Attraction Only fails in every possible way when considering sedentary reef fish known to have 'site fidelity.' 
Consider: If all shipwrecks, rock jetties, rip-rap shoreline protection, bulkheads/piers/pilings & artificial reefs were taken out of the ocean & back bays; where would tautog go? Once past the shorelines of Connecticut, by mid-Sound most tautog would die without habitat. Are we to believe artificial reefs only 'attract' temperate reef fish? Why do corals, mussels & oysters grow on these man-made reefs? Are these bad corals? Bad oysters?
Does Management Not Like Artificial Fish Found On Artificial Reef? 
They sure taste great to me..
Judging by NOAA's inaction they must think our corals, natural or artificial, offer no value to any fishery; must think our artificial reefs are just drawing away naturally-spawned juvenile corals, mussels & fish that would have otherwise been "attracted" to natural reef instead of getting caught-up in our web of artificial fish traps.. 

I have to conclude no one in management has truly considered seafloor habitat's potential impact in the Mid-Atlantic - either in loss or through restoration. 
If a regulator believes habitat loss is a contributing factor in a fishery's decline, they must also conclude habitat creation to be an aid in that fishery's restoration.   
Folks at the top of the artificial reef world think the Attraction vs Production Debate took a bullet in the heart decades ago. That may be so; it's just that no one told management. . . 

I thought habitat was finally going to get "into" East Coast fisheries restoration when the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) began their second Habitat Amendment some 15 years ago. The amendment's just going out for Public Comment now. Honestly, I think it's been about 15 years. 
You could say it's been a little bogged down in minutia. Where a typical "Executive Summary" is summed-up in a few paragraphs, this Habitat Amendment's Executive Summary is, honestly, 483 pages long. 
Exactly 483 pages. 

If GM or Chrysler managed an automobile factory is similar fashion their plan would begin: "Jim Jones was absent from work Thursday, February 9th, 1972, with a toothache.."
While wonderful to have all that habitat science collected, it hasn't done anything. 
Here's an idea for a working habitat plan. 
Chapter One: What habitats are missing? 
Chapter Two: How are we going to put them back?  

Everyone knows about the collapse of oysters in the Chesapeake. Some will be familiar with our region's "Oyster Wars." Yes, cannons were shot defending oyster bars.. 
The reason those 1880s "Wars" occurred was because the oyster fishery collapsed in Long Island Sound & points north. Those northern fishers, now in need of fresh grounds, encroached mightily upon the Chesapeake's resources. 
Not familiar with anyone else's oyster restoration history; Maryland's been trying to regrow an oyster population with loose oyster shell (easier to dredge) for nearly a century. 
Only recently, after they flat ran out of shell & began using rock, has serious progress begun. 
To give you an idea of how bad a taste the tire-reef fiasco of the late 1970s has left in the ecological community, no oyster restorationist I know would have anything to do with "Artificial Reef." Those bargeloads of rock (that I'd kill for in our marine program) are called "oyster bed substrate replenishment" or some-such. You could get jumped in the parking lot if you called those bargeloads of rock "Artificial Reef.." 

No one in fisheries has any doubt Oyster Bed Substrate Replenishment will increase fisheries production; and, assuming oysters take to these new artificial reef beds, (Oh, sorry!) no one doubts the full suite of ecological benefits restored oysters offer, both in water filtration and complex hard-bottom habitat, will accrue to our ecosystems through renewed oyster production. When oysters are growing on oysters, production will have resumed.  

Because of an easterly wind pattern, we had more blue water nearshore this past season than in a long, long time. We caught nice mahi in that pretty water as tight as 12 NMs off the beach. Other boats caught mahi even closer. White marlin, I'm told, were caught at the Jackspot about 21 NMs offshore. We caught wahoo there trolling between spots for fluke. 
When I was a young man, all the captains had tales of great billfishing at Jackspot - all of them. Whole fleets of boats, even from New Jersey, would fish the Jackspot. That's why Ocean City laid claim to being the "White Marlin Capitol of the World." 
Now we have rare occurrences of a few whites being caught at Jackspot. Most marlin fishing takes place at canyon's edge some 60 miles off and beyond. 
When I was just starting on a partyboat deck in 1980, the regulars all had stories of dolphin fishing at the 5 mile buoy & Fenwick Shoal buoy. They weren’t called mahi-mahi back then. Everyone called them dolphin or, more rarely, dorado. Wasn't until 'dolphin-safe tuna' came around that we had to disassociate our game fish 'dolphin' from Flipper.. 
Still, to target mahi just 4 or 5 miles offshore would be unheard of today. 
That shift offshore has nothing to do with overfishing. NOAA is proud to tell us that because mahi spawn so young, they are highly resilient to fishing pressure. ("Their biology makes them resilient to fishing pressure.." NOAA -- "Mahimahi produce many eggs, grow quickly, and reach sexual maturity at a young age, making them resilient to fishing pressure." Blue Ocean Institute. ...If you're familiar with my sea bass age at maturity spawning argument, you'll not be surprised by the glaring similarity that's being ignored..) 
Mahi are doing just fine. There's no quota, just a little regulation along the US East Coast.
What's missing, the reason we don't catch them where our predecessors did, is bluewater. 

Where bluewaters once held bluewater species, now we have a greatly expanded region of phytoplankton-enriched jellyfish production. 
Our still-unstudied & still-unrecognized corals, essential fish habitat plain as can be, are dependent on sunlight.
Yes, the sea whip & star coral growing on our reefs out to about 130 feet are almost certainly zooanthellae driven: that's not supposed to happen in cold-water corals..  
Promise: If the water gets much greener, we can kiss what coral habitats we've managed to salvage goodbye. 
There's a lot of scientists who want to learn about it, study it. It's just not on any funded "to-do" list I suppose. 

Oysters - Lost. 
Nearshore Corals - Lost. 
Overfishing - Controlled. 
All vital areas of fisheries production & restoration; two remain unconsidered in a marine context 
..yet there's still an "Attraction vs Production Debate" stymying artificial reef construction. 

Need to find out what habitats have gone missing & put them back. 
Reef Restoration Makes Fishery Restoration Simple.

At any moment an MRIP catch-estimate absolutely no one believes could close the sea bass fishery, any fishery, for a period of years. 
And, at this exact moment, NOAA & upper reaches of management do not support the construction of artificial reef because "There's this attraction vs production debate.."

In the ocean I think the rock in this picture is our #1 missing habitat. It's a soft sandstone easily broken by hand and then crumbled into sand. As you can see, it's easily burrowed. I've found as many as 5 white-leg crabs (rock crab) in a single burrow. 

In the Gulf of Maine they call this soft rock, "Pipe Clay." I've not held hundreds of pieces and certainly can't refer to a body of literature, but up north they have examples of pipe clays with tree-trunk sized holes ..and, I understand, they too have large areas of pipe clay habitat that's gone missing. 

Given that you can crumble this rock in your hand, when many-ton hydraulic clam dredges and trawls w/o cookies were towed across once-large areas of reef in the 1950s, 60s & 70s, the cumulative impact over decades was a now-smooth, reef free bottom. 

Trawl skippers would say, "We cleaned that bottom up." They mean it too. 

Many men once fished multi-square mile reefs without aid of precise electronic navigation. Now satellite navigation is a requirement for the few men who fish today's much smaller reefs. 

Both marine & estuarine natural hardbottom habitat production is largely lost. Management struggles with 'catch restriction only' based restoration policies guided by, at times, absolutely ridiculous catch estimates, yet managers have failed to even consider habitat loss's impact on today's much reduced habitat production capability. 

More Coral, More Fish also means; less coral, less fish. 

I think it's time management took habitat seriously. 

2,000 page documents are useless for restoration unless we embed them in cement & toss them overboard. 

So far as I know, we haven't even one page for the Mid-Atlantic. It's "all sand & mud." 

Catch restriction has to carry the fight or we'll lose. At the rate sea bass season is evaporating in regulation's heat, I'm afraid we will lose. 

But at least we're building some reef privately, funding our own way out of lost habitat production with a little government help for our "Feel Good" work. There's also Maryland's well-funded artificial oyster reef* construction that could, seriously, turn the Mid-Atlantic ocean blue again. (*Sorry, I meant Oyster Bed Substrate Replenishment) 

Guys up in New York are especially behind the curve. The State of New York gives all their reef material away. 

If the Tappan Zee Bridge falls and no NY reef is built, I hope it's not because good men remained silent. 

There's a new thread at Fishing United about NY reef building's potential. Should the New York Reef Foundation be formed, I'll buy the first T-shirt. A ceramic coffee mug too.

Meanwhile, I'm working every day toward fishery restoration based on real results from real habitat. 

It's the only thing I've ever seen that actually worked. 



Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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