Monday, May 25, 2015

Fish Report 5/25/15

Fish Report 5/25/15 
Better Catching 
11.5 Is The New 7.5 
No Rest For The Weary: Here Comes The Next Magnuson Stevens' Reauthorization 

From Below: 
When the 2006/07 re-write of the Magnuson Stevens Act (US Fisheries law) was being debated, there were very harsh requirements proposed to prevent fishers from wriggling out from under punishments for going over-quota. 
Environmental groups wanted "Pay Back" by any user group that went over-quota. 
The National Research Council (NRC) had just written a blistering report on MuRFSS, our old catch estimating system. Our nations best scientists din't think much of NOAA's catch-estimate science at all. Everyone recognized MuRFSS recreational catch estimates were insufficiently accurate to meet such strict quota requirements as were being proposed in the new Magnuson. 
Now "repaired" - those estimates are worse than before, yet Accountability Measures still loom...
Until Flounder Show: Sailing Daily For Sea Bass. Saturday's 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 – Otherwise 7 to 3 at $110.00.. Fishing Is Not Hot, But Has Improved As (A Lot More) Cbass Meander In From Offshore. 
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. (or the captain forgets bait) 
Clients arriving late will see the west end of an east bound boat. With a limited number of reserved spots, I do not refund because you over-slept or had a flat..

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! (Wockenfuss Candies sells crystalized ginger locally - Better is Nuts.Com.. Chewable Meclizine is a good pharmaceutical with Scopolamine Patches the gold standard.)

Bring A Cooler With Ice For Your Fish – A 48 Quart Is Fine For A Few People. 
No Galley! BYO Sandwiches & Soft Drinks. A few beers in cans is fine. (bottles break at bad times)

Small-scale reef building that adds up over time; on my last fishing trip we dropped reef-block number 11,204 over the stern rail. Now 2,200 at Doug Ake's Reef – 1,254 at Saint Ann's - 372 at Al Giles’ Barge - 600 at Eagle Scout Reef - plus 10 at an as-yet unnamed reef group on Sue Foster’s Isle of Wight Reef.. 
Please Sponsor Reef Building At - Thanks! 

Greetings All, 
Sea bass fishing's much improved over our very poor start. It's still not what I'd like to see, but we're at least having some clients punch through to double digits. Have had several fish topping an honest 4 pounds and also catch a few keeper cod most days. 
I anticipate pleasant weather, very light rails, & sending folks home with dinner as we go into early June. 
Looking forward to flounder, a species management has had tremendous success with. They'll be offshore & rocked-up/wrecked-up before long. While waiting, sea bass are a tasty treat. . . 

After my last report I had several people ask if I was truly worried for my boat and business; ask whether today's MRIP data-driven regulations could truly become so fouled that even a paid-for operation would fold..

When NOAA realizes they've completely botched the sea bass restoration they're telling Congress they did so well, they'll cook up a few wild catch-estimates that, while improbable in the extreme, cannot be disproved because courts hold NOAA as the single "expert" in the room. When the recreational fishery is completely closed they'll tell Congress what a swell job they're doing ..and "Golly, sorry about those jobs, but we've got fish to save & these catch estimates prove beyond a doubt who went over-quota!" 

I absolutely believe NOAA/NMFS has become so enamored of their statistical guesswork, (the MRIP recreational fishing catch estimates,) and are so willing to forgo ecology & biology, that they'll cheerfully send my life's work to Davey Jones locker to make their computer screens look good. 
There's plenty of recent history demonstrating they'll do exactly that. 

No you say? 
When NOAA/NMFS was scratching their head, wondering where all the cod went in 2011, they took strong notice of the Massachusetts March/April recreational Private Boat catch-estimate for cod. Somehow it had shot from a realistic 2,700 in 2004, to a very convenient 1.5 million in 2010. That figure includes throwback cod - too small. 
With New England private boats under winter tarps and providing a place for the Boston Marathon bomber to hide; in March/April private boat owners, if cod fishing, are on Party Boats: big, warm, heavy-weather capable, party boats. 
But the MuRFSS catch estimate said otherwise; said those boats snuck out in the night while no one was looking and slaughtered the Gulf of Maine's cod.  

The mere absence of truth has never stopped an estimate before. Fish statistics already a sharp stick in rec-fishing's eye; in 2011 NOAA also decided cod do not survive recreational release. Nevermind over 100 years of tag returns & countless millions seen swimming away at release.. NOAA: "Say, um, we really need all those recreational fish that you never actually caught counted as dead-discard/recreational release mortality to make our computer screens look OK. You know, to give Congress the impression we have some idea what we're doing. You don't mind do you?

Now, thanks entirely to MuRFSS/MRIP catch estimates, thanks to the belief MRIP would offer a repair of MuRFFS, you can go fish with a skipper in Maine who has more years at sea than me - Capt. Tim Tower of the Bunny Clark - and not be allowed to keep a cod. 
I'm catching cod from 4 miles out to 40 miles out off the coast of Maryland, catching cod every single trip; and this skipper's clients are not allowed to keep a blessed one? 
Capt. Tim's clients are, however, allowed to keep a few delicious haddock. Now at an all-time population high by every measure, spikes in MRIP catch estimates have prevented the recreational haddock quota from being increased. Recreational haddock fishers have to pay back catch-estimate's illusion of overfishing and are not allowed an increased bag limit. 
Cod closed & haddock restricted: truth in regulation's formation absent.

Yes, I'm very scared for my business. 
NOAA, for all their sound & fury, have no notion of our reefs; have no notion of delayed changes in sea bass spawning physiology; and absolutely, positively, have no idea whatever of recreational catch. 
On NOAA's computers guys fishing from Jersey's jetties in April can catch more tautog than all US commercial effort all year. That's what happened & that's that. 
After I told NOAA how many sea bass clients caught every day - AFTER I REPORTED EVERY SINGLE DAY, EVERY SINGLE TRIP, EVERY SINGLE SEA BASS: the brand new & improved recreational catch estimating program, MRIP, has Maryland partyboats catching zero sea bass last year - all year  ..all of us. 
We catch sea bass virtually every trip - even when fishing for tautog or flounder. 

NOAA has told my political representatives: "Sea bass are not an important fishery in Maryland."

No action, absolutely none, has ever been taken to correct any catch estimate - ever. Here's a Fish Report where I developed a timeline showing first MuRFSS & then MRIP's affects on sea bass regulation.  I had my first run-in with MuRFSS in 1998 & have the paper-letters from that era. I see bad data's effect in almost every fishery I've looked at.

Whatever number pops up in the data is A-OK with NOAA. Whether it's a complete recreational closure of cod above Cape Cod, or a couple days of federal red snapper season before they close that too; NOAA's use of MRIP is precisely comparable to Sophocles' play about Ajax; who, made to suffer madness by Athena, slew & tortured whole flocks of sheep thinking them his enemy. 
Except in this 5th century BC play, Sophocles' protagonist escapes his madness & realizes his error. 
NOAA has not. 
Neither story ends well. 
So, Yes; I'm very, very scared we'll lose the recreational sea bass fishery and with it my life's work. 

We have a small group of managers lead by MAFMC Chairman Rick Robins & Maryland DNR's Mike Luisi who have been fighting a rear-guard action against NOAA. 
Sea bass would already be CLOSED without their efforts and of those who joined them. I would have already lost my boat save the efforts of these men. 
I'm not given to exaggeration. That's a true statement. 

But MRIP estimates come out every two months. They don't stop. Yes, the 300 Spartans are remembered for all time because of their incredible bravery at Thermopylae, but they still lost. 
Just as in NOAA's "Emergency" sea bass closure of 2009, any estimate now NOAA might order Council & Commission: "You have no option but to close the sea bass fishery." 
Regardless how silly the estimate that finally seals our fate, no matter how untrue; NOAA will proclaim: "It's the best available science
..and that will be that. 

There must be folks who just get giddy thinking about yet another recreational fishery destroyed.  
We must beat them. 

NOAA was forced by Congress to repair For-Hire catch estimates in 2003. We knew our estimates were way-off back then because we actually count our catches daily. At that exact point in time Private Boat estimates began climbing regardless any tightening of regulation. While For-Hire catch factually plummeted under harsher size/season/bag limit regulation; Private Boat catch skyrocketed throughout the period of greatest regulatory tightening ever. The best example is red snapper.. 
Imponderably absurd to those of us who witness this sad stage of fishing's history from the water; no MRIP catch estimate is impossible on a computer screen.. 

When the 2006/07 re-write of the Magnuson Stevens Act (US Fisheries law) was being debated, there were very harsh requirements proposed to prevent fishers from wriggling out from under punishments for going over-quota. 
Environmental groups wanted "Pay Back" by any user group that went over-quota. 
The National Research Council (NRC) had just written a blistering report on MuRFSS, our old catch estimating system. Our nations best scientists din't think much of NOAA's catch-estimate science at all. Everyone recognized MuRFSS recreational catch estimates were insufficiently accurate to meet such strict quota requirements as were being proposed in the new Magnuson.
It was MuRFSS, after all, that had estimated New Jersey's jetty fishers at 74,000 tautog in Mar/Apr 2010 - a number higher than all party/charter catch for the period. 
So, in the last reauthorization of Magnuson, NOAA was required to repair recreational catch estimates by 2009. At the same time, presumably based on the assumption NOAA's repair would be A) real, & B) timely; Congress also included the recreational fisheries in the "payback" provisions for going over-quota. 

But MRIP wasn't 'ready' until 2012. 
Lawmakers didn't prepare for that. 
The 2009 "Emergency" sea bass closure was 100% based on MuRFSS catch estimates no one thought should be used to enforce Magnuson's new "Accountability Measures" pay back over-quota policy. 

Out at last & three years late; among the very first estimates I looked at in MRIP's 2012 release was a One-Hundred Thousand fish jump in what I then-considered the worst catch estimate ever, that Jersey tog estimate. 
MRIP, all new & shiny, full of hope: "No, it wasn't 74,000 tautog! It was really 173,000 tautog from shore!!"
..and hope was lost. 

MRIP's the catch-estimating method they use to hold us to "Accountability Measures" or just "AMs" in management's vernacular. 
MRIP's world of make-believe statistics results in dead-serious regulation including the simplest regulation of all: Closure.  

This Jersey shore estimate precisely & factually illustrates the quality of NOAA's repair to recreational catch estimates. 
Instead of making science the core of fisheries restoration, NOAA's insistence MRIP is infallible has forced science AWAY from fisheries management. What remains is NOAA's belief in MRIP's "certain knowledge." 
..actions driven by belief in certain knowledge line history's darkest hallways. 

Where science is testable & refutable; MRIP is not. 
NOAA is certain they understood Congress' intent & are destroying whole recreational fisheries. There's not even a hint of, "Oh, sorry, that was friendly fire." NOAA's proud to tell Congress how well they're doing. 

I know what overfishing & "overfished" looked like. I saw the bottom. Fished right through it. I have friends who fished amid Russian's factory trawlers right off our coast; who saw what happened when the State Department gave Spanish super-trawlers the locations to US fishers' best fishing spots. 
I heard many stories of catching sea bass on "open bottom" from back in the day when whip-meadow reefs were measured in square miles, not square yards. 

I took action too; had boat limits; was enforcing size limits & creel limits years before management ever began on our reef fish. 
I've watched the response of fish populations very closely; as though my livelihood depended on it.. 
Too busy reacting to each wild swing in the recreational catch estimates; management's computer screen has no idea of a real path forward for reef-fish restoration. 

I am embarrassed beyond belief for my many friends in fishery management who have to accept & act upon data they do not believe; who have to destroy what remains of our businesses because of recreational catch data they themselves have no faith in. 
They too fight the ludicrous, but for them it's not a fight to the finish. 

Recreational "overfishing" of the last 15 years has never-ever been about actual overfishing. It's always been about bad catch estimates. 

Soon I'll need a glitzy street sign & new crew uniforms complete w/pirate eye-patch to stay solvent: One Hour Trip Specials! Come see what REAL fishing was like! Argggh! You can pose for a picture with our real stuffed fish!! 

Meanwhile, eleven-&-a half is the new seven-&-a half in sea bass. 
Used to be we'd see LOTS of 7.5 inch male sea bass everyday - hundreds. 
Now we see some 11.5 inch males everyday & virtually no under-10 inch males ever. 
These 11.5s swiftly grow into legal (12.5 inch) recreational size and are already legal to commercial harvest at 11 inches. 

With their perfectly natural "habitat capacity" alarms triggered by large fish at every reef; MRIP estimates have forced MAFMC to "manage" for delayed age at maturity; we target all sea bass spawners instead of protecting a spawning age-class for a year as in early management. 
Now, by whatever natural means; when surrounded by large sea bass, small sea bass no longer participate in spawning. Then, just as they begin spawning, they become legal. 
Our region's population has been in decline ever since. 

In the 1990s every reef we built would be adding to available spawning habitat in just WEEKS. We built a lot more reef back then than today too. There were amazingly many more spawning fish. Those spawning sea bass created exponential population growth. Size limit regulation alone protected an entire spawning year class. 
Now sea bass mature at least two years later at age 3. 
In the 2010s management alone has lowered our sea bass spawning potential to it's lowest point in history. 
When the graph below is updated, NOAA will close recreational sea bass & blame private boats for the population decline by going over quota. "See, Mr. Congressman, it's right here in the catch estimates."
Above graph shows how the sea bass population doubled in early management. Having started with self-regulation 5 years sooner along the coast of Maryland, we witnessed better sea bass population growth here than this graph shows. 
I've yet to find an update. The sea bass population from Long Island south to Cape Hatteras will not have improved since this graph was assembled in 2011. 
Management WILL blame this population decline on private boats. Then they will close the fishery to recreational fishers without regard for amazing population growth witnessed in the late 1990s/early 2000s. 
A fishery that practically repaired itself will be lost by regulation..

If we instead lowered the recreational size limit to equal the 11 inch commercial size limit, & KEPT reasonable bag limits, we would quickly see our nearshore reefs, those with the most fishing pressure, again drive spawning production upward. Because small sea bass would again perceive a need to spawn at age one, production would accelerate. When production is up, inshore anglers can catch limits at legal size, but fishers a little further out can pick & choose their fish as reef populations swell with less fishing pressure.  
The swiftness of population response to an enormous spawning stock is amazing. So too is the dimness of a regulatory body forced to abide only that which is false. 

We drove sea bass to a 50 year high with no recreational bag limit - only a size limit, and with commercial & recreational quotas more than double today's.. During early & self regulation I routinely had clients with 30 to 50 fish each in spring & high-hook approaching 200 each in fall. Despite wildly higher recreational removals, sea bass flourished on any & every sliver of hard-bottom habitat. 
When the first bag limit was created in 2002 it was also accompanied by a 12 inch size limit and closures. In 2003 the size limit went to 12.5 & clients caught 25 fish limits far more often than didn't. Now I'm working much harder for a fifteen fish limit and not succeeeding. 

Not asking readers to pick up a sword & form a phalanx.
We must instead make a stand with pen & keyboard. 
I need YOU to write to YOUR Congressman & Senators. 
They'd far prefer to hear real thoughts of a real constituent than ANY canned letter. The people who will read and relay your thoughts to their boss are not fisheries experts either. Congressional staff's pretty dern sharp though. I've met a bunch of them.. 
Look your legislators up here: 

Tell your Senators & Representative the repair to MuRFSS & MRIP was a complete flop. Congress should ask NOAA for their money back. We should demand monetary accountability measures of NOAA for foisting this hoax upon our fisheries. 

Tell Congress to PLEASE remove accountability measures from recreational fisheries until the data has factually been repaired. More Importantly, Tell Them To Unwind Bad-Data's Influence On Today's Regulations! Although a single bad estimate can cause an emergency closure, it's not just "an estimate" that's closing red snapper, blueline tile, sea bass & cod, its lots of bad estimates over lots of years that have blinded management..

Tell your DC Representative & Senators to PLEASE use Rhode Island's smart-phone app to FINALLY get an accurate picture of recreational catch. Specifically, tell them MRIP's intended use of a mail-in survey would have been welcome in 1980, but not 2015. We need to create & use real-time catch data, not snail mail. With their three tries already spent, Congress should now give recreational catch data duties to USFWS. They've been doing it longer & will do it better.

And tell them NOAA's having a really hard time discovering reef habitat in the nearshore waters of the Mid-Atlantic. Congress might be interested in the closest reefs to Washington DC whether  NOAA is or not. 
NOAA should look at reef habitat regardless if it's deeper than wader-tops but not "scientifically cool" like deep-water corals. We know fishers once targeted sea bass & other reef fish on areas now containing only barren sand: What Happened?
Tell Congress there may be a connection between reef habitat & reef fish. Fishermen sure seem to think so..

We once had a thriving zooxanthellae-driven "sea whip meadow" reef ecology  ..had. 
That's why trawl landings of sea bass from 1950 to 1961 remain higher than all decades since combined. 
Although not a return to the 1950s, we had the greatest sea bass population of the last 50 years in the early 2000s; had that just 5 years into management. Our sea bass population grew exponentially despite few regulations.
That production is now lost. Despite incredibly more stringent regulation today, sea bass production & our region's sea bass population is at a low for the entire management period. I believe we may even approach populations not seen since the darkest era of true overfishing. We will have bigger fish metered out more slowly by regulation, but perhaps fewer in number than ever before.  

NOAA wants funding to study climate change. 
We are catching more cod in the Mid-Atlantic than at any time since the very early 1970s. Yet NOAA tells Congress, "cod are fleeing to Canada because of warming waters." 
Sea bass too, while exploding numerically in the bath-water-warm Gulf of Mexico with only a ten-inch size limit & no recreational or commercial quota; Gulf sea bass are 'moving north' in the Mid-Atlantic, and especially away from the lower Mid-Atlantic, because of climate change. 
Uh Hu..

It's not canoes & Grady-Whites taking too many fish; it's not the very-real warming of our temperate surface-waters causing populations of fish to shift in scant pieces of a decade; it's management having no idea the tools they have, having no idea how to move beyond 'catch restriction only' based management.  
When management understands their ability to create & restore vast reef habitats; and understands their ability to manage for maximum spawning potential on nearshore reefs, we'll see economic vitality accompanied by exploding fish populations. 

No one's asking for a return to unregulated fisheries. We can all see management works if applied correctly. We must escape MRIP's absolute power to declare recreational fishers over-quota despite the catch-estimating program's complete absence of truth. 

Ask your Congressman & Senators to help.
Please help. 
Please write. 
Without Congress's aid, NOAA's use of MRIP is going to destroy the recreational marine For-Hire fisheries from Maine to Texas. 
My boat & life's work will have been among them. 

Getting to know your Representative & Senators' staff is good. 
Besides them you can also write the Magnuson reauthorization's legislative team. Their email is: .. 

Reef restoration, you see, really would make fisheries restoration simple. 
But first we have to get MRIP off our back. 

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

Blog Archive