Sunday, August 09, 2015

Fish Report 8/9/15

Fish Report 8/9/15 
Catching Fluke 
Wind Power Failure 
Surveys To Come 

Sailing For Sea Bass & Flounder (called Fluke from NJ north). 
Absolutely Cannot Predict Which Species Will Bite Better On Any Given Day. Very Firmly: If you positively want one species & not the other you can watch the gut bucket to see which day would have been best for you. Fishing has been OK, which is always better than not fishing at all. Sending almost every party home with a fish fry's worth at least - but it requires work. We cannot know what will bite better on any given day until the bite is over. 

Saturdays 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 – Sundays In August By Announcement Only - Scheduling September Sundays - Otherwise 7 to 3 at $110.00.  
Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - On My Rig You Can Reserve What Spot You're In. Please See For How The Rail's Laid Out..
LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - Weather Cancelations Happen - 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. 
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! (Meclizine's Better!) 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.) For Anglers With Known Issues Dramamine & Meclizine Work Best If Treatment Begins The Night Before..
Honestly - If you get to go on the ocean once month, once a year, or even less; why risk chumming all day? Similarly, if you howl at the moon all night, chances are good you'll howl into a bucket all day.  

Bring A Cooler With Ice For Your Fish – A 48 Quart Cooler Is Fine For A Few People. Do Not Bring A Very Large Cooler. We DO have a few loaners - you'll still need ice. 
No Galley! Bring Food & Beverages To Suit. A few beers in cans is fine for the ride home.  

Small-scale reef building that adds up over time; We've recently reloaded the block pile with 90 pound reef blocks. Now 11,828 Reef Blocks Deployed at numerous sites. Active presently are Doug Ake's Reef with 2,267 - St. Ann's 1,361 - Al Giles Barge 470 - Eagle Scout Reef 636 - Sue's Drifting Easy Reef 62 - Nichols' Concrete 528 - And, newly begun, 60 at the upside-down tank. (Yes, it's an M-60A1 that landed on it's turret. Only the treads and bottom are exposed. I'm thinking it will support the weight of many reef blocks provided we site them accurately..) 

Please Sponsor Our Larger-Scale Reef Building At - Believe This: We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential..   Thank You! 

Greetings All, 
Been nicking away at flounder with just a few clients catching a limit almost everyday. After a recent south wind I was not enthused to see large, moderately sharp, remnant swells. In fact, I doubted fluke would bite well at all. 
I coached my deckhands to be especially diligent in their daily angler briefing because clients would need all the help we could muster.
So the flounder bit better than they have all year. They bit 100% of the day, even through the tide change. They bit GULP!. They bit cut bait. They bit clam. They did not stop biting unless I drifted too far away from structure. We were in on time (a rarity) and could not have kept another flounder save one fellow's limit who didn't want any. 

Despite a lifetime of lessons-learned chasing fish already caught, I'll admit I had pretty high hopes the next day--especially because seas were so much calmer. 
Straight away we had to switch from 8 to 12 ounce sinkers. After working very hard to catch a handful of flounder in a screaming current, by late morning the velocity backed off a tad & we settled into a fairly decent pick. Even saw shades of the previous day's bite for 10 or 15 minutes. 
A few clients caught a limit. Most did not. 
Everyone had dinner. 

Catching Flounder - Sea bass scarce of late. 
After this 3 day NE wind gets done shaking things up, it's anyone's guess what the bite will be like. Cbass instead?
As above, anyone's guess is as good as mine..

I am irritated no government agency has responded to my complaint of too many bottom surveys in the Maryland Wind Area. I believe in recent years sub-bottom profilers (like ground penetrating radar in a marine application) have completely upset our reef-fish populations within & near the Maryland Wind Area.  
Survey after survey after survey has caused a tremendous decline.
The fish have left. 
Not getting any response via email, I put an ad in the Coastal Fisherman.  (see attached) 

In fairness, BOEM's Brian Hooker, and especially MD Senator Jim Mathias, were responsive to the survey boat's negative effect on individual days of fishing toward the tail-end of the actual survey work. Although "awareness" was created, Might Makes Right maintained sway: the survey boat gave no quarter to fishing boats. If we were fishing and the survey boat came within 5 NM, I'd see the bite fall of. As the boat closed - the bite would shut off completely. 
The only way to avoid its effect was to run far away - an option that wasn't always available given weather or time constraint. 
What no one saw coming was a long term effect where the entire wind lease area & surrounding three miles (almost exactly 550 square miles) would become nearly devoid of reef fish. I'm also told other species are not using the area, but they are not my expertise. 

These surveys ARE NOT done with air cannons or any terribly loud noise associated with marine mammal injuries. There are no explosions. A sub-bottom profiler could be mounted on almost any seagoing boat. As I detail with specific On/Off instances toward the end of my 6/27/15 fish report, I am 100% confident the sub-bottom profiler is the culprit. 

In a video I produced in 2008 (but is composed mostly with video shot in 2004) -- Common Mid-Atlantic Seafloor Habitats -- The reef scenes from 0:32 to 0:55 - and from 1:40 to 2:10 - and again from 6:05 to the video's end, are of reef habitat within the wind area. These amazing sea bass abundances had been known about for a very long time prior to my video work. These reefs and fish populations survived foreign factory trawlers; sea bass/lobster trap gear for generations, and recreational partyboat effort for nearly as long.

I fished these reefs for years with as many as 80 people aboard. I did not begin to carry smaller parties until 2003. (I sell out at 25 with the Morning Star) 
This amazing abundance of sea bass was filmed just two years after the 25 fish recreational bag limit was begun. Up until 2002 there was no bag limit & no closed season.
Healthy. That's a lot of fish on the screen. Just six years into official size-limit management and 12 years of our own size-limit management - anyone could plainly see sea bass populations shooting straight up. 

When opportunity allows I shall film these reefs again - soon. It wouldn't surprise me if new video reveals a 95 to 99% decline in sea bass on these reefs in the MD Wind Area. 

I promise - Today there are almost no sea bass on reefs, no matter how robust, in or within three miles of the Maryland Wind Area.
Even in fishing's darkest hour, before any regulation existed - when every sea bass was legal to catch all year round - there would have been far more fish on these reefs than today. 
Hooray for management? 
Is this how we will control overfishing? By making sure there are no fish to catch?


Five Hundred Fifty Square Miles Of Seafloor Languish. (there are just over 200 square miles in the actual wind area. Adding a three mile border extension where I believe sub-bottom profiling has forced fish to flee increases the affected area to 550 square miles.) 

Not that it's going to effect anyone's paycheck   ..unless you fish for a living. 
Meetings will go on, recreational catch estimates with no semblance of actual catch will still prompt major regulatory actions, the wind lease moneys will still get paid 
..and Congress will still be told what a great job NOAA's doing restoring our reef fish regardless the truth of the matter. 'Why, yes indeed Senator! Even reef fish where NOAA has failed to discover any reef habitat are just doing dandy! We have all our fisheries under control!' 

NOAA has told Congress our sea bass are fully rebuilt. 
I'm telling NOAA there are almost NO SEA BASS WHERE ONCE THERE WERE MANY.

Sub-bottom profile survey equipment affects our reef fish - I'm positive. 
Every reef I've sampled within 3NMs of the MD Wind Area has shown substantial impact. 
There is almost no recreational fishing traffic on some of our most popular fishing spots because of survey's effects. The Great Eastern Artificial Reef has had almost no fishing pressure for over a month and should therefore offer a jubilee. Yet scratching a catch together there is nearly impossible. 

Our sea bass have been imperiled because of government created trouble. 

Right now I think Fisheries Science, Management, and NOAA's "Habitat Protection" wind-drift as a Portuguese man-of-war to wherever the funding is - Not Where The Truth Lays. 
Right now scientific funding is in climate change. 
This despicable scientific perfidy is dragging fisheries restoration hard astern. Making science fit the funding only feeds land-side, computer-based economies. It fails to aid marine-side fisheries participants who are very much dependent on a functioning ecosystem for economic stability. 

Those who tried & failed to transit to NW Passage in the age of sailing & exploration were blocked by ice. That very route is now open for a good part of the year. 
So, Yes, It's Warmer. 
It's also true today's warm surface waters are pushing north, that striped bass are being seen preying on Atlantic salmon smolts in Canadian rivers where stripers were never observed before. 

However, ocean temperatures do not run evenly from surface to seafloor. 
Cold sinks. 
The Labrador current comes slowly south; far inshore of the Gulf Stream. It comes cold & deep along shelf waters no matter how warm the surface. Damed against the most powerful current on earth, the Gulf Stream keeps the cold here & allows algae to have a field day with nutrients - that's why our part of the sea is greener and not as blue as when granddad fished. 
Every fisher has heard of thermoclines. The best fishers know how to use them. 
It's cold on the bottom. Sometimes really cold. 
When ice melts, cold comes south. 

We really do catch cod off the coast of Maryland again. Caught 'em almost every trip in May & June, 2015. I even advertised cod trips briefly in March & April 2011.
Recently I anchored over a wreck in the NW corner of the MD Wind Area just to try it, my clients caught two keeper flounder, one keeper cod, and only one throwback sea bass. 
Early in the regulatory period--even before regulations began, that very wreck would have supplied thousands upon thousands of sea bass annually to commercial & recreational users. 

Cod are a true cold water fish, much more so than red hake & fantastically more so than sea bass. 
We catch cod in greater numbers than in many decades, better now than in my entire career ..but are told sea bass are 'shifting north' because of warming waters from climate change. 
These are the same sea bass as found on both coasts of Florida, Georgia, & South Carolina - '..but they've vacated the lower Mid-Atlantic, Mr. & Mrs. Congressman, because of climate change. Oh PuLEEZE, Congress, Please fund some more climate science!' 

The official reason our region's sea bass are in decline is climate change. 

With all our fish swimming north, an assertion unsupported by tag returns; NOAA's grand scientific failure is further supported by MRIP's recreational catch estimates: "Oh No! Kayaks Have Been Spotted With Sea Bass! Overfishing Alert! Look! It's On Our Computers! Small Private Boats Caught More Sea Bass In Two Months Than The Entire US Commercial & For-Hire Fleets Caught All Year! Run For Your Lives!"

Overfishing confirmed by wild statistical estimate, regulations tighten again & again ..and reefs, positively thriving with life just a decade ago, fall further behind. 
Now too our red hake are included in the climate exodus. According to recent work, the reason we do not have red hake like we once did is warming water. 
In a time when there were virtually no cod at all for decades, we had fantastic abundances of ling (red hake). At least until the Georges Bank scallop fishery was closed in the early/mid-1990s. 

Spending their first weeks and months in a live scallop, red hake hide from predators and only come out at night to feed. 
It certainly appears to me that where scallop landings increase, red hake populations decline & vice-versa. 
No warming/cooling force; just an odd commensal relationship for an ecosystem fish unfortunately tied to a super high-value fishery. 
Everyone I have ever asked about ling in scallops, at least those who shuck scallops for a living, reported seeing numerous 1 to 4 inch red hake, sometimes in almost every single scallop for days on end.... 

No one's ever going to march on DC to restore red hake populations. The scallop industry is singularly well-represented & well funded. If ecosystem measures are EVER taken to ensure red hake production, you can be sure it will not negatively affect scallop landings. 
Scallops are like Wall Street Banks; red hake are a schoolyard collection for a new swing. 
Sure are lots of critters that eat 'em though..

What of tautog? If science were truly looking for a canary in this warming coalmine, old chiseltooth should be their songbird. 
No one's offering tog trips in Georgia or northern Florida. There is no Oct/Nov/Dec flood of little tog from the Florida Panhandle affecting the price of Mid-Atlantic commercial landings like there is with sea bass. The SAFMC has never announced they have successfully restored tautog. 
They certainly have with sea bass though.

No fun in that science. Tog haven't gone anywhere. 

The worst that can happen to our region's tog population is a sea bass closure. 
Plenty of closures. 
Yet despite sea bass management's regulatory failings, tog still colonize each & every new reef we build. Perhaps this resilience is because they are size-limit protected for at least 3 good years of spawning. 

Now, if our reef species have taken flight to cooler northern waters, where are the southern species to fill the void? Where's the increase in warm water fish? 
Barracuda haven't changed. Spadefish have declined alarmingly. Triggers are up & down depending on early summer's easterly winds as they always have. Amberjack are way-way down from the early 1980s. There's no sign whatever of red snapper or grouper on Mid-Atlantic shelf waters. 
There are snowy grouper being caught recreationally, but at 100+ fathoms they are deeper than than those once caught by commercial bottom long lines in the 1970s & 80s on reef in 50 fathoms. That reef habitat now reduced to flat, unproductive, rock slabs where growths have failed to recolonize after massive trawl impacts in the waning days of unregulated fisheries. A true study of snowy grouper landings would plainly demonstrate reef restoration's importance - not climate change. 

Odd these populations are shifting in the lower Mid-Atlantic Bight because of "warming waters," yet we have cod again after a 40+ year hiatus. 
Ask any scuba diver that regularly dives deeper than 80 feet: we have ice melt influence. It's not warmer down there, it's as cold or colder on the bottom than in the last 50 years.
I believe NOAA's science proudly showing climate-forced population shifts of sea bass & red hake is wrong. These population shifts I've mentioned are 100% management caused, not climate. 
But I do believe the BOEM-caused decline of reef fish in & around the MD Wind Area will be chalked-up to climate change; NOAA & BOEM will use climate change to get off the hook. 
'Any appearance surveys have created a negative impact is only an unfortunate coincidence, Senator. As shown by these wonderfully funded (but ill informed) studies, the real story is climate change.'

Government needs to take the hard road on this one. They need to find out WHY these reefs became so completely depopulated.. 
If they weren't killed outright, fish may move back. But in the event this impact does fade, there will certainly be many more surveys in years to come. We need to know what this equipment does to fish, to their feeding, & to their reproduction. 

Although I have ideas backed by a lot of work & life experience, it's pretty plain NOAA isn't concerned with ideas they didn't pay for. 
Someone, from some agency, needs to look into long term effects of multi-year bottom surveys. 
If they just happen to discover reef habitat in the Mid-Atlantic & how sea bass can be managed for greater spawning production, that would would make all this pain worthwhile. 

Never Give Up, Never Give In. 

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD


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