Friday, April 15, 2016

Fish Report 4/15/16

Fish Report 4/15/16
Went & Caught Keepers - Went & Caught Throwbacks
End of a Dry Nor-Easter
Cobia Blues & A Letter To Commerce 

Going Toggin: Was getting a lot more bites & throwbacks, tagging more, before this long dry Nor-Easter started. Water's warmer still. Some anglers will do OK - not everyone. 
Going Tuesday, April 19th & Thursday, April 21st - 7AM to 3PM - $110.00 - 12 Sells Out.. 
Going Saturday, April 23rd - 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 - 14 Sells Out  
& Sunday, April 24th - 7AM to 3PM - $110.00 - 12 Sells Out. 
Reservations Required

If unfamiliar with toggin, or with my boat's policies --- PLEASE read the trip info at the bottom of this email. (pretty much like this: if you think they'll be easy to catch, or it's easy to cheat, you are not going to enjoy tog fishing with me..) 

Opening May 15th Through May 31st For Sea Bass. I do not anticipate easy bag limits. 

Will Open June In My Next Report. 

All Winter Trips Posted Via Email. There's just no use trying to go everyday in winter.. (that includes March, April, and early May.) 
Reservations Required - See Way Down Below - & Be a half hour early! We always leave early! 

12,749 Reef Blocks Deployed at numerous sites. Active presently are Doug Ake's Reef with 2,431 - St. Ann's 1,459 - Al Giles Barge 689 - Eagle Scout Reef 756 - Sue's Drifting Easy Reef 147 - Nichols' Concrete 578 - Upside Down Tank 132 

Please Support the Ocean City Reef Foundation!
Reef Dinner May 15th At The Marlin Club! 4:30 to 7:00 - Tickets $25.00 at the Door..
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential. 
Thank You! 
A flounder lies in ambush on a patch of our remaining natural reef. They often hide a lot better than this one..
Flounder aren't usually thought of as a reef fish, yet reef is where they feed a good part of the year & where they spawn come fall. 
While I believe traditional traps/pots do little damage to a reef, no one would ever say the same about trawling. 

Yes, this bottom survived. What we see & imagine here as "rock" is actually a very soft compressed clay affair, perhaps marsh peat from tens of thousands of years ago. Animals routinely burrow in it. A piece of this 'rock' can easily be snapped off in the hand and turned into mud..

An honest piece of rock might be trawled which removes nearly all growth, and then allowed to regrow after part of a decade if it's not trawled again. It'll still be rock. Gonna take a dern site more than a trawl's chain to alter granite.. 
However, areas of this softer compressed clay, or perhaps even peat, 'hardbottom' are at risk of permanent loss. Bottoms such as this can & have-been turned into smooth, featureless, un-colonizable bottom where reef cannot regrow. 

Old-timers have told me tales of catching sea bass while drift fishing for weeks & months on end at the same reef; reef they easily located without any of today's sophisticated navigational electronics. Some of these places have no remaining natural reef growth & no sea bass today, but do have stories of intense hydraulic clamming & some trawling in decades long past. 

I have to infer habitat damage in large, multi-square mile, area. 

Marine fisheries restoration has but one goal in the Mid-Atlantic. Halt overfishing. Rebuilding marine fish populations is presently 100% about catch restriction. 
Fisheries management will not get better result from our economic battering until science has keyed to age at maturity. The true strength of fisheries management is in forcing spawning production. The concept of "Maximum Sustainable Yield" (see Magnuson-Stevens Act) really was Congress's goal - not regulatory destruction of as many fisheries as possible. MSY is achieved when 'surplus production' is removed (by fishing) without harming population levels. That's why we can catch, sometimes amazingly, while having even more fish the following year. It's really hard for someone steeped only in catch restriction to grapple spawning production as something management can influence. We presently have fewer sea bass off DelMarVa than when Foreign Factory Ships could be seen tending mammoth trawl-nets from shore, without binoculars, yet had the highest sea bass population anyone can recall just 13 years ago..
In that time the blue hump seen on male sea bass has shifted from 7.5 inches to 11.5 inches...
Still, present spawning production level accepted for what it is; If you have 100 acres of trees and log it down to 5 acres, will you truly expect to maintain the same one-hundred acre yield of squirrels? 
This is pretty low-hanging fruit in conservation philosophy - habitat matters. 
NOAA's current plan: "What Trees? We only see sand & mud."
..and besides, all your DelMarVa sea bass got way too warm and swam to Massachusetts. 

That's a truly sad, sorrowful thing to call science. 

Undiscovered & unresearched, a habitat restoration plan for our hardbottoms is no closer than travel to our nearest galaxy. 
Both no more than theoretical, sure would be a lot cheaper to understand & re-reef the nearshore..

Greetings All, 
Dang.. This NE wind is a pain in the neck. Haven't been out toggin in a good while.  
At least it's been pretty painting weather. (Just ask Danny!)
Slipped off just a few miles Wednesday, the 6th, and caught pretty decent. Would have had a boat limit (with very few clients!) but we'd thrown back some keeper females.. Danny & I even kept one for dinner. 
Then, in a lot more wind Friday, we caught plenty of throwbacks & just one keeper. Howling harder still, I headed in early with a big credit toward another day.. 
..that fresh tog though, Tasty! 

This winter's been so miserable I only have one pack of frozen sea bass left - fluke's gone.
Been looking for a decent shot of weather. Rare bird this spring, but here it comes. 
Going toggin. . .

I learned at a fisheries meeting a week ago that cobia will close this summer - a federal closure. 
I cannot imagine NOAA/NMFS have any real idea what this fish's actual population is. I do know cobia can be swimming all around live bait and flip you the fin. 
The pattern is a perfect fit: this is simply a spike in the data like every other I've ever written about. 
If any difference exists, it's that MRIP catch estimates showing the average Mid-Atlantic private boat-caught cobia at 48 pounds apiece offer a new high in statistical lunacy. 
What the heck. If it were true, these super-cobia would be the greatest managed fishery creation in history. 
Yeah, No. 
It's not true. 

Another twist, however, & in perhaps the grossest misuse of fisheries regulatory power yet, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is closing a fishery entirely out of their jurisdiction. Because VA is on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council - MAFMC - the cobia fishery above Hatteras, specifically VA, will have been regulated by a body where VA has no representation. 
Takes us right back to the founding, doesn't it.. 

Now, I've been asking for a couple days to see a specific data set formative in this new potential closure--each day working further up the food-chain. It's interesting to me the "Average Weight (lb)" of a cobia climbs from 19, to 28, to 48 pounds over a three year period. 
This is the stuff of mythology, not fisheries science---promise. 
It was none other than Dr. Van Voorhees who told me MRIP estimates have an especially hard time with weights..

We saw how in May/June 2010 Massachusetts Private Boats were observed with 2 sea bass. Those two fish became 645,000 pounds of quota-crushing "recreational catch." 
I really wish I were either wrong, or kidding - I'm not. 
I bet just 2 or 3 cobia were seen. Those observed fish, at least one a monster, will become another closed fishery. 

Surely some readers here are dialed in, have established contacts in Congress or in Fisheries, (or are Fisheries..) I'm having some difficulty getting the "number & weight of each cobia actually observed by MRIP field interviewers."
Please shoot an email to contacts and lets see how many cobia it takes to destroy our commerce in the Dept. of Commerce. (NOAA & NMFS are part of the Commerce Dept.)
Readers from North Carolina & Virginia should ABSOLUTELY contact their Congressman & Senators to also request info on how this "average" came to being. 
My Question & Data Request: I would like to know how many cobia were found by field staff & weighed -- and what those weights were -- that formed the Mid-Atlantic Private Boat estimate where the "Average Weight (lb)" became 48lbs for Cobia in the Private Boat mode. What specific fish were observed?
Pretty sure it's NOT going to be a very large table. 

With a good internet connection it takes very little time to pull data from the MRIP system. There are incredible layers I am not privy too though, unless I beg real pretty.. 
I didn't ask pretty enough. 
But I'll keep asking. 
If you get a response, please send it along..

MRIP Sez: In the 22 years from 1981 to 2003 Private Boats fishing along NC's coast caught 426,000 pounds of cobia -- all those 22 years, all put together, 426,000 pounds. 
Then, in 2015 alone, they caught 472,000 lbs.. 
Another Amazing Feat In Computer Driven Fisheries Statistics (that never actually happened.)
Charter skippers from North Carolina & Virginia seem rather alarmed that they're clients' fish are smaller & not as numerous. 
I know how they feel.
Here's an article that comes to a point on what some are thinking:


This first table is Mid-Atlantic "Wave 3" (May/June) Private Boat catch from the last 6 years. 2011 is missing so there was "No Catch" that year. Weights of cobia on Private Boats have increased substantially each of the last three years. (right column) 
All Mid-Atlantic Private Boat.. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing AreaAverage Weight (kg)PSEAverage Weight (lb)PSE

All Mid-Atlantic Weight Average - Are charter operators unable to land fish even HALF as big? 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeAverage Weight (kg)PSEAverage Weight (lb)PSE

All Atlantic by mode: MRIP's latest Fishery-Closing Catch Accusation. 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
Party/Charter chugs along at a normal pace, gets a fairly normal annual estimate, if up a touch. 
MRIP then shows how fishing's professionals & their patrons missed yet another searing run--in yet another fishery, when Private Boats land a new Atlantic Coast record. 
Fishery Closed. 
Nothing new about that. 
Just NOAA's shame deepening  

..and one more bubble in a pot coming to boil.

Although people who do not own a boat vastly outnumber those who do, and we For-Hire operators often carry boat owners too; MRIP has Party/Charter carrying almost no one, while Private Boats now rival the raw extractive power of industrial pair-trawlers. 

There must be, in MRIP's way of thinking, a great deal of Private Boat effort that only goes out on foggy nights - a ghost fleet capable of incredible landings - a mysterious unseen fishery where any one state's Private Boats are often able to outfish huge swaths of multi-state commercial effort..

The very reason we went to a fishing license or 'registration' was to remove that ignorance from recreational catch estimates. 
We are, by now, supposed to know almost exactly how many people are going fishing recreationally. 
MRIP, however, remains quite certain many people are not registered. 
I swear, it seems as though they also believe canoes are trawlers too. 

MRIP knew Congress & the National Academy of Sciences wanted them to use the new license info - the new "head count"- to better calculate catch. 
MRIP's new mail-in survey may be ready next year. Might.
I think the delay was so they could build more stables for Pony Express. 

This business of using MRIP as a certain guide to actual catch has got to stop. When government is using data a child could logically refute to close fisheries commerce -- "because they have to" -- then we have to take action and demand legislators make repairs to fisheries law. 
We have to. 

Below is a letter I wrote to the Secretary of Commerce, Mrs. Penny Pritzker, and a whole bunch of folks under her. 
Feel free to share it with anyone you wish, including contacts in State & Federal government, and especially Congress! 
Ask how many cobia they saw & weighed in VA to form that 48 pound average too..


Capt. Monty Hawkins 4/9/16 -- Someone Please Help.

Secretary Pritzker, Many Good People, 
I'll soon have 40 years in recreational fishing; my livelihood earned just 100-some miles from Washington, DC & spent mostly on the nearshore corals of the Mid-Atlantic.  
Our fisheries survived foreign fleets--overfishing in its grossest form when our own government, the Department of State, traded fishing rights for military bases on foreign soil. 
We came from that & thrived in early management as population after population soared. 
Now, through use of recreational catch estimates from first MRFSS & then MRIP, fishery after fishery is being lead to the alter of overfishing and sacrificed as the Mayans lead their enemies. 
There's no blood, but the pain is brutal. You're tearing the economic heart out of recreational fishing for what is, essentially, a scientific hoax. 
It needs to stop. 
It really, really, needs to stop. 

I guarantee - these estimates are blinding fisheries science & management in the worst ways & causing needless economic ruin.

An oh-so brief look at recreational catch estimates:
Many in the For-Hire fisheries must surrender catch reports. These daily forms, sometimes several a day, are required to reapply for permits. No "VTR" reports? No permits. It's serious & we take it seriously. 
But somewhere in NOAA there's a roadblock that says, "These reports are no good as data. Our catch estimates are better." I think it's probably one or two guys, hold-overs from the Bureau of Commercial Fishing. 
Maryland's official For-Hire MRIP catch-estimate of black sea bass, my specialty, is 56 fish -total- for 2105. Many of Maryland's party & charter boats, many times, submitted catch reports far higher from a single day's fishing. 
You cannot push with a string. While I can positively falsify many low estimates with actual recorded catch, please believe the only thing that stops the lows from being as bad as the highs is zero. 

An MRIP estimate cannot enter the negative.

Over-estimates, however, have no boundaries. Catch can & does go to the moon in implausible numbers. MRIP's assertions of catch survives the entire regulatory process even when not a single soul at the table believes the data: No One. 

Overfishing thusly proven; that's not numbers you hear crunching. It's the bones of our economy. 

My God it hurts. The pain of false accusations destroying our businesses is unreal.

From the "new & improved" MRIP program we've got guys sitting on buckets this time of year in New Jersey catching more tautog from shore---from NJ's rockpile jetties in cold water when the dang things ain't even biting; those guys caught more tautog in 2010 than all US For-Hire & Commercial effort caught all YEAR
Sadly, that's hardly the dumbest estimate.. 

Time, after time, after time, there are single states' Private Boats outfishing all US For-Hire fishers; sometimes all US Commercial too -- and in just a few weeks! 
I tell all of you; this is fantasy. 
These catches are not real. 

Did little plastic boats in Massachusetts really waylay the entire Gulf of Maine's cod population in five late-winter/early spring weeks of 2010? While those boats were all in storage? While their owners, if out fishing, were on For-Hire boats? 
Red snapper & other Gulf reef fish, cod in New England, black sea bass in the Mid-Atlantic; such wonderful escalations in population have been squandered to suite the demands of bad data -- overfishing seen on computer destroys our industry. 
Worse still, these catch estimates are given such singular importance that the sciences of biology & ecology are removed from all regulatory effort as we perpetually hunt what should have been controlled decades ago - overharvest. 

Commerce was never meant to be the office of economic destruction, but by putting positively pathetic recreational catch estimates before biology & ecology, you're succeeding. 

Corals just a few miles off DelMarVa remain undiscovered & unimportant in fisheries restoration. We may have 10 to 15% of the original natural hardbottom reef from before industrial stern-towed gear loss began some 75 years ago. That habitat's discovery & restoration isn't even a twinkle in science's eye.

Failure to respond to oyster collapse in the Delaware & Chesapeake Bays with industrial vigor has allowed the Mid-Atlantic ocean to turn green. 
Deep blue sea? Nah. 
Every generation of anglers losses 15 to 20 miles of blue water. We'll soon have to develop markets for jellyfish.

Management's ability to biologically force young fish to spawn is completely absent any fishery plan, yet the very idea of 'maximum sustainable yield' relies on a population's spawning response--an instinctual desire to achieve habitat capacity before slowing. That's the sweet spot - that's the economic driver - that's what real fisheries management will look like; and that's the biological response that can carry many species beyond any current notion of 'restored.' 
Conversely; unrecognized, it can slow spawning to a crawl.

We know how to grow oysters on vertical hard substrates. 
We know how to grow nearshore corals where no one's found use of them. 
We're witness to true exponential population growth in fishes. 
Yet the United States choses to smother biology, ecology & coastal economies with data unfit to line a bird cage -- MRIP's recreational catch estimates offer singularly important control over management's outcome. 
We've come to a truly bad place with that. 

This year NOAA will even close cobia with the exact same track - overfishing seen only on a computer owns the sea. 

Great mercy but it needs to stop. Closures & regulatory tightening leave us worse & worse economically while offering precious little--to even retarding--fisheries restoration progress.  

Almost 40 years of work.. I believe I shall die like a farm animal, in harness, in the field; toiling against a system that, though evidence lay all around, refused to learn how to make more fish.  

Please Commerce! Please relieve us from the spikes in MRIP's catch estimates before it's entirely too late. Please Commerce, Please NOAA, Please allow managers, who have only the best of intentions, to call what they see in our current recreational catch estimates. Please see that Bayesian stops are applied to catch: both lows & highs have real boundaries. You must recognize them & apply them to management. 

The National Academy of Sciences is investigating MRIP right now. Where before some lofty ideal of 'perfection in statistics' has always held ground - Please Commerce, Please NOAA, Please ask instead that our estimates be correct. Seek truth in the estimates, not flower-tossing celebration of perfect statistics. 

And please, look at fishings' past for rapid rise in populations. Unlike catch statistics, those periods will reveal methods of population increase employable by management to create thriving waterfront economies.

MRIP creates a sea of Can't while forcing management to ignore an ocean of potential. 
Unleashing even a fraction of that potential would restore a lot of faith in government.
Someone Please Help..

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

Going Toggin? 
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. 

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

Going Toggin Anyway! Tog Only, Sea Bass Are Closed Because NOAA Has Accepted Poor Statistical Catch Estimates As If They Represented 'Certain Knowledge' For Decades. NOAA Has No Idea How Best To Manage The Sea Bass Fishery. (yet) 
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 

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! 

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.  
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.   

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