Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fish Report 1/26/17

Fish Report 1/26/17
Going Toggin & Went
New Sea Bass Quota 

Oh man.. On Facebook now too. Morning Star Fishing

Reef Building - Saturday 1/28/17 - Start @ 9 - Free Reef Labor Wanted! 
Going to build some Chimney Block Tog Condos on Saturday and deploy them from my boat at a reef site to be determined by weather conditions. Probably inshore at Wolf & Daughters Reef, but maybe a bit further off. 
Not regular cement blocks; they're heavier. We'll load the boat with chimney blocks, (Thanks Potomac Valley Brick!) as many as she can carry, & assemble/deploy them in 3 & 4 block units. We're a little light on forklifts (none) strong backs needed. Will buy chicken.. Figure working to 1 or so. If you can help please email me at my address.. Other addresses I check less frequently. 

Folks - This is WINTER tog fishing. A trip can go south fast. Tog DO NOT always bite! 

My crew MIGHT have white crabs, usually do. The boat provides green crabs. Reservation staff hardly know what species we're after, let alone whether there will be a certain kind of bait. 

Sea Bass Are Closed. I sincerely hope this will be the last year of that nonsense. 
All Winter Trips Posted Via Email. There's just no use trying to go everyday in winter.. (especially THIS Winter!)
Adding Friday - January 20th - 7 to 4 - $120 - 16 Sells Out (Deb is working reservations by herself, if you want to book - stay on the line.)

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..

My Crew Have (usually 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.   

Skunks are always possible while tog fishing. 
Really. It's a frequent occurrence. Sometimes even the very best toggers 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 Are Closed Because NOAA Has Absolutely No Real Idea (but learning) How Best To Manage The Fishery. 
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! 

It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure. Bonine seems best because it's non-drowsy. Truly cheap & effective insurance. 
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.   

In winter waterproof boots are almost a necessity. (and great socks! like over the calf smart wool .) While some rarely, or never, wear gloves for fishing, you'd not likely see me fishing this time of year w/o at least the half-finger wool gloves. 
Layers are best because, believe it or not, sometimes it can be very pleasant offshore--especially when the wind lays down. In winter it's warmer offshore owing to warmer waters. In summer it's cooler..

15,476 Reef Blocks deployed at numerous sites: Doug Ake's Reef 3,133 - St. Ann's 1,555 - Al Giles/OC RUST Reef 1,125 - Eagle Scout Reef 904 - Sue's Block Drop 184 - Nichols' Concrete 774 - Capt. Bob's Block Drop 156 - Benelli Reef 341 - Wolf & Daughters Reef 230 ..
Blocks Provided By Potomac Valley Brick - Thank You!

15,524 Reef Blocks deployed at numerous sites: Doug Ake's Reef 3,145 - St. Ann's 1,555 - Al Giles/OC RUST Reef 1,137 - Eagle Scout Reef 904 - Sue's Block Drop 196 - Nichols' Concrete 786 - Capt. Bob's Block Drop 156 - Benelli Reef 341 - Wolf & Daughters Reef 230 ..
Blocks Provided By Potomac Valley Brick - Thank You!

Support the Ocean City Reef Foundation! (lots of reef pics here..) The OC Reef Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit with no payroll & no rented office space -- We Build Reef. Also registered w/Amazon Smile. We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential. Thank You! 

Greetings All,
A long run of days before that northeaster hit.. A January miracle. Fishing wasn't old-time drop & reel. Given time at the rail, however, it was OK for most. 
I tell folks all the time - if you cannot handle a skunk, especially when others have caught well, you need to wait until sea bass or fluke season.. 
One time I had three anglers of equal skill, (and that's all I had aboard - those 3) when George started getting bit. Mugging being a way of life in this fishery, (mugging meaning moving next to someone who is catching - there are experts. And that's exactly why I sail with a light rail, so folks can move around to the bite..) George soon had the other two anglers on either side of him. 
All three anglers had their rod tips in the same space -- nearly touching. 
I do not recall how many he caught, but it was amazing to see George, drop after drop, catching tog while my other 2 clients suffered. 
His 5 or 6 fish to two goose eggs. True story.. 
Lots more like it. 

If you think the ocean owes you a tog just because you went out; ocean gonna show you something..

We were seeing a few limits before the big blow. 
I can only hope that blow didn't kill February like Jonas did last year. 

So we're going to go fishing some more. Deb is working by herself - just stay on the line if you want to book.. The reef building trip Saturday will be followed by a 6:30 to 3:30 Tog Trip on Sunday Jan 29 for $125.00 - 16 sells out. 
That'll be it for January, looks like. But February 1st holds some promise. Same trip on Wednesday, Feb 1st, Thursday, Feb 2nd & Friday, Feb 3rd. 
These trips are NOT carved in stone. I've had to cancel a bunch of scheduled trips already this year. 
Have added some too though. 
Book it now if you want to go..

I've been hearing murmurings for months now about a major increase in sea bass quota. It grows louder. 
I hope it turns into regional management. Really do. Two quotas with VERY CAREFUL consideration of winter trawl pressure. A pretty heavy lift for regulators. Needs doing. 
Nothing fixes tautog populations like abundant sea bass. I'm serious. 
Abundant seatrout too (weakfish). 

Last summer was the first time in 15 years or so that we had small spawning male sea bass off our coast. These were the 7 to 10 inch spawning males as we knew them up until 2001 or so.. That was because the spring of 2015 was a dismal spawning failure. With reefs all but devoid of spawning sea bass in 2015, smalls were again maturing early and spawning in their first year by 2016.

My thinking is that sea bass surrounded by smalls behave as thought there's lots of room for expansion - for more fish. They spawn like crazy when there are lots of small sea bass - but not many larges.. 
We think it should be 'crowding' that tells them resources could be strained - "Hey! Slow down on the spawning already or we'll starve!" But even incredibly crowded reefs in past decades had small spawners. 

It wasn't until we went to a 12 inch size limit that spawning production fell off a cliff. 
I was paying really close attention because we went to a 9 inch size limit years before any state/fed regulation had ever been written on sea bass. 
I've worked & worked on this theory.. Have written about it numerous times. Even have some of the coast's top scientists convinced it's well worth a look. 
Now, maybe, with this quota expansion we'll be able to lower the recreational size limit to 11 inches--same as commercial--and see if that maintains age 1 spawning in sea bass. (from 2003 to 2015 I believe sea bass were spawning at age 3..)
I absolutely believe this one mistake in regulation has caused the decline in sea bass we've seen. At an all time peak in 2003 -- it's been downhill ever since. 
Then a crazy jump in spawning last summer. 
Nine inch federal regulation began in 1997. Twelve in 2002. Then twelve & a half in 2003.. 
Below is a piece I wrote a year ago - a little deeper if you'd like. 

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

From Fish Report 12/14/15..
A sea bass is on the November cover of the American Fisheries Society "Fisheries" magazine. 
Dr. Olaf Jensen & Mikaela Provost seem to be looking into thoughts on 'age at maturity' as a necessary management tool for sea bass restoration. This is really sticky stuff -- & then These two have done experiments which affirm extreme habitat fidelity and are now contemplating when sea bass switch sex. 
I think what's absent is when sea bass USED to switch sex. Mikaela's observation of sea bass switching at 13 and even 15 & 17 inches today would be irreconcilable with scientific measurements taken before the regulatory period began. 
Where sea bass used to switch to male as young as 7 or 8 months of age, now they're age 3 or more..  

The 1977 NMFS Sandy Hook Blue Book on Black Sea Bass Habitat has "Females mature as 2 year olds at a length of 17 cm. (6.6 inches) Generally, males tissue is first seen in fish 3 years old at about 18 cm (7.08 inches).
While surely this early work got the lengths right; from Gary Shepherd's collection of aging work up & down the coast, however, both these measurements are solidly age one. A sea bass of 6.6 inches & 7.08 inches could easily have been born on the same day. 

Here too from the same 1977 work: (page 15) "Since black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites,  sex ratio varies with age & size of the fish. Larger fish are all males. Nearly all fish >25 cm (9.8 inches) are males. Thus catches of large fish will consist of males."

A catch of fish 10 inches or greater was considered large fish? 

Little different today.. A catch of cbass even 15 inches or better wouldn't be all male. A catch of all 11 inch fish would almost certainly be all female & thrown back - too small. 

When I witnessed what I believe was our sea bass at habitat capacity in 2003, I realized habitat expansion was the only way forward from that point. The only way for management to increase a population of fish already at habitat capacity is to increase habitat. 

In a system that has yet to recognize natural reef habitat exists in the Mid-Atlantic, we see marine fisheries restoration & management's odd journey prolonged by folks at the top of management today who were taught in school 'artificial reef only concentrates fish for easier extraction'

Published in 1980, a well-worn college text in my possession by Nielsen & Lackey, "Fisheries Management" (p. 259) has, among many gems, "Sportsmen clamor for a bigger share of the catch, usually referring nostalgically to their remembered catches of years gone by. Commercial fishermen are disinclined to spare 10 fish so that anglers, in their hilarious ways, may catch five."
Science in unbiased form? 
Perhaps not. 

Still, from before MuRFSS recreational catch-estimates' creation, these editors recognized management had tools at hand aside from catch restriction. 
On page 279 in this 1980 text we find: "Carrying capacity, the long term maximum biomass (of fishes) which a habitat can support is dependent in large part upon the food resources available."
Written just past the peak of US commercial fishing--just as fishing businesses were failing more frequently owing to collapse of target species; these editors of yore inform students about a special fresh water problem: "Artificial spawning structures may be necessary because of deterioration of natural spawning grounds in natural lakes or their tributary streams... Frequently, amount of suitable substrate for spawning is insufficient."

After WWII, surplus diesel engines & even boats were cheap as Uncle Sam looked to reduce inventory. Post 1950 stern-towed gear impacts to ocean seafloor habitats must have been the greatest in history as boats powered by these surplus engines were put to sea. 

Habitat loss grew worse as precise LORAN C navigation became widespread in the 1970s. Where once an area would have been steered clear of altogether by skippers operating towed fishing gear: as precise navigation became possible, stern-towed gears were pulled as closely as possible to any remaining hardbottom habitats. Where a cluster of boulder was avoided at all costs because it would snag any towed gear, it was also true that very close to those rocks were fish to be harvested. 
If seafloor habitat out to 100 fathoms held fish or shellfish and could be towed - it was towed.
If towing damaged or destroyed that habitat either temporarily or permanently least there was a paycheck in it before production was lost. 

Throughout the restoration community even today, no recognition exists for Mid-Atlantic seafloor habitat, and especially not for any loss of such habitat. 
Absent any knowledge of habitat, management today cannot apply Nielsen & Lackey's sweetwater commonsense restoration philosophy: "Artificial spawning structures may be necessary because of deterioration of natural spawning grounds" because no recognition exists we ever benefited from spawning occurring upon those now long-lost habitats, or "spawning structures."

In reference to artificial reef, Nielsen & Lackey also held that: "Although provision of (artificial)reefs in moderate amounts may effectively concentrate fish for harvest*, reefs in excess have much the same effect as submerged vegetation in excess. That is, prey fishes (like sea bass?) may become overabundant and game fish will be so widely scattered that they are difficult to locate. Few data currently exist on optimal size for artificial reefs. For some species, small artificial reefs which provide cover for only several game fish are adequate since new individuals inhabit the reef almost immediately after any fish are removed by harvest.**
(*That's what artificial reefs were for - to concentrate fish for harvest.)
(**Wow.. with reefs capable of spontaneous fish creation, it's a wonder the idea didn't catch on sooner.  Then too, overabundant prey fish would be a real headache & I'm sure all Chesapeake .orgs would hate having too much submerged aquatic vegitation..)

Lesson Learned? Artificial reefs concentrate fish for harvest while thinning gamefish so harvest is difficult & create magic habitat where new individuals move in immediately after harvest..  
Awwww: Too Confusing! Better not build those reefs.

My experience has been rather different. I believe every artificial reef ever built off Ocean City, Maryland; or any area of natural reef that has ever re-grown after storm or commercial gear impact of Ocean City, MD, has contributed to reef-fish production - each & every one.  
I believe because fish cannot tell the difference between naturally exposed rock on the seabed & rock humans have dropped to the seabed (or any artificial reef mimic;) fisheries production occurring on natural reef is identical to an artificial reef's given an equal exposed surface area suitable for growth of hard-substrate colonizing animals such as corals, mussels & fish. 
In other words, when considered by cubic measure, so far as fish are concerned, reef is reef is reef..

Building places where fish gather for protection, to feed, grow to maturity & spawn has helped enormously with keeping our fisheries viable--"so that anglers, in their hilarious ways, may catch".. 
Each reef in existence, no matter whether natural, accidental or artificial; each reef is part of an important bioeconomic engine. Each new reef we build bolsters that engine's power. 
When management at last grapples the as-yet unrecognized force found in their ability to control some reef-fishes' age at maturity, habitat increase will then become singularly important in restoration. For when a species is at 'habitat capacity' -- when management has done All It Possibly Can -- at that point only addition to habitat, or improvement of habitat, can raise the population further. If x amount of habitat can support XX amount of fish, then xxx amount of habitat must hold more. 

Managers of today, people working incredibly hard to leave a legacy of improved fisheries, see themselves as having three tools - size limit, creel/quota limits, & season. 
True advances in fisheries will come when those tools are recognized for their role in managing for increased spawning production. 

While we can still readily notice tautog & summer flounder's positive response to increased habitat; it's also true that artificial reefs built in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, & early 2000s were swiftly colonized by numerous spawning sea bass. 
Reefs of today are only colonized by a few spawning cbass  ..but they're a lot bigger. 
I guarantee we have a greater percentage of FEMALE sea bass in the spawning population than ever before, and those females are bigger than ever before  ..yet production languishes. 

Why do sea bass of today evidence a negative population response when they should be, according to management's pet BOFFF theory, hitting new highs? 
BOFF is shorthand for Big, Old, Fecund, Females (fecund = lots of eggs) make for great spawning production. 
With sea bass we witnessed fantastically better spawning success when there were incredibly more numerous small males.

When management began, 100 out of 100 ocean-found sea bass in June were in the spawning stock. Today I'd estimate that number at around six or eight out of 100 ocean-found sea bass in June to be active spawners. 
When management began it was not unusual to catch & release hundreds, even a thousand, under-9 inch males EVERY DAY. 
Today we see between one and six under-nine inch male sea bass A YEAR. 
I believe a direct result of that change in undersize male population has been a spawning population decline, accompanied by a spawning production decline. Despite ever more restrictive regulation we have lost all management's earlier gains. 

With management officially begun in 1997, sea bass along DelMarVa soared to new population highs by 2003. They were already at new highs before a bag limit or reduced seasons were ever employed in 2002. 
Today we have fewer sea bass than perhaps ever in history. Ever. Since sea bass first colonized the Mid-Atlantic, EVER
By lowering the recreational size limit to equal the commercial size limit (eleven inches,) we can force nine & ten inch sea bass back into the spawning population. 

Now, with management's "three tools" growing more & more restrictive, we see the sea bass population steadily shrinking. (except for one heavily regulated rocky area about 90 miles long)
With shorter & shorter seasons; fewer & fewer fish allowed; & lengthening size limits - what manner of "tools" does management employ that drives a population downward? 
(Readers will, of course, be aware management's primary concern is their federally required response to MRIP recreational catch estimates...)

The one tool management actually used that drove sea bass upward in the mid/late 1990s was the species' spawning response to what size other sea bass were on our reefs. 
I believe a vital key to restoration & eventually bioeconomic stability in the commercial & for hire sea bass fisheries can be found in understanding sea bass from 1990 to 2010.. 
We ignore early exponential population growth at science's peril.  
When biologists claimed, "Every 9-inch sea bass has spawned once, some twice" it was true. Those fish were age zero & age one. It was very common for sea bass to spawn in the first year of life. 
Now sea bass must survive to age three or more before joining the spawning population. 

It was size limit, and size limit alone, which created increased spawning production early in the regulatory period. 
Management will concede sea bass quickly grew to new population highs in the late 1990s & early 2000s ..but that was an accident. 

Management thinks of "Habitat Capacity" as a theoretical - yet the "K graph" showing population rise and then oscillating along a top is commonly seen in fish population charts. 
In the case of sea bass we swiftly achieved habitat capacity - then screwed it up by valuing recreational catch estimates far more than any science or observation.

If management does not soon recognize this early management response of vastly more numerous spawners, of benefit from an "all hands on deck" spawning response, a response commonly seen in early restoration efforts; I fear the economic pummeling in the partyboat trade along our coast will continue.. 

"But, But!" NOAA cries, "It's the best available science." 
Was a time when taking mercury, bloodletting, & lobotomy were all thought the newest wonder-cures in science. Even tobacco, LSD & thalidomide were once touted in the Best Available Science. 

Management of today, as with doctors who once prescribed lobotomy, risk killing the patient. 
I'll tell all who will read: the sea bass fishery is being squandered. 

Management must learn to use every tool at its disposal to enliven spawning production. All tools useful to regulating harvest are as nothing when there is no population from which to catch. 

We now have over a decade of lost production. I'll keep trying..

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