Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fish Report 4/25/17

Fish Report 4/25/16
Went Toggin & Caught 
Goin Toggin Some More
Percentage of Catch Outlier Stops 

Ocean City Reef Foundation Reef Dinner - SEACRETS - May 7th - 4 to 8 - $20 at the door. 
Building Up A Nice Auction!! Still Need More Auction Items Donations!! The more money we raise, the more reef we can build. We're going to build a LOT of reef this year!

The reservation book for sea bass season is open -- has been. Taking reservations for opening day May 15th to June 15th. When you wonder how 'those guys' got the back of the boat...

Offering 3 Tog Trips. 
Going Inshore Toggin
Friday, April 28th, (Later Departure) 9 to 4 - $100 - 12 Sells Out..
Saturday & Sunday, April 29 & 30 - 7 to 3 - $110 - 12 Sells Out..

NO MORE WHITE CRABS! We have plenty of greens - and they're chewing on 'em.

Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - On My Rig You Can Reserve What Spot You're In. Please See http://morningstarfishing.com 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..

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 (yes, the water's still plenty cold) waterproof boots are almost a necessity. (unless it's slick-slick calm!)
Layers are best because, believe it or not, sometimes it can be very pleasant offshore--especially when the wind lays down--or COLD out there and warm on land! 

If you know anyone with pallets of unsalable block, I know a toggy place or two we can store them. Forever. Will pay for trucking. 
If you have a few blocks in the backyard taking up space and just making snake reef, bring em. We'll toss em overboard with the rest.

17,401 Reef Blocks deployed at numerous sites: TNC's Restoration Reef 278 - Doug Ake's Reef 3,223 - St. Ann's 1,585 - Al Giles/OC RUST Reef 1,245 - Eagle Scout Reef 934 - Sue's Block Drop 262 - Nichols' Concrete 867 - Capt. Bob's Block Drop 676 - Benelli Reef 341 - Capt. Bob's Reef 408 - Wolf & Daughters Reef 210 ..

Twenty Three Pallets of Block Were Donated by DelMarVa Power - Thank You! (2,580 large blocks)
This small bargeload of concrete parking bumpers was deployed at Doug Ake's Reef some 4.5 miles SE of Ocean City.. It's a good reef, but he was a great man. Keep working on it. 

Blocks are a small part of what we're doing. While I prefer bargeloads of substrate, (or even barges!) I believe any forward motion is good..
Support the Ocean City Reef Foundation! http://www.ocreefs.org The OC Reef Foundation (OCRF) 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! 

On Facebook now too (A little. Sometimes.) Morning Star Fishing https://www.facebook.com/ocfishing/ & OCRF  https://www.facebook.com/Ocean-City-Reef-Foundation

Greetings All,
Had a couple nice days of toggin. Even had some double-digit fish, including Eddie's 15 pound female he tagged & released. On my boat tog pools are done by length. If a fish is tagged and put back, its length counts the same as one in the boat..
So the pool winner swam away. 
Wonderful thing. 
It's a nice spring bite. Make no mistake - we're not catching boat limits. Some clients limit. Lot of throwbacks & some keepers. Someone's gonna get keeper skunked. Considering the hammering we've put on tog since the 2009 emergency sea bass closure, I'm very pleased we still have fishable numbers. 

I recently attended a meeting in Manasquan, NJ where Ray Bogan, Esq. called the "Promise of Fishery Management" a lie.. 
In today's iteration of regulation --the path we're currently on-- I believe Mr. Bogan is correct. 
Here I'll cut & paste from Fish Report 6/9/15 fish-report-6915.html.. The data used by management--forced upon management by NOAA actually--has deeply affected recreational fisheries. The magnificent strides made early on in regulation's history have now all been squandered; what some still hold as "The promise of fishery management if we just bear this extra regulatory pain" is an illusion that cannot be attained while regulators are fully fixated on MRIP catch data (owing NOAA's sword-point.) 

This giant report is a response. I was asked by a top NOAA scientist to detail my thoughts on improving MRIP's accuracy & explain in more detail my idea for testing MRIP recreational catch data. (MRIP = Marine Recreational Information Program, our recreational catch estimates, what management uses to decide whether we're over/at/under catch quota..)
I believe MRIP estimates are, overall, worse than the old system, MRFSS.  
Not until management & fisheries science can disregard false recreational catch data's input can they even begin to contemplate ecology and spawning biology. We need to focus on what fish need to successfully make more fish. These important aspects of increasing populations of fish are always and forever clouded in the cannon-fire of regulatory battle ..with much of that battle needlessly fought, and our seasons needlessly lost, over horribly mistaken MRIP catch estimates. 
MRIP is why "The Promise" has become a lie.
I very much believe we can take many fish populations, and levels of catch, to incredible new highs -- I absolutely believe in the promise. 
But not with MRIP's statistical outliers on our back. 
I hope in this Fish Report to convince the highest levels of our nation's fisheries regulatory & scientific bodies that we can indeed create a method of testing recreational catch estimates  ..and that our need of testing has always been real & is now an emergency. 

Ignorance of actual recreational catch is not marine fisheries only dead-spot. NOAA's "habitat restorations" are currently confined to things easily found in an estuary or a river's history. You cannot restore what you do not know is missing. I am unfamiliar with even one example, not one, of a hardbottom reef restoration north of Florida. While NOAA's noticed similar-to-ours natural reef bottoms off Georgia, there has been no real effort to even discover the Mid-Atlantic's remaining hardbottom reefs. 
I say remaining.. During industrial fishing's rise after WWII a fabulous amount of seafloor habitat must have been lost wherever trawls & dredges first encountered virgin seafloor growth. Evidence of habitat loss is written plainly in fishings' catch history. Especially in comparing where trap & trawl fisheries were once successful--but are no longer successful at all. 
If any habitat does remain post-impact, it will continue to have some fish using it & should provide some level of catch so long as some habitat exists. If no habitat remains, that same area will not produce fish. 
Where reef fish were once found in abundance, and not found at all today, you can wager on habitat loss.  

It remains true there were more black sea bass landed commercially between 1950 & 1961 than in all the years since. Yes, more sea bass were caught in those 11 years of early-trawl than in the 56 years since. I promise any who will read, that's not just because of 'overfishing.' It's mostly because of how all those sea bass were caught. 
As was quoted to me by a past senior MD Council member & once Chairman; "Monty, we used to dig through mountains of that stuff to get our fish" ..he was talking about the sea whip example I had in my hand. They'd trawl through a meadow of these soft corals and essentially bushhog the bottom. Hundreds of boats, not one with evil intent, up and down the Mid-Atlantic. They could not have known what is still called bottom-trash, those sea whips and other growths fish like to feed in, & hide in, & spawn in; it all took a long time to regrow, if it did at all. 

Mid & North Atlantic seafloor habitat; if ever mapped from a historical perspective, discovered where it still exists today, and restored where it's been lost: such a habitat understanding & restoration would simplify management's task unimaginably.
I've lived it - am living it. Habitat really matters. It's my observation our reef fish react instantly to any habitat improvement. Colonization of new reef is swift. Preventing spawning on newly colonized hardbottom would be impossible. 

But we cannot make sensible use of sea bass because of MRIP's constant illusions of overharvest. Other species' recreational & economic possibilities are also hampered by these statistical illusions. I have argued since 1998 that our recreational catch estimates are far too inaccurate to use "as is" by management; that they should not be used in calculations, save the most broad generalizations. 
Creators of catch estimates also insist estimates are best used in the broadest regional spread. 
By that statisticians mean catch from Cape Hatteras to Maine might have a measurable degree of accuracy; but the building blocks of that big, broad, regional estimate -- the smaller estimates varying from state to state, each two month period, each species, and each "mode" of either Shore, For-Hire, or Private Boat -- all those hundreds of smaller parts of the greater estimate are inherently too inaccurate.
But they stand by the larger swaths; insist those are accurate. 
In my work on catch estimates, however, I've found the worst inaccuracies from a single state, single two-month period, & single mode (today usually Private-Boat) ..the worst inaccuracies are plenty enough to destabilize an entire coastwide catch estimate. Although management has long held catch estimates as ultimately only suitable for management in this broad sense - across big regions - they will, without hesitation, delve down into those "building blocks" to create varying regulations in a state by state manner. 

We must repair these 'building blocks.' I do not think it too difficult. Nipping the statistical outliers with substantial proof they're way off would help immeasurably in management's regaining the public trust.

Some Acronyms: 
MRFSS = Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey - the recreational catch estimates begun in 1981. Fishers say MuRFSS, most managers say MurFiss..
MRIP = Marine Recreational Information Program (MuRFSS Rest In Peace?) This program replaced MuRFSS in 2012 and back-dated the estimates to 2003 (or 2004.)
VTR = Vessel Trip Report - a NOAA federal form in quadruplicate, loaded with catch info, that MUST be submitted to NOAA for each & every fishing trip by commercial & many For-Hire skippers. Any error or failure to fill in required boxes results in a return to the permittee for correction. 
NOAA = National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (most of our pain actually comes from NMFS = National Marine Fisheries Service, a part of NOAA which, not too long ago, was the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. NMFS is part of NOAA.)
For-Hire = Party/Charter = all partyboats and charter boats combined.  
PSE (seen in every table) is something I'll not go into deeply here. It's essentially the same as "plus or minus 3 points" in a political poll -- the "Margin of Error"--  except ours sometimes go over 100, are all MRIP's PSEs would be laugh out loud stupid to a professional political pollster...

We must repair the smallest pieces of any broader measure of an estimate -- each & every aspect, each building block of an estimate must be able to stand on its own. That's how managers factually use the data. This data needs to be correct in every facet. We must be able to test estimates for veracity; test them down to their smallest pieces. 

In this email I'll offer a few examples of regulation created by dividing the broad "coastwide" estimates into small inter-state divisions. The first of these is a Summer Flounder Emergency Closure in Maryland..

Here's the "Table" output from MRIP's site for the years 2005 to 2009 for Maryland's three modes of flounder catch for the two months of Sept/Oct.
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE
In 2007 NOAA's catch estimates asserted MD Shore fishers had landed & kept about 15 years worth of Party/Charter catch in two months..

Had there been a method of balancing/comparing this landings estimate against the Party/Charter landings of the same period - the only subset of recreational fisheries required to report actual landings - there would have been substantial reason to reconsider the estimate's veracity, perhaps causing managers to choose from elsewhere in the statistician's full and complete answer to "How many fish did Maryland Shore fishers land in Sept/Oct 2007?" 
The "PSE" or Percentage Standard Error (as Margin of Error in a political poll) ..the PSE spread is a whopping 100+ thousand to zero. Every statistician I have ever asked, including professors & the very people in charge of MRIP & MRFSS before it, all have told me this PSE spread is positively the complete answer to "how many did they catch."
Only one man in fisheries, and admittedly one it's brightest stars; only John Boreman ever told me a statistical centerpoint is an accurate representation of catch & should be used alone. However, persons whose careers & studies were focused on statistics alone have told me, time & again, that the true catch is 'somewhere in that PSE spread.' 
And, truth be known, there's a 5% chance it could be far outside the spread... 

Had there been a method of testing that wildly different 2007 shore estimate, it would have been corrected and prevented a cascade of poorly-informed management. That Shore estimate caused an Emergency Flounder Closure in Maryland the following September. 

In contrast to a closure caused by a single spike in MRFSS catch data; I'll demonstrate how a low miss in these 'building blocks' can influence regulation. 

This Table is Maryland's Private Boat May/June landings..
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE
See that Zero in 2012? Our season was open in May/June 2012. 
The weather was quite normal. 
Boats were fishing. 
And catching. 
But we pulled a zero. 
Oh happy circumstance! 
Rather than the Confucian ideal of "Exemplary Behavior" where such an estimate would be shunned and "Some Catch" substituted for "No Catch" - Maryland's managers, evidently to a soul, chose instead to use that estimate to lessen regulation. 
Over-quota: Regulation Tightens. Under quota: Regulation May Loosen. 

That low estimate, (a 'reverse spike?,') that zero-estimate while season was open and anglers were catching allowed managers to lessen our regulatory burden. It's as if to say: "If anglers are not catching these fish, then it is safe to relax regulation to fit fishing's practices.

In the modern method of fisheries management, catch-estimate values are often plugged into formulaic regulation schemes where between 3 & 6 possible regulatory outcomes are devised which give equal amounts of "Conservation Equivalency." These options are then presented to the public to choose from for the coming season.
Maryland's recreational fishers, who once packed large halls to argue flounder regulation in the period of "severe overfishing" --  after that 2007 estimate with large closures looming & much longer size limits threatening every aspect of flounder season -- those same anglers now stayed away from meetings in droves owing to no friction in regulation's outcome. 

I was among several several who felt we should not loosen regulation the full amount, among those who felt we should add conservation to our regulatory scheme.
I'm glad we did not prevail. 
Because MRIP's outputs often make little sense, & discovering truth of catch by using estimates is nigh-impossible: maximizing regulation's relaxation with reverse-spikes is the only way to protect a state's anglers from what are sure to be future high-spikes in the estimates. 
One could more-precisely say this 2012 reverse-spike demanded a lessening of recreational fishers' regulatory burden. 

Fisheries management has much more to do with casino-like calculations of getting a bad draw in the estimates than actual biology or ecology.
I have occasionally told the tale of how New York was encumbered with a low summer flounder quota. Here again is that tale - if briefly. 
As with a state presenting it's anglers with a menu of options from which to chose for the coming season's regulation, so too are staffers at Council & Commission often given to presenting its members with options from catch estimates for much larger regulatory schemes. 
In 2001 a management plan for summer flounder was adopted that divided states' recreational quotas based on 1998's landings. (  Draft+Addendum+XXVIII_For+Board+Review_Final.pdf See 2.2 second paragraph: "From 2001-2013, the Board and Council opted to use state-specific conservation equivalency tied to the proportion of each state’s estimated 1998 recreational landings." ) 
In other words, with one year of recreational catch estimates only, state regulators at Council/Commission level created division of state by state quota based on 1998 estimates. That work remains in play even today. 
I'm sure staff had also prepared a suite of other options as is common in fisheries when dealing with suspect data. I'm sure there were 3 year averages, 5 year averages, other individual years presented in a suite of options; and yet 1998's landings were the stand-out choice for everyone. Every state had near-about their best division of the recreational summer flounder fishery ..save New York. (how recreational fluke quota was traded for more striped bass quota in the earliest years of management is another story..) 

If "Tyranny By Majority" is a familiar term, here it was in 2001's state by state subdivisions of recreational quota: a near-perfect example. With New York the only state adversely affected by adopting 1998's specific division of "state by state recreational quota," and 1998's averages were indeed quickly adopted by remaining states; the stage was set for innumerable instances of 'overfishing' in coming NY summer flounder catch estimates. 
New Jersey was, hands down, the grand winner..

When in 2008 New Jersey had an 8 fish limit at 18 inches and yet NY anglers were allowed only 4 fluke/summer flounder at 20.5 inches; and again in 2009 when NJ regulations allowed anglers 6 fish at 18 inches while NY anglers had to suffer 2 fluke at an astounding 21 inches: Regulation was not set owing to facts of biology or actual catch; they were a result of spikes in statistical catch-estimates combining with that 1998 quota division in a perfect regulatory storm. This particular use of catch estimates put several, even multi-generational, party boats out of business. 
And, as is common throughout America's history when law overruns true need; over-regulation has caused some to ignore size/season/creel limits altogether.

Recreational catch estimates' affect on black sea bass regulation is where my knowledge lies deepest. From a recreational two week closure in 1998 to today's wildy disseperate state by state sea bass regulations, it's all -- every bit -- based on MRFSS, & then MRIP, recreational catch estimate spikes.. 
I'd urge readers interested in this regulatory history to read Fish Report 3/16/14 http://blog.morningstarfishing.com/2014/03/fish-report-31614.html .. 
Such a reader would also be interested in precisely how few sea bass recorded by field interviewers from MRIP can be fashioned into sky-high new landings records for a state. Here from Fish Report 4/20/14 "..To fashion the estimate that quite-nearly triggered Accountability Measures, the main estimate that almost closed sea bass for all of 2014 and set managers in a multi-month struggle to save at least part of our fishery; That estimate's foundation is based in large part on Field Observers seeing just 6 sea bass among private boats in Massachusetts during May/June, 2012. .." See:  http://blog.morningstarfishing.com/2014/04/fish-report-42014-easter.html ) 

MRIP shows most of MD's sea bass were caught from shore last year. No one claiming to have any knowledge of MD's recreational fisheries would ever make that claim--not even a claim of any legal sea bass being caught from shore--yet there it is in NOAA's official catch estimates for 2016. 
Maryland - Shore Only
Estimate StatusYearCommon Name# of FishPSETotal Weight (lb)PSE

Average Length (in)PSE

Average Weight (lb)PSE
PRELIMINARY2016BLACK SEA BASS36,83486.156,74787.3


To cap it off, NOAA's assertion of all this catch has no support whatever from intercepts. There were no persons found & interviewed along the coast who had caught & kept any sea bass. There were three short-illegal cbass found in the Chesapeake, however. Those three short fish be came 57K pounds with an AVERAGE weight of a pound and a half!

My work on rec estimates is based on observation. My comparisons use what For-Hire might have actually caught, vs the percentage of that species Private Boat catches. 
I've done a lot of work on it. When sea bass were closed in 1998 for 2 weeks in August, (long before Accountability Measures ever came into play,) I was positive we were victim of bad data. A surge, a spike, in one wave/one mode/one state's recreational catch estimate created that closure. Not real catch, just a statistic.
I think the casual angler, (and this would include regulators and scientists,) make observations about catch based on personal experience. Seen thusly, catch will have wild vagaries in broadly spaced events. Though perhaps educated to the hilt and possessing a true expertise in fisheries science or management; because of personal observation from broadly interspersed trips (and I've yet to meet anyone in fisheries whose interpretation of data is not colored, if only slightly, by personal experience) they are accepting of wildly fabulous spikes in recreational catch because that's how fishing seems - hit & miss - "Gosh, fishing must have been good!" 

And sometimes there truly are sudden increases in catch. 
But those increases in catch would be unlikely to be confined to one state's boundaries; even more unlikely to only be seen in one mode of one state; and more unlikely still to be found in a single two-month period in one state/one mode. 
That's why the above example from MD's summer flounder fishery in 2007 stands out. Although I did not compare it to other neighboring states in this work, I did back then. Whether compared as a percentage of catch with other states, or MD's own Private Boat or Party/Charter, it stood out in every respect as disingenuous. It was plainly a statistical spike -- an outlier.
Yet there was, and remains, no method of smoothing or removing outliers from the data. Outliers are an entire field of statistical study & are generally treated harshly in a program. 
Where statistical outliers exist in fisheries data, however, they are ground through the system like cancer-ridden pork being turned into sausage. 

I believe some firmament can be devised, a test of almost any estimate, by using data surrendered by Party/Charter. The party boat trade is how I make a living & always has been. Many of us have to surrender a VTR (Vessel Trip Report) for every trip we take. There is also a separate method of creating estimates for the Party/Charter industry using onboard observers that becomes a catch estimate. 
Getting to the truth of estimates will not always about relaxing regulation's effect. Sometimes reverse spikes, (underliers?) result in less restrictive management than might have otherwise occurred. 
Any means to test assertions of catch must also address under-estimates also. 

Fishing pressure & catch are much more smooth than can be easily seen by a casual angler basing his assumption on but few interactions with a fishery. Party/Charter skippers with a few years at the helm should also have a feel, an instinctual perception, for what percentage of a fishery their side of recreational fishing takes. There would also be value in well-experienced Private Boat operators. 
If a clever statistician is given some information, even if a bit loose, on what percentage of a fishery a known value extracts -- it would make testing other parts of the data fairly straightforward -- especially in the elimination of outliers. 
An Example:
A MuRFSS table: (Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey)
Species: ATLANTIC COD - Massachusetts - 
  Private Boats Only - Mar/April
  (March was Closed in 2010MRFSS
According to this estimate, small recreational boats in Massachusetts - "Private Boats" - caught and killed 1.5 million cod in April 2010. 
Massachusetts For-Hire Party/Charter Only
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Catch (A+B1+B2)PSE
In the period Private Boat was said to bag 1.5 Million cod, For-Hire Party/Charter cod catch was 28K cod.. Not even a hundred-thousand fish compared to Private Boats 1.5 million.. 
Because a long-time observer and participant in the Party/Charter fishery reported to me he doubted Private Boats even took 5% of Massachusetts' March/April cod; & his assertion based on weather, numerous additional clients for his business in early spring who own a boat, and long years of on the water observation -- he thought positively not 10%. 
Using 10% the Private Boat catch would be 2,800 cod  ..and make the actual estimate that still affects recreational regulation to this day appear one of the worst numbers to ever be labeled "science."
(This truly is the worst catch estimate I've ever found - at least one that affected regulation..)

In 2003 a correction was made to Party/Charter estimates that substantially lowered future estimates and, somewhat, prevented spikes of enormous proportion. 
But at the same time For-Hire leveled off & began dropping, Private Boat catch began to rise. A few years ago at an educational seminar put on by the Gulf of Maine Research Foundation, an MREP seminar, (that E is important. If you're reading this and haven't taken one of their courses, I urge you to look it up.) ..during the presentation by an MRIP statistician I was told - schooled really - on high elevations in Private Boat catch. 
As though speaking to someone as dumb as a fisherman, this statistician -- and probably a Ph.D. said: "There's 4.5 million private boats and only 4,500 charters so of course they catch more.." 
This upper-level MRIP statistician also believed these anglers on small boats were largely unlicensed. Yet, from conversations with MD DNR Police, I believe Private Boat anglers with enough skill to catch fish in number are well-aware they need a license. 

I assure any who will read: the people who cannot afford a boat, and also the people whose boat is too small or I'll-equipped for big-water fishing, or whose boat is put up for the season; all those people ride with the For-Hire fleet. Party/Charter catches a real portion of every recreational fishery.
It's a lot of people. A lot more people enjoy fishing than can afford a boat. There are also people who could buy dozens of very large yachts, but have better sense!
In general too & important; although some Private Boat skippers are indeed expert anglers, often Party/Charter skill outweighs Private Boat. 

Real catch must come from real effort. If a trustworthy For Hire estimate exists (& it should because we surrender our catch) then there should be a method from which to create a solid foundation for private boat catch-estimate tests, & even Shore in some fisheries. 
No matter how small the 'average' percentage of catch in a particular fishery; once a percentage was devised, a solid method of testing would be assured. 

New Jersey - All Modes
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE
Using the New Jersey summer flounder fishery's 2012 estimates as a random example we can instantly see NJ's Party/Charter estimate needed firming. It's unlikely Shore would outperform the For-Hire industry in such a mainstay fishery. It's extremely unlikely Private Boat fishers would ever catch 99% of New Jersey's fluke. 
By using VTR catch reports (often, but not always mandatory,) the For-Hire estimate could swiftly be recalculated. If New Jersey & Federal fisheries staff had interviewed skippers with some set level of experience & devised a Percentage of Catch value, say 30% here (and 30% is a number drawn from thin air for creating this example,) then a better estimate would be only a few fast calculations away.
If the reviewed number of fluke caught in NJ's combined For-Hire fisheries were 6,900 - then the Private Boat estimate would be 23,000.. At some point a Shore "Percentage of the Fishery" calculation could also be fashioned.   

Here is NY Black Sea Bass in "Wave 6" or November/December..
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE
Using the New York sea bass landings in Nov/Dec as a not at all random example, one might instantly suspect a Private Boat increase of over two orders of magnitude as perhaps an inaccurate assertion. Then too where Party Boat has so far outdistanced their Charter brethren must also be suspect. 
If New York & Federal fisheries staff had delved somewhat deeply into the facts of this late-fall fishery they may have discovered Party/Charter catches fully 85% of that state's sea bass that time of year. (again 85% is for illustration only.) By using a better Party/Charter estimate fashioned by VTRs & also considering non-reporting For-Hire boats, regulators would swiftly see Private Boats in New York caught far-far less than 300K sea bass as Christmas approached in 2016..

Here's Delaware Tautog in Wave 3.. Sure could use some firming. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE

I do not recall ever pulling up a bluefish estimate before. In under a minute I discovered the first bluefish estimate I would call, "Extremely Suspect." 
New Jersey Shore-Only 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE

Yes, fishing has it's ups and downs. But I'm pretty sure this is NOAA's way of saying, "We really have no idea what was caught." In fact, the very lowest number of Private Boat caught bluefish in this same two-month wave was in 2011 when shore casters had their second best year in the series.. Time & time again, MRIP estimates defy logic.. 
Were a "Percentage of the Catch" table devised, and Party/Charter made to turn in bluefish catch, then it would easily & quickly be seen if Shore/Private Boat estimates were off course. 
There are lots of bluefish estimates that could be called into question in similar fashion. It's a very muddy picture of actual landings..

While catch does change, the percentage splits between For-Hire & Private Boat are more slow in coming. If Party/Charter caught 60% of a region's sea bass in 2012, they probably caught about 60% of that region's fish in 2014 too. If Private Boats caught 80% of a State's sea bass in 2008, they probably still catch most of that state's sea bass. 
The percentages remain fairly constant. They do shift, but slowly; and never-ever in the herky-jerky fashion portrayed by MRIP or MRFSS before it..

In 2001 Connecticut had no sea bass landings in Wave 3 May/June - a zero for all modes.
In 2006 Connecticut had no sea bass landings in Wave 3 May/June - a zero for all modes.
In 2011 Connecticut had no sea bass landings in Wave 3 May/June - a zero for all modes.
In 2016 Connecticut had Sea Bass! 
(But, hey, at least MRIP didn't assign the highest catch to Shore..)
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE Total Weight (lb)PSE
Certainly Connecticut is seeing improvement in its sea bass fishery. But Both MRIP & MRFSS before it would overestimate when catch was improving, and often decrease overmuch when catch was in decline. 
Northern CT anglers have always had access to some sea bass, I'm told. Yet with a 10 inch size limit & 25 fish bag -- zero. Now, today, with a 15 inch size limit(!) & a 5 fish bag they shoot the moon.. 
If instead of relying solely on dockside intercepts there were also a "Percentage of the Catch" developed using reported landings, these estimates would be incredibly more realistic. 

I'm unsure what part of MRFSS was repaired by MRIP. I can promise it wasn't the catch estimates.
It seems NOAA has only Private Boat to fear. No more Foreign Trawl, No more US Trawl, No uncontrollable Party/Charter, No more Pollution or Habitat Degradation -- The bogey man hiding under NOAA's bed & stacked-up on trailers in NOAA's bedroom closet are those devilishly difficult small plastic boats - Private Boats suddenly capable of stealing the nation's fish while big-trawl sleeps. 
How on earth did these numbers ever become believable..

Recreational Private Boat fishers in New York, in 2016, are said to have caught 1,846,000 pounds of sea bass all year. Not the whole coast's Private Boats - just New York.
NY Private Boats All Year
Estimate StatusYearCommon Name Total Weight (lb)PSE

To put that 1,846,122 pounds of Private Boat sea bass catch by one state's Private Boats in perspective: the 10 year average for all Commercial Trawl & Trap from Cape Hatteras to the Canadian border is 1,612,000 pounds a year.. (They do not publish commercial data w/o a year's delay, but 1.6 million is going to be pretty close.) Therefore NY's private boats outcaught commercial fishers from North Carolina to Maine by 234,000 pounds. 

NY's Private Boats are thought to have caught 762,000 pounds of sea bass during Nov/Dec (wave 6) from 1981 to 2015. All those decades combined--all added up--equal 3/4 of a million pounds.  
New York - Private Boat Only..
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total Weight (lb)PSE
Yet in 2016 MRIP has NY Private Boats catching 719,000 pounds in Nov/Dec.. Dern near 35 years worth in one year.  
Consider too: all Party/Charter in the Mid & North Atlantic from 2006 to 2016 landed 700,000 pounds during Nov/Dec.. So, according to MRIP, all states in the management zone & all their Party/Charter boats over a span of 10 years during Nov/Dec didn't catch what NY's Boston Whalers & Grady Whites caught in 2016. 

MRIP's big spikes cause regulatory pain. 
Private Boat 2016 - All Mid-Atlantic & North Atlantic Sea Bass = 4,247,354 Pounds 
All 2016 For-Hire, PLUS the average annual Commercial catch = 2,833,111 Pounds. 
Here MRIP is insisting Private Boats have outcaught every Trawler, Trapper, Partyboat & Charter -- Outcaught by well over a million pounds. In 2016 MRIP insists NY Private Boats alone outcaught every Trawler/Trapper in the management area from Hatteras to the Canadian line. 

The components are what need repair. The 'building blocks' of large coastwide estimates are unfit for use in management & render the larger, supposedly safely scientific, estimate in broader scale of little use. 

I believe when the truth of catch is discovered--and it eventually will; today's managers will be beyond embarrassed to have ever used MRIP as a tool, and no scientist will ever willingly admit to having once called these statistical illusions of knowledge 'science.' 

Electronic reporting is right around the corner. Perhaps this dark chapter in fisheries science & management will soon close. 
Sadly, it's part of a larger problem. Here a quote from Jestin Coler, a man interview by 60 Minutes recently who makes his living by creating falsehoods: "You know, people in general are quick to believe anything that is-- not anything, but-- well, yeah, basically anything that’s put in front of ‘em in a format that is news-ish." 
I'd argue, 'or scientific-ish' too. 

Bad catch estimates are undoing the recreational for-hire trade. 
I think devising "Percentage of the Catch" outlier stops would restore integrity to the management process. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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