Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Fish Report 3/27/19

Fish Report 3/26/19 
Opening Sea Bass 
More Tog Trips 
MRIP Catch Estimates Worse Than Ever Before - Promise.. 

Have 30+ hours in recreational catch estimate calculations below--a lot of work to arrive at a few numbers. No one in fisheries science/management accepts there's a way to "test" MRIP's catch estimates for accuracy. I believe there is. We need to test MRIP's estimates now more than ever. It's truly becoming critical. 

Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - Staffed 24/7 (Asking me for a reservation via FB or Email is a guaranteed way to miss a chance at a spot - I rarely check FB messenger - I do check email but USE The Reservation Line if you want a spot)
On My Rig You Can Reserve What Spot You're In. Please See For How The Rail's Laid Out.. 

Sea Bass!
Opening May 15 to June 2nd for Sea Bass - May 15th, 16th, 17th, & 18th are as regular Saturday trips: 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 -  - Otherwise My Normal Schedule: 7 to 3 weekdays & Sundays at $110.00 - All Saturdays 6:30 to 3:30 at $125.00 
Sea Bass trips sell out at 25 anglers. 
When You Wonder "How did those guys book the stern?" Here it is..
No Refunds On These "Far In Advance" May Trips. If there's a cancelation - Reschedules Only. (More typically either would be fine. These fall outside the credit card 60 day window - Do Not Book if you cannot handle a reschedule..) 

Tog Trips!
Yes - we've had several of my best blackfish trips in YEARS this past winter. That DOES NOT MEAN IT'S ABOUT TO HAPPEN AGAIN!! ("Ah, Capt., I thought we'd catch 20 pounders today?") Oh Mercy! I'm just glad if clients get bit! 
I'm telling you here - I've had many, many anglers skunked this winter.. It should loosen up as waters warm - but this fishery is tough!
I run Tog Trips light so anglers can move to the bite - or try too!

Near-Shore Toggin - Just Kicking Around On The Back 40.. Each Tog Trip Here Sells Out At 14..
May Have To Use Clam & Shrimp! Can't find green crabs! (had 2 big die-offs in my pens this winter.. Had plenty of bites on clam last trip..) 
Thursday, March 28 - 7 to 3 - $110.00 
Friday, March 29 - 7 to 3 - $110.00 
Saturday (Weather?) 7 to 2 - $100.00 

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..

Trips Also Announced on Facebook at Morning Star Fishing & my personal FB page..

Bait is provided on all trips: green crabs for tog. (Whites MIGHT be
available from crew for a reasonable cost..) Our Tog Pool Is By Length: A Tog That's Been Released Counts The Same As One In The Boat.

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 Regulation)
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.

Except in high-summer, waterproof boots are almost a necessity unless fishing the bow - sneakers will ruin
your day when the water is cold! 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. Tuck a "hot hands" warmer in the palm and life is good..
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..

Sponsor the Ocean City Reef Foundation!
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential.

If you have concrete blocks in the backyard taking up space and just
making snake reef, bring em. We'll toss em overboard with the rest.

24,754 Reef Blocks have been deployed at numerous sites.  
Here are sites currently being targeted: Capt. Jack Kaeufer's Reef 742 - Doug Ake's Reef 3,755 - St. Ann's 2,234 - Sue's Block Drop 662 - TwoTanks Reef 432 - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 900 - Benelli Reef 746 - Rudy's Reef 110 - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 1,375 - Wolf & Daughters Reef 688 - 202 at Al Berger's Reef.

Greetings All, 
Tried an inshore tog trip last Sunday. Wasn't fabulous. Wasn't bad either. Some keepers, lots of throwbacks; pool winner was 10.75 pounds & caught almost instantly - bite died & picked back up as expected with the change of current.. Water has begun to warm inshore. 
We'll do that nearshore thing for a while. 
Pretty soon I'll have to focus on Coast Guard inspections. Looks like a nasty NE wind brewing too. That might shut this fishery but good for a while in black water. 
Starting to look at job applicants also. Will need at least one more deckhand.. Email if interested. Federal drug testing mandatory. It's getting real hard, I think, to find mates who can pass. Want a couple weeks work sanding and painting - boat work in general? Have that too! 

Feel free to pass this next section on to your state's fisheries regulators & DC Reps.... 
I'm deeply concerned by NOAA's lack of accuracy with their MRIP recreational catch estimates. I've not spoken to anyone in years that actually believes these estimates. Used to be recreational catch estimates were used 'as is' and had great faith. Today in management that's no longer true. 
Even top scientists are willing to sometimes forgo parts of an estimate now—something they should have been doing all along. Bad estimates not only create unnecessary regulatory tightening in shorter seasons, smaller bag limits, longer size limits, & fishery closures; bad recreational catch estimates have set this entire project back - bad estimates are sending up so much smoke, the goal of management, "fisheries restoration" is being upended. 

Between the Coast Guard, who will do several inspections on my boat before long—& theirs is a necessary task ensuring public safety—we partyboat owners also have to apply for a fisheries permit for nearly every species we land. Most Charter boats too. I'm thinking perhaps toadfish, conger eel, seatrout(weakfish) & maybe croaker aren't covered. Any other fish? Get a permit. It's only a matter of time before recreational For-Hire permits become 'moratorium permits' where no more are issued. At least then they'll have value.  
We also have to report our catch for every trip electronically - an "eVTR" or  'electronic Vessel Trip Report.' VTRs used to be paper. I've filled out some form of daily catch report since the mid-1990s. 
All these permits and required catch reports for the recreational For-Hire boats....Gosh - between CG & NOAA Fisheries, it's as if regulators recognized the For-Hire sector as a prominent part of the recreational fisheries - a powerful extractive force that carries a lot of people. 
And we are. 
We're here for all the folks who do not have a boat, or who have a different boat than what's needed; or, especially in the shoulder seasons, we carry many boat owners who already have their rig put-up until late spring.
Bottom line: There's just a LOT more people who like to fish than those who have a boat..

Yet one of MRIP's statisticians told me, as if I were a bit dull in the head, (and maybe he has a point!) "There's a lot more Private Boats than For-Hire boats. They Have To Catch More Fish." 

Oyyyyy... despite the For-Hire recreational fishery's innumerable NOAA/State Fisheries permits, and obvious potential for large harvest/catch/landings; despite management's desire to "keep a close eye" on the For-Hire sector with their special permits -- and especially despite what we see fishing, where oft-times For-Hire are the only boats out: since 2004 MRIP began increasing Private Boat to where today MRIP invariably shows Party/Charter For-Hire landings as inconsequential. 
In fact, of the last two years (2017 & 2018) For-Hire have, according to MRIP, landed less than 10% of the Mid & North Atlantic's sea bass. (9.7% in 2017 & 7.9% in 2018) 
For summer flounder (fluke) it's often less than 5%.. (3.8% in 2017 & 5.4% in 2018) 
Why must For-Hire skippers do all this paperwork if there's no real impact on the fisheries? least 'no impact' according to NOAA's MRIP Recreational Catch Data. . .

We turn in VTRs daily. We raised a stink in the late 1990s/early 2000s about spikes in For-Hire catch estimates—statistical leaps in catch we knew were not true; we sought repair of For-Hire catch estimates and got it. For all MRIP's recent "recalibration" bluster in Private Boat & Shore landings, For-Hire estimates haven't budged. 
At all. 
But Shore & Private Boat catch estimates sure have. They've gone up like a rocket.
MRIP, which replaced MRFSS in 2012, was wrong right out of the gate. It's done nothing but grow worse since. 
Incredibly worse. 

Owing MRIP's initial launch & then further fantastic increases in recreational catch estimates over the last three years through two "Recalibrations" we're going to see more of this type of thinking from big Enviro & Commercial lobbyists: "Recreational Fishing Effort MUST BE CONTROLLED!

Rec catch Private Boat & Shore landings of flounder are now suddenly said to be so large, scientific population assessments are thought too low. With these now much higher levels of Private Boat/Shore catch, there wouldn't have been enough flounder to support the MRIP estimates had there not been a lot higher fluke population than thought. Stock assessments now raised - Commercial summer flounder quota just increased 49% - while recreational fishers saw no loosening of regulation at all because "we're already catching too many" ..according to MRIP. 

Our allowable landings are disappearing as ghost catch on a computer screen while commercial landings factually hit the dock. 

Here's how bad some of these estimates can be. MRIP says "They average out" - I say you can't average the impossible. 
The very day MRIP estimates became public in 2012 it took me about 5 minutes to see we'd been had. (Regular readers will have seen this estimate a dozen or more times - but here it's newly updated for MRIP's latest recalibrations.)
A prime indication of just how far off the rails MRIP was going to run was the New Jersey 2010 Shore-only March/April Tautog estimate. MRFSS had earlier claimed those shore-bound anglers (guys trying like heck to catch the first tog of the year from NJ's shores) were assigned a landings number of 74,000 tautog -- the largest March/April NJ shore estimate ever in the old MuRFSS estimating system - most years were zero, and rightly so.
I was using this 74,000 estimate at meetings to show just how out of touch MRFSS was with recreational catch's reality. No One Believed It. Nobody. Blackfish/tautog experts on NJ tog fishing thought the real answer closer to "under 100" tog caught from NJ's shores in March & April..
I figured if the then-newly-released MRIP offered any repair of bad catch estimates, then this utterly impossible NJ catch estimate from 2010 would fall sharply. 
Very sharply. 
That's why it was the first estimate I checked. 
Instead of a repair, the "New & Improved" NOAA product, MRIP, added fully 100,000 more tog to those lonely, wind-swept, early NJ spring tog anglers' catch. Instead of 74,000 tog, now those anglers had killed 173,000 tog! 
What a farce. 
But Wait!! 
Now we've had 2 "recalibration" events from MRIP. 
Originally, and quite erroneously, at 74,000 - to a ridiculously implausible 173,000 - today MRIP has this what-would-actually-be-tiny tog catch at an astounding 341,441 fish in coolers.. That's three quarters of a million pounds where knowledgeable anglers & writers doubt it was even a couple hundred pounds.. 

Compare that 800,000 lbs of Shore-caught NJ against ALL Party/Charter & Commercial tautog landings in 2010 - All Year.  
Commercial Tautog/Blackfishers are said to have taken 285,814 lbs. 
All US For-Hire tog catch is estimated at 341,488 lbs. 
Therefore All Party/Charter/Commercial tautog catch for the entirety of 2010 equals 627,302 lbs -- that's 180,210 lbs less than MRIP has NJ Shore anglers landing in March & April 2010..

No wonder everyone suddenly sees recreational fishing as the problem!

That's just one illustration. There are so many more. 
NOAA/MRIP & the National Academy of Sciences seem to think there's no way to test these estimates. I believe there is, especially in Private Boat mode where an amazing amount of our ghost-catch comes from these days.. 
I have tried to get NOAA & the National Academy of Sciences to examine MRIP from a "Percentage of the Catch" viewpoint. Thus far they seemingly have no interest in what For-Hire skippers actually out on the water think. To me the evidence is overwhelming -- I believe recreational catch estimates are incredibly worse today than ever before. 

For instance.. If someone out sea bass fishing sees an outboard or two on their favorite wreck, they'll keep heading that way & see if they can sneak in there too. But if you see a hundred-something foot partyboat railed w/clients, you'd likely reconsider your fishing location and try a different spot. That big partyboat's dropping a lot of hooks - vacuuming up a lot of sea bass.. 
Say a large partyboat is railed with clients; how many private boats might it take to equal that partyboat's effort? (assuming they're targeting the same species..) 
Probably about 35 Private Boats would equal a large partyboat's extractive equivalency--to equal their catching. It's a very common complaint among Private Boaters - "Partyboats are catching 'em all!" Whether the back-bays of Ocean City MD, or the reefs off Long Island - I've heard the complaints...

NOAA: Sit down with folks who go fishing a lot and you'll pretty quickly devise "Percentages of the Fishery" .. For instance, where Party/Charter and highliner Private Boat operators think a state's sea bass catch is split 40% For-Hire & 60% Private Boat -or any other split that's agreed to- then far firmer (much more accurate) Party/Charter estimates will give managers an incredibly better Private Boat catch estimate than they're getting with just MRIP. 
With a fair percentage split agreed upon by those engaged in the fishing, it's it's simple math to devise the entire recreational catch owing one side, For-Hire, is almost a "known value." 
NOAA could move on to daily reporting for Private Boats too, if they must. We really don't need that much accuracy though. We absolutely do need to get rid of estimates that could not possibly be true though. 

Briefly consider NY's Nov/Dec 2016/2017 Private Boat sea bass estimates -- where MRIP claims For-Hire only caught 0.8% of NY's sea bass in early winter 2017 and were outfished by Private Boats 120 to 1.. Though professional skippers doubt seriously Private Boats catch 10% of NY Nov/Dec sea bass landings, MRIP has those few NY Private Boats actually out fishing in early winter landing nearly the entirety of the recreational quota. 
If the good folks at MRIP had a chart in front of them saying the NY Wave 6 (Nov/Dec) Percentage Split 90% For-Hire and only 10% Private Boat, that egregious estimate would have never made it to a computer screen.
Even upping it to 20% for Private Boat's share, NY's sea bass tally would have been 31,759 lbs - not 3 million lbs.. Upping it to 50% would not make it much higher.
To achieve that three million pound Private Boat estimate, caught in early winter when I could only get out 21 days, would require 2,496 Private Boats, with everyone catching a limit, going every fishable day. 
That would be 357 Private Boats running Every Fishable Day from EACH of NY's inlets w/winter sea bass access. 
That sure isn't what big NY Partyboats saw offshore... 

While that estimate's ineptitude is glaringly obvious, creating "percentage of the fishery" comparisons offer much finer detail as well. 
There's not been any concern for MRIP's 2018 Wave 5 (Sept/Oct) Black Sea Bass (BSB) recreational catch estimate in Maryland (an estimate I'm deeply familiar with) - MRIP now has 200,036 lbs total for MD Wave 5 BSB. 
Holy Moly!! That's a LOT of sea bass! 
But, by MRIP's calculation, only 4.4% of the total catch was by For-Hire boats. For every 95.6 pounds of Private Boat catch, there'd only be 4.4 pounds of For-Hire Party/Charter sea bass.. 
I beg to differ. 
It should be quite the opposite, if perhaps likely a tad higher for Private Boats. That is, For-Hire should show about 80% of landings for sea bass in Sept/Oct - not a mere 4.4%! 
Percentages are funny. Merely jumping to 9% would more than double For-Hire landings. Since doubling the For-Hire estimate would be HUGE --we tell them what we caught!-- it seems far more likely an out-of-step estimate would require a lowering (or, on rare occasion, raising) of Private Boat catch. 
Here, based on "Percentage of the Catch," MD's actual sea bass landings in Sept/Oct 2018 would far more likely be about 11,137 lbs -- not 200,000.. 

I've been given rough percentage splits by many For-Hire skippers, and also actual VTR numbers by MAFMC staff. 
For sea bass coastal catch using MRIP's data, I arrive at 7.9% For-Hire from Virginia to Massachusetts in 2017 - & 9.7% in 2018. It's much more likely For-Hire landed about 40%, at least judging by the many conversations I've had with other For-Hire skippers. 

In fact, after pages & pages of calculation using the various percentages given me by other skippers from other states, I arrived at these comparisons for the entire Recreational Catch from VA TO MA..  
Black Sea Bass 2018 
7,111,868 MRIP's Actual Total Including Shore - This is What NOAA offers. 
? - I do not know what catch is assigned 2018 by Science/Management. Last year they canned MRIP's total.. 
1,667,007 Total via MRIP & For-Hire in a Percentage of the Catch estimate.. 
1,225,494 via VTR & For-Hire Percentage of the Catch estimate..
By my estimate it wouldn't be at all unlikely MRIP is 5.5 MILLION POUNDS TOO HIGH!!!  

Black Sea Bass 2017
11,447,940 MRIP's Actual Value..
4,160,000 Catch Assigned By Science/Management - Ignoring MRIP (A First? Demonstrates level of trust..)
1,961,129 Total via MRIP & For-Hire Percentage of the Catch estimate.. 
1,226,473 via VTR & For-Hire Percentage of the Catch estimate.. 
Here MRIP, by my method, is dern-near 10 MILLION POUNDS TOO HIGH!!! 
11.5 Million Pounds is Far More than All Commercial Trawl/Trap & All Party/Charter Landed in 2017...

Consider too MRIP's summer flounder estimates: If MRIP's assertion All For-Hire only landed 5.3% of coastwide recreational fluke were raised (perhaps 35% or better most likely) to just 15% - the Private Boat estimate would fall almost 6 million pounds in 2017 & 3.5 million pounds in 2018. 

And then there's MRIP's "Shore" caught sea bass. 
Sakes.. Yes, there are a lot of sea bass caught from shore. They spend their first few months of life in an estuary. People catch the heck out of them fishing from piers & jetties. For the most part, however, the 'shore' sea bass fishery has been closed since our very first size limit, 9 inches, in 1997. 
Now at 12.5 inches up to 15 inches, likelihood of a keeper sea bass from shore borders on Powerball odds, at least up to NY. 
When MRIP asserted Maryland had landed 178,082 lbs of sea bass from shore in Sept/Oct 2016 with an avg weight of 1.4 lbs -- I sought information on that catch from anglers who fish from shore many times a week. Finally found one fellow who had caught a single 12.5 inch keeper near the inlet from shore. That fish was not 1.4 pounds!  
Consider: In the 4 years from 2015 to 2018 MD For-Hire landed just 172,000 lbs All Together (6,000 lbs fewer) with a supposed avg weight of 1.3 lbs.. 

Yes, perhaps there are a few shore-caught sea bass in Rhode Island or Massachusetts where there are nearshore fisheries along the granite coast. But it's a few - not a lot. 
In 2017/18 MRIP has the shore sea bass catch at about 100,000 lbs. 
Instead? It's probably under 1,000 lbs.. 
In 2018 MRIP has the average size of Shore-caught sea bass as 1.9 lbs while the avg Party/Charter cbass is 1.7 lbs.. 
So far as I can find out, this is a complete fabrication. Were statisticians tasked with finding how these numbers made it into our official catch estimates, we'd likely be closer to finding out what's wrong.  

I'm unaware of how to access the old MRFSS data sets. 
Below are just a couple MRFSS tables in "Numbers of Fish" from older writings of mine modified with the last two MRIP 'Recalibrations" and substituting percentage shift for PSE..
Whatever makes MRIP "spike" is at issue. Given their track record, it looks pretty unrepairable to me. 
If NOAA's going to call MRIP "The Best Available Scientific Information" - they'd better adopt some means of testing. It ain't 'science' if it can't be tested.. 

Truthfully, I think, given absurdities presented by MRIP, "Percentage of the Catch" data could replace MRIP all together. Results of regulation would swiftly become far better. 
Fisheries Science & Managers had better do something soon or they're going to look mighty foolish in years to come. Eventually the truth of recreational catch will come out. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star 
Ocean City MD 

These old MRFSS tables were in my "Course Correction" piece in 2011.. 
Here I've modified them to show MRIP's wild patterns of increasing once-accepted estimates. 
The reason they were in that paper was because I thought them rubbish back then - stink to high heaven now. 

Species: BLACK SEA BASS - Massachusetts - 
Wave 3 - May/June - Private Boat - 
Original MRFSS vs 2019 MRIP & % Increase Up
YearHARVEST (TYPE A + B1)% Inc
2003MRFSS = 16,282 || MRIP = 35,268117%
2004MRFSS = 17,177 || MRIP = 29,74273%
2005MRFSS = 53,349 || MRIP = 91,28871%
2007MRFSS = 28,281 || MRIP = 36,977 31%
2008MRFSS = 65,376 || MRIP = 85,99836%
2009MRFSS = 26,827 || MRIP = 68,544155%
2010MRFSS = 221,028 || MRIP = 1,014,263359%
2011MRFSS = 70,305 || MRIP = 232,336230%
Species: BLACK SEA BASS - Rhode Island - 
Wave 3 - May/June - Private Boat 
& Percentage Increase Up 
YearHARVEST (TYPE A + B1)% +/-
2003MRFSS =  1,745 || MRIP = 4,223 +142%
2004MRFSS =  5,686 || MRIP = 7,294 +28
2005MRFSS =  6,160 || MRIP = 6,729 +9%
2006 MRFSS = 1,975 || MRIP = 1002-49%
2007MRFSS =  3,601|| MRIP = 1,923 -47%
2009MRFSS =  989 || MRIP = 1,815 +83%
2010MRFSS = 36,182 || MRIP = 99,777+176%

Species: BLACK SEA BASS - New York - 
Wave 5 - Sept/Oct - Private Boat - MRFSS/MRIP
& Percentage Inc/Decrease
YearHARVEST (TYPE A + B1)% Inc
2003MRFSS = 101,350 || MRIP = 209,143106%
2004MRFSS = 29,863 || MRIP = 51,433 72%
2005MRFSS = 7,749 || MRIP = 7,369-5%
2006MRFSS = 58,398 || MRIP = 104,69579%
2007MRFSS = 42,352 || MRIP = 133,138214%
2008MRFSS = 54,352 || MRIP = 160,890196%
2009MRFSS = 105,256 || MRIP = 401,463281%
2010MRFSS = 325,074 || MRIP = 561,28973%

Species: BLACK SEA BASS - New Jersey - 
Wave 5 - Sept/Oct - Private Boat - MRFSS/MRIP
& Percentage Increase Up/Down 
YearHARVEST (TYPE A + B1)% +/-
2003MRFSS =  238,830 || MRIP =503,310111%
2004MRFSS =  350,981 || MRIP = 780,778122%
2005MRFSS =  73,860 || MRIP =159,214116%
2006MRFSS =  97,767 || MRIP = 164,33868%
2007MRFSS =  18,116 || MRIP = 15,118-17%
2008MRFSS =  160,799 || MRIP = 1,021,769535%
2009MRFSS =  32,815 || MRIP = 160,725390%
2010MRFSS =  234,150 || MRIP = 1,518,051548%
I have, admittedly, never had faith in MRFSS/MRIP data, not since the first data-based closure I experienced in 1998. There was absolutely nothing wrong with our sea bass fishing then - we did have a huge problem with recreational catch estimates though. 
Still do. 
But thinking "MRIP data cannot be tested" is wrong. This idea of "Percentage of the Catch" --if regulators bore down into it-- would create an accurate method of testing the recreational catch data. 

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