Sunday, April 25, 2021

Fish Report 4/25/21

Fish Report 4/25/21
Survey Madness Has Begun Again.. (long section on wind survey far below)
Offering 2 tog trips. 

Yes, I consider tog fishing but a shade of it's former glory - so much so that I've got a boat limit that's half the State's regulation. We're fishing a two tautog limit with only one female allowed. 
Many clients are opting to release them all or just keeping one. 
It's also true that some clients aren't catching one to keep on a trip! And I'm talking about skilled anglers.. 
Tuesday & Wednesday 4/27 & 28/21 — Depart 7, Return at 3 — $125.00 — 10 clients sells out — Two Fish Limit! Only One Tog Can Be Female. 
Reservations w/Anna at 443-235-5577

It's tough fishing in my toughest fishery but not without an occasional pleasant surprise. 

I appreciate when folks are throwing back keepers. Nothing wrong with boxing a few for dinner either; but reducing our harvest is going to have to be a significant part of our effort if we're to leave this as a viable fishery for following generations. 
Building new habitat is also important. However, if the population is always fished down to size limit like on any shore access jetty, new habitat offers far less. When a population is building/growing with some fish escaping harvest to grow large, only then is fishery management hitting stride—that's when a bag limit is actually working. 
Yes, I'm going toggin - but with a boat limit far more restrictive than State regs and NO expectation of great fishing. 
Tog Trips in April 2021 have a 2 Tog at 16 inches boat limit. Of those two, only one may be a female. 
That's less than half the state's limit. 
I've needed to do this for some while. 
It's a Boat Limit - aboard My Boat. 
It's NOT A State or Fed Regulation Change! 

This fishery is tough getting tougher. Skunks happen on a daily basis. Even with incredibly skilled anglers aboard - goose eggs! But, here come some good fish too.. The tug is the drug. 

Released Tog Count In Our Pool. We go by LENGTH. 
No Live Tog Leave The Boat. All Kept Tog Will Be Bled. 

Reservations Required at 443-235-5577
Tog (Blackfish) Trips Only - Allowed zero sea bass. They're closed now.

Weather Cancellations 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
overslept or had a flat.

Bait is provided on all trips: Shrimp & green crabs for tog. (Whites Are USUALLY available from crew for a reasonable cost...) 

I have always encouraged releasing female tog; any keeper, really, that's in good shape. Those who respect the fishery know what they need to do. 

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

Covid is spiking again. We cannot fish with perfect safety. Wearing a mask mandatory in the salon - not at the rail. 

Our smallest reef project.. 
As of 4/8/21 we have 33,354 Reef Blocks + 279 Concrete Pyramids (170lb ea) deployed at numerous ACE permitted reef sites. 
Currently being targeted: Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 99 Reef Blocks (+ 47 Reef Pyramids begun 8/18/20) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 1,776 Blocks (+44 Reef Pyramids) - Doug Ake's Reef 4,114 blocks (+16 Pyramid Reef Pyramids) - St. Ann's 2,545 (+6 Reef Pyramids) - Sue's Block Drop 1,562 (+20 Reef Pyramids) - TwoTanks Reef 1,303 (+ 11 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 912 - Benelli Reef 1,471 (+ 15 Pyramids) - Rudy's Reef 425 - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 3,274 (+52 reef pyramids) - Wolf & Daughters Reef 734 - Al Berger's Reef 669 (+4 Reef Pyramids) - Great Eastern Block Drop 914 (+9 Reef Pyramids).. And a soon-to-be-named reef at Russell's Reef 30 Blocks & 49 Pyramids - We've also begun work at Capt Greg Hall's Memorial Reef with 72 Tog Monster Blocks.

Yesterday was a fine day for toggin round the back forty; for doing most anything in this part of the ocean I suppose. Dropped 20 heavy blocks, (a tiny part of 3 tractor trailer loads of 'off inventory' split-face block donated by York Building Products in late 2020) ..deployed em at Lucas Alexander's Reef at the Bass Grounds. 
On my way in Monday I found a survey boat just about in the Bass Grounds. A survey need not involve seismic tools (air cannon or explosives for exploring deep for gas/oil) to affect fish. We had a terrible time with wind surveys using subbottom profilers from 2013 to August 2015. 
The US agency, BOEM, (bureau of ocean energy management) finally heard my complaints after a couple years. They had pics of a few sea bass huddled deep inside a wreck & work that showed subottom profilers "as quiet as a ship's propeller".. 
So they won. 
As far as guvmint's concerned  -  there is no affect to fish from a standard surveying array. 
I had some really sharp charting people calculate the area affected by wind soundings - over 500 square miles. That's how big the area was where survey boats had, eventually, pushed all sea bass & fluke from. 
That was after 3 years of summer soundings. All sea bass and fluke had left the Maryland Wind Energy Area & to at least three miles beyond its borders. In the early days of those soundings we only had to contend with surveying's effects when a research ship was approaching & while it remained within 4 to 5 miles or so. 
I booked my boat, the
Morning Star, out a day in early September 2015. My crew and I took some drop cameras and filmed a bunch of reefs in the affected area. We found small tautog and even a few cod - but I don't recall a single sea bass ..this in an area with reefs that should have been loaded with them. 
So now they've got permission to survey again through June 2021 (July?) What in Blazes do they think will have changed? How will the bottom be Any Different? 
I saw a survey boat Monday 4/19/21 very near the Bass Grounds. They hailed on VHF 16 and asked that I alter course because they were towing survey gear. That boat was still there, still surveying, Wednesday. I had expected to see them Saturday 4/24/21 but did not. Commercial fishers report they were instead working the extreme eastern edge of the survey site. 
I also have reports of 2 British boats surveying in the MD Wind Area. 
I did send some letters to upper management Tuesday & Wednesday, but I doubt they'd have affected anything. 
I found the tog bite unaffected at Bass Grounds Saturday. Early arrivals of sea bass to their spring spawning grounds were still present also. 
I don't have time or money to closely monitor affects of these new survey ships on sea bass or tautog. Flounder/fluke won't be using the area for some while. If there's heavy surveying? Fluke won't use the area at all. 
I will do what I can. 
Sea bass are coming in early and will spawn early owing the warmer than usual water temps this spring. It's entirely possible three boats surveying (even one boat!) will upend sea bass spawning. 
I wish NOAA and all its partners wanted to learn. Instead? I've never shown any real interest in our reefs or the fish that inhabit them.  
If these survey boats manage to ruin sea bass fishing in that huge area again, or alter spring spawning, you can safely bet it will be attributed to climate change or bad luck. 
Here's a video I did after the last fiasco with sounding boats. Although we filmed the aftermath in the first days of September 2015, I was unable to get it put together until January 2016. 
Much more on this to come..
Here's the video on youtube — Yes, it's amateur as heck, but I lost a sold-out boat to make it and had to pay a little for editing. It's all I could afford! 

Below is a large excerpt from Fish Report 2/16/16 where I describe how I can positively assert subbottom profilers cause sea bass to stop feeding. 
Assuming they use multi-leg towers, I actually look forward to wind energy off the coast. Once built (and NOT with monopiles but three or four legged pilings such as an oil well) I am certain fishing for many species will be made incredibly better. 
If the bases are armored at the seafloor against scour with cobble and larger armor stone? Fishing those structures will be better than anything we currently have. 
Incredibly better. 
They won't do partyboats like mine any good though. We have to be OVER structure so we can catch around the whole rail. For private boats and charter boats? Unreal.. 
Getting from here to there without biological or fiscal injury would be good..  

An excerpt from 2016 & within it another from 2015.... 
Windmills! Suddenly there was money for ocean work and lots of meetings. I told all these agencies, "Hey, there's coral off here. It's where we fish." (would have been 2009 when all those meetings began - lots of em.) 
They seemed to say, "We hear you." 
Then, later, I told 'em about how survey boats are a big pain in the neck because they turn the bite off. At a meeting a couple years back (this would have been 2013 or 14) it was a funny story - they laughed. Humor, unfortunately, proved a poor teaching aid. 

Here's what I wrote in my 6/27/15 fish report:
...If what happened to reef fish happened to piping plovers or spotted owls or any kind of marine mammal - law suits would be flying. 
Instead, the fact that sub-bottom profilers cause bottom fish to instantly stop feeding is just a yawn.. 

Allow me to tell you what I know. I think it's either a lot more than the government wants you to know, or simply more than they know too. 
No aluminum-foil hat, just facts: 
When Maryland's R/V Kehrin was doing survey work for the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) prior to deployment of NYCTA cars at Jackspot Reef in, I believe, May 2007; Capt. Rick Younger (a long time personal feiend) did not seem surprised in the least that his sub-bottom profiler had the instantaneous effect of shutting off what-was a magnificent sea bass bite. The Kehrin's sub-bottom profiler unit was turned on just several hundred yards from my boat. It positively & instantaneously shut-off the feeding of sea bass. 
Capt. Younger, of course, turned his unit off when asked. The fish resumed feeding. 

Survey boats for wind energy will not. 
In recent years surveys have been relentless. There is no variance. The effect to flounder & sea bass is 100% predictable.
Another illustration: on July 31st, 2013, I was fishing the Great Eastern artificial reef about 18 NM ESE OC MD in the southern-most portion of the wind lease. I could see the Scarlett Isabella closing and watched my clients' success diminish to absolute-zero when she was approximately 3NM N our position. As my nearest reef that might provide suitable success was either 8NM south or 13NM ESE, I waited for the survey boat to turn north and move its equipment out of range (about 5 to 7 miles).
Closing to 2NM ENE my position with survey gear in use, no fish at all bit while the Scarlett Isabella was so near. None. 
Then, at 10:15, she came full-stop and the bite went 'wild' (comparatively). With flounder & sea bass coming over the rail, clients cheerfully exclaimed; "Don't move Captain, they're here!" (I, of course, had kept clients over fish all the while.) 
A helicopter approached the Scarlett Isabella and landed aboard ship. That's why she'd stopped. When the helicopter left a while later, the ship came-about and began a new survey leg. 
The bite, of course, died completely & at once as they re-started their survey gear. 
At 10:40 AM I hailed the Scarlett Isabella on VHF 16 & asked to switch to channel 10. I questioned if they had turned off the sub-bottom profiler while the helicopter was aboard. A few minutes later I was told, "Yes, the sub-bottom profiler was off then."  
The Scarlett Isabella was back again last year. 
Now yet another survey has been undertaken, this time by the Shearwater and Global Explorer, a drilling ship. They can scarcely be troubled with recreational fishing concerns. The Global Explorer would not speak with me on the radio after I revealed I was a recreational boat. What they are doing is "important." 
Recreational fishing businesses, apparently, are not. 
Impacts to reef-fish feeding behavior remain 100% consistent. Survey equipment turns the bite off. Unfortunately, the ships this year seem to have a broader, more pervasive effect - their effect on feeding covers more area. . . (end of content from 6/27/15 Fish Report)

I went and filmed several reefs impacted by survey boats in September of 2015. The effect surveys had is plainly cumulative & catastrophic. I made a 4 minute video and released it a few weeks ago - .. We were late getting out there to film. Really late editing it.. Do have to make a living. Weeks after the survey boat was finished--had left for survey work elsewhere, there remained no sea bass on reefs in & near the Maryland Wind Energy Area..

Last year, in 2015, we had no spring run of sea bass. I'd never seen such a thing. Used to be I would presell all of May starting in the first week of December. (e.g. If you wanted to book a Saturday spot in May right now, in February, fugedaboutit - All Sold Out.) Sea bass fishing was great & clients knew it. Now I'll open the last two weeks of May sometime next month and warn clients it won't be what we used to have. 
Having thought long & hard, I attributed the 2015 spring run failure to there being so few spawning sea bass that any impetus--any race among them to be first to claim the best spawning spots--is now gone. 

But I wonder if instead year after year of surveys has taught our sea bass NOT to spawn here, not at all.. Spawning site fidelity is everywhere in the animal world. Similar to salmon, sea bass return to exactly the same spot to spawn. Except, unlike salmon, sea bass survive to spawn again & again. (if we don't catch them!) We've shown spawning site fidelity in cbass with tags hundreds of times.  
What's going to happen now that we've forced them --year after year by sub-bottom profiler noise impacts-- to leave the only spawning ground they know? 

I think what's going to happen is all that bottom in the Maryland Wind Energy Area (MD WEA) will become as if it were a brand new artificial reef - a huge new reef spread out in fantastically greater area than we could ever hope to permit for reef building ..with no fish on it. 
With it's previous spawning population having vacated the premises over what I calculate to be about 500 square miles of seafloor; a new spawning population will take a while to rebuild. {a note from April 2021 — Fantastically So! I also predicted the recolonization would cause small cbass to begin spawning and that we'd so a huge increase in population and it did. But that's a whole nother story that also must be understood by management & NOAA..}

BOEM sez: Nothing to see, No Effect From Survey Equipment AT ALL. Fish can not even HEAR it. Move along now. Oh, by the way, we'd like to use a more powerful survey equipment, equipment we actually admit does affect marine mammals & fish for oil exploration. You won't mind, will you? 

There are very, very few who feel any real effect when Big Dot.Guv screws-up in the ocean. Unless it washes up on the beach; who's to know? 
I'll tell all who will listen - this business is bad getting worse. All of it.
NOAA tells Congress sea bass are 'restored'  ..yet I anticipate the worst spring run in the history of evers, and still another summer with fewer sea bass caught across months than we used to catch in a day. 

Hey Big Dot.Guv, I think you're screwing this fishery restoration/habitat thing up big-time.. 

This is not the legacy I intend to leave: First we turned the deep blue sea green, then brown. 


Capt Monty Hawkins

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