Sunday, May 22, 2022

Fish Report 2/1/22

Fish Report 2/1/22

Essay: MRIP's Coming Disaster.. 

Posting this to the site May 22/22.. Was sent by email Feb 1st. 

Boat's clear. Roads mostly. 

Let's go toggin. 

Humongous Fish Report Below. Things are moving quickly. Your State's managers need to hear from you that cutting recreational quota with MRIP numbers is unacceptable. 

An anonymous NJ angler did an astounding job making tables for this project. I have them for every state and will try to publish one here. They will be distributed broadly across management. If you'd like em all, or any, please ask. 

Have had some pretty decent fishing. Due for a facepalm I fear. 

NEW: Boat Regs 3 Tog @ 16 Inches - only one can be a female. 

Honest truth about Tog Trips!

Do you like a good old fashioned 'drop and reel' sea bass bite? Like steady action? 

Yeah, umm, toggin/blackfishing ain't that. (Except in the rarest of occasions!) This fishery, tog fishing, is the hardest from among my target species. Skunks can and do happen! Even skilled tog fishers, and I mean from among the very best, can get their head handed to em. Worse still - I've even been completely skunked while tog fishing! (Whoever said "A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work" dern sure didn't carry fishing parties for a living!) 

Still, because the challenge of catching tog is both our test & attraction - we go! Like Tommy said; The Tug Is The Drug..

If you're this guy: "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 had many, many anglers get skunked last winter and in years before also.

This fishery is tough getting tougher. Those 'dinner fish' kept 10 & more years ago would have been today's jumbos. 

I run Tog Trips light so anglers can move to the bite - or try too!

For those in need of the blow-by-blow catch reports, I post after every trip to facebook..

If you want a spot call the reservation line! Emailing me is no good - service handles reservations. I do ck email for questions - sometimes ck FaceBook messenger.. 

Tog (Blackfish) Trips Only - allowed zero sea bass. They're closed now because of bad MRIP catch estimates. My crew do have a FEW whitelegs for a very reasonable price.. (Many died..) 

3 Tog @ 16 Inches - only one can be a female. 

Tog Trips - Wednesday & Thursday - February 2 & 3 - Both Days 6:30 to 4 - $175.00 - 12 sells out (covid) - Masks in Salon - not on the rail while fishing or running. 

Reservations Required at 443-235-5577 

Anna is all alone here. Line sometimes jams when I open. Leave a message. 


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..

Trips Sometimes Announced on Facebook Also - at Morning Star Fishing & my personal FB page along with after action (or lack thereof) reports. Email is always first. 

Bait is provided on all trips: green crabs for tog. (Whites Are

available from crew for a reasonable cost. A lot died though!!) 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: 3 Tog @ 16 Inches - only one can be a female. 

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..

As of 2/1/22 we have 35,660 Reef Blocks & 429 Concrete Pyramids (170lb ea) deployed at numerous ACE permitted ocean reef sites - we also have 312 pyramids deployed by MD CCA at Chesapeake Bay oyster sites working to restore blue ocean water…

Currently being targeted oceanside: Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 99 Reef Blocks (+55 Reef Pyramids begun 8/18/20) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 1,856 Blocks (+44 Reef Pyramids) - Doug Ake's Reef 4,174 blocks (+16 Reef Pyramids) - St. Ann's 2,817 (+8 Reef Pyramids) - Sue's Block Drop 1,582 (+20 Reef Pyramids) - TwoTanks Reef 1,223 (+ 11 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 912 - Benelli Reef 1,491 (+ 15 Pyramids) - Rudy's Reef 465 - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 3,703 (+69 reef pyramids) - Wolf & Daughters Reef 734 - Al Berger's Reef 1,109 (+14 Reef Pyramids) - Great Eastern Block Drop 1,304 (+17 Reef Pyramids).. And a soon-to-be-named reef at Russell's Reef 30 Blocks & 49 Pyramids - We've also begun block drops at Capt Greg Hall's Memorial Reef with 212 Blocks & 2 Pyramids.. 

MRIP's Coming Disaster.. 

In this Fish Report I will show how NOAA's insistence on using  grossly overvalued recreational catch estimates has been allowed to jeopardize creation of fair recreational regulation, and is being allowed to recreate true overfishing such as we saw from foreign factory trawlers in the commercial summer flounder (fluke) fishery before regulation began. 

By overweighting Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) recreational catch estimates while developing commercial quotas, other fisheries too will become overfished in truest fashion. 

Hidden behind recreational catch that did not occur, MRIP will lay blame for any stock decline squarely on recreational anglers in the Private Boat sector. 

Make no mistake, if left unrepaired—if MRIP's monumental errors are allowed to further erode stock health as manifested through inclusion of recreational catch data while developing commercial quotas—decades of successful restoration efforts will soon become unraveled. 

It's use begun in 2012, MRIP is now a decade old. It was brought about by a 2007 Congressional mandate to remedy complaints from recreational fishers about inaccuracies in the MRFSS system of calculating recreational catch. In that regard it failed in fantastic measure. 

MRIP has already been brought before the National Academy of Sciences, the NAS (twice I believe). It is indescribably worse than the preceding MRFSS method of calculating marine recreational catch. Confidence in MRIP estimates among scientists, regulators & the regulated is lower today than since marine regulation began - except among those at the top for whom a computer is the only window to our nation's fisheries.

I will show a simple method of using daily landings reports, Vessel Trip Reports (VTRs)—daily catch reports from professional recreational fishers; a way to test MRIP's assertions of catch. I call it the "Percentage of Catch" test.  

Overall, I believe accusations of recreational overfishing are nonsense, absolute rubbish. I was there. I saw it, lived it - I know what 'overfishing' looked like. When my recreational clients caught over 7,000 sea bass in a day, in a Single Day in May 1991 - that was recreational overfishing. 

Prior to regulation, high man having close to 200 sea bass in late October or November wouldn't have been newsworthy - just normal. 85 clients x an average of 80 cbass = 6,800.. I gaurantee there were many days in the pre-regulatory era when an individual partyboat took over 10,000 sea bass. 

Shoot, I had clients complaining—angry—in May 1991 because anglers on the bow only caught 50 or 60 large sea bass while those toward the stern were  nearing/over a hundred each. Certainly had over 7,000 that day.. 

Thing is, in the pre-regulatory & early regulatory era, those fish were there to catch. Even during fishing's darkest days—late 1980s/early 1990s—before any sea bass regulation existed, we could still muster amazing catches sometimes. We had spawning production even when no sea bass was spared.. 

If we're able to clear this estimate nonsense out, spawning production and habitat increase would spring to the fore as methods of increasing fish populations. 

In 1992, five years before regulation began, I was the first skipper to have a 9 inch limit on sea bass. I witnessed that simple regulation have fantastic beneficial effect on local sea bass stocks. By 1996 my tagging efforts had clearly shown remarkable habitat fidelity in sea bass. When fishers employ effective regulation in a species with habitat fidelity, both fish & fisher benefit. 

But regulation is not a stand alone cure. Spawning production and habitat repair/creation can be made vastly more powerful with the right & light regulation. 

Consider: seventeen years into regulation we had the worst sea bass fishing in DelMarVa's history. Seriously, following the MD Wind Energy Area Surveying Disaster; May of 2015 was rock bottom - the worst spring run of sea bass ever. 

And, with absolutely no change in recreational regulation, in 2020/21 we've had the best sea bassing since 2003. 

Fishing was excellent & exactly as I'd predicted it would become in 2016/17 owing all age one sea bass rejoining the spawning stock biomass (SSB) when the MD Wind Area and surrounding reefs out to four miles were recolonized. 

The very worst sea bass fishing, & very best, with no change in recreational regulation in the period. The only change in commercial effort was an increase in quota in 2019 fallaciously based on MRIP's inflated stock guidance. 

We've recently witnessed exponential population growth for the second time under regulation. Once from 1997 to 2001 & again from 2016 to 2020. It's management's undiscovered ability to force almost all sea bass into the "spawning stock biomass" (SSB) that's key. 

But managers, even were they keenly aware of this power, will never capture nuances of spawning production in regulation while guided solely by MRIP's nonsenseical estimates. 

MRIP must either be corrected ..or run out of town. 

My correction method  creates "stops" high and low - a place catch cannot exceed because participants deem it impossible - and eliminates when MRIP misses all catch (a zero). The stops are based on daily catch submissions by professional recreational "For-Hire" captains called VTRs - Vessel Trip Reports.  These are already required. No heavy lifting there.

Currently MRIP's guesses can be zero—even in high season with lots of effort & catching; or as astronomical as if fish were laid tail to tail stretching to Venus. No matter how unbelievably low or high an estimate reaches, the Regional level of NOAA will insist: "It's the best scientific information available. Use it." 

But isn't science predicated on testing? 

So far the only means of testing MRIP has been further high-science statistical analysis with no fishers' input. 

Statistically pure perhaps and oh so mathematically scientific, but MRIP's biological data is rubbish. 

Fishermen use the science of observation. When observations are recorded they become data - scientific data. We are management's eyes on the fisheries; experienced observers that have been working the water for decades. Believe this - in our business MRIP estimates wouldn't do. When reef fish such as sea bass are targeted, professional recreational For-Hire fishermen have to know where fishing pressure is & where it has been—where and how big the fleet is on larger reefs — Who is fishing there; how long has an area rested since any effort at all on smaller reefs: We need accurate info combined with honed intuition or we'll not produce consistently for clients. 

According to MRIP, there's an immensely powerful force that erupts on calm Saturdays in summer— NOAA's MRIP estimates have even shown Private Boat anglers from one state as a more potent extractive force than Commercial trawl & trap - sometimes even all Party/Charter too — Private Boats from one state, in two months, can outfish all professional effort, from all states in the management area, all combined. 

It's Crazy. 

In the very heart of the regulatory era, private boats are now shown to be a more powerful extractive force that foreign factory ships of yore..

That's just nuts. 

Private Boat ownership is always more expensive than hiring a charter or purchasing partyboat tickets. MRIP claims that  because wealthy anglers own more boats, they own the sea bass fishery almost exclusively with their fantastically higher catch estimates. 

Yet sea bass, fluke & scup have long been mainstays of the partyboat industry with fares for a day's outing affordable to nearly all who enjoy fishing. Charters are typically a step up, but still much less expensive than ownership. 

I've tied up near busy marinas for all of my 40 years. Many a day, especially in spring and fall, my rig and a few charters will be the only boats out. 

What I've tried to do for over a decade now is create a test - a statistical Bayesian stop really - that prevents MRIP estimates  from shooting far too high or low. I call it the 'Percentage of the Catch' test. 

Let's look at Maryland sea bass first, a fishery I've participated in for over 40 years. 

MD has one ocean port with access to legal sized sea bass. There are a couple weeks in May when sharks, tunas, summer flounder on reefs, & billfish have yet to show save for yachts capable of hundred-plus mile runs. Some Private Boats will target sea bass in this multi-species lull. 

Aside one Fourth of July Saturday that was incredibly flat calm, I have never seen a number of Private Boat anglers approaching the number of anglers on Party/Charter boats. 

My simple formula for Maryland is Private Boats land (catch and keep) 25% of Party/Charter VTR submissions. 

Although I seriously doubt Private Boaters in MD take even 20% of MD's sea bass, I've used 25% in these calculations as a buffer. 

In May/June 2021 MRIP has MD Private Boat landing 103,000 sea bass and For-Hire landing 8,900. That's 11.6 sea bass for every 1 (one) landed by Professional recreational skippers. 

If we use VTRs instead, where MD For-Hire operators told NOAA they actually landed 12,700 sea bass — that we  "Observed" almost 13K sea bass landed from our trips and told NOAA about those landings — then Private Boat landed 8.1 sea bass to every one For-Hire clients landed.

I guarantee that's never happened. We do not have anywhere near that level of Private Boat effort. 

If this level of Private Boat catch were even remotely true, the way I fish & intel I need to provide clients the best possible angling experience would be vastly different. 

By ''percentage of the catch" calculations however—and I mean by VTR submissions, not MRIP's For Hire estimates—then MD Private Boat sea bass landings would be an order of magnitude lower at 3,200 sea bass. That's 100K lower (and, trust me, this is nowhere near a 'bad' MRIP estimate.) Its simple math. We think Private Boats catch less than 25% of our landings - and MD For-Hire captains told NOAA our clients boxed 12,700 sea bass, then Private Boats landed 3,200 fish. 

Conversely, in 2018 MRIP reports MD Private Boats landed Zero sea bass in May/June (wave 3) and Zero sea bass again in July/August (wave 4.) Wasn't closed. Boats were fishing. While they sure didn't catch astronomically, if we use VTR submissions at 25% then we have Private Boats landing 2,425 sea bass in wave 3 and 808 in wave 4.. 

Information such as that would have to be more useful to mid-level management.

I believe much of MRIP could be done away with altogether; that it would be incredibly more accurate and fantastically less expensive to estimate Private Boat catch in this Percentage of the Catch fashion. 

I've shown a glimpse of MD's sea bass percentages. Every state & every fishery is different of course. Professionals I've spoken to in Rhode Island & Massachusetts, for instance, think they only catch 15% of their state's sea bass. Because MRIP has Massachusetts Party/Charter catching just under 3% in May/June (wave3) 2021 however, there will still be a dramatic lessening of the Private Boat estimate by using 15% - here it shaves about 870,000 sea bass off MA's  1,038,500 estimate. (Private boats had 40 days at 5 fish per person to catch over a million fish. Without allowing Saturday's surge in effort, that would require 1,384 boat trips Every Day with 3.5 anglers all catching their 5 fish limit ..pretty neat trick. And, at 2.2lbs apiece the estimate amounts nearly half the entire recreational quota. Also of note, this private boat estimate is double the previous highest and triple or quadruple other May/June estimates. 

To make Percentage of the Catch truly functional NOAA would have to conduct numerous interviews - presumably handed off to the states where managers should know many operators. It would also be advisable to seek input from summer commercial trap fishers. I'm quite certain this simple test could be made more accurate than MRIP or MRFSS estimates have ever been. I don't make that statement lightly. I've been looking at NOAA's catch data since 1998. 

After several attempts at repair and two trips to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for review (with zero fishermen involved) - NOAA's recreational catch data is nothing but a worsening mess. 

To demonstrate MRIP's capability for jaw-droppingly incorrect sea bass catch estimates—estimates anyone vaguely familiar with the fishery would instantly call False—one need only examine a few "Shore" sea bass landings. 

For instance, in Sept/Oct 2018 Delaware's Shore sea bass landings were estimated greater than all boat catches combined—More Than Double Party/Charter & Private Boat Together — and all DE's exceptional boat anglers didn't outfish jetty fishermen on sea bass? (4,864 Shore caught sea bass vs. 2117 by everyone who would actually likely catch one from a boat..) 

Who in blazes could ever buy such nonsense? 

Our top NOAA officials do. They FORCE bad data's use on Managers at Commission/Council level. 

Oh, I should mention those DE 'shore caught' sea bass were 'larger' too at 1.3lbs than Private Boaters caught, claims MRIP. 

That's almost (but not quite!) as ridiculous as when MRIP estimated in Sept/Oct 2016 that Maryland shore 'landed' 178,000lbs of 1.4lb sea bass. That's every bit of 3 years of all MD Party/Charter landings with bigger fish and in just two months. We looked high and low. Finally found an angler who had caught a barely legal sea bass from MD Shore. It was not 1.4 lbs. 

Other notable Shore catches:

In 2017 NJ shows over 50K lbs of Shore-caught sea bass that average 1.3 lbs apiece. VA had about 50K lbs too, but theirs averaged  1.8lbs. 

Come 2019 VA's Shore numbers were up to 80K lbs, but their average size was down to 1.6lbs. NY's were also that big. 

In 2020 RI took 36K lbs from shore that were dern near 3lbs apiece — average. 

In 2021 there were almost 100K lbs caught from shore averaging 1.7 lbs.. 

If any of this sounds remotely plausible, you're not familiar with the sea bass fishery. 

At all. 

NY's Sept/Oct 2020 is the most likely shore estimate I've seen since the early 1990s — 15,800 NY Shore sea bass become 2,600lbs of catch at 0.2lbs apiece. (Black Will Fishing..) That might be the truest estimate in all of modern MRIP. 

Still, it's funny how just the summer before NY's Shore caught sea bass averaged 1.6lbs apiece. 

While these shore estimates have no bearing on NOAA's accusations of recreational overfishing—the numbers are just not large enough, this selection of Shore estimate errors should confirm MRIP is indeed capable of immense errors. 

Promise- these seemingly huge shore errors will become minuscule when compared to what I'll demonstrate from Private Boat landings. 

Although problems occasionally occur in Shore estimates, Private Boat is where big troubles lie.

Please consider NY's Private Boat estimates. As bad as the history of rec catch estimates has been, no state has gotten worse private boat estimates than NY has. Here MRIP's fabricated Private Boat catch has no bottom. 

In wave 4 (July/Aug) 2020, with anglers allowed just three sea bass at 15inches, MRIP shows landings of 1.2 million lbs! 

Run that through my Percentage of the Catch.. 

Instead of 637,000 sea bass at 2.4lbs apiece, take the Federal VTR submissions of 53,000 sea bass and the MRIP State Waters For Hire estimate of 34,000 (although NY based fishers in Long Island Sound are required to fill out NY state water VTRs, I don't have access to them and so am using MRIP's state water estimate.) Because the sample of NY's For-Hire skippers I spoke with believe they (Party/Charter) catch approximately 60% of NY's recreational sea bass, the Private Boat estimate would fall an order of magnitude to 58,200 sea bass. 

I keep showing declines of an order of magnitude. Only after such a decline does an MRIP estimate appear to makes sense. 

Well, despite trust extended a warm rattlesnake, MRIP's been used to 'prove' there are many more fish out there. In 2019 managers raised commercial summer flounder quota 49% - a vast increase based on catch estimates I believe need to be lowered an order of magnitude to reflect actual catch. 

Sea bass & scup too we're raised. 

When we are accused of overfishing it's ghost catch - fish still swimming that have never seen a hook. By my considered estimation sea bass catch has been over-estimated an average of 7.25 million pounds over the last four years. That   ghost quota results in tighter restrictions for recreational fishers. 

Much tighter. 

The worst over-estimate in recent years was in 2021 at 8.5M lbs. It may yet result in another 24% reduction in recreational sea bass quota this season.  

It's catch that never occurred   but we're to be punished. 

But when that ghost quota is converted to live fish -new quota- given to trawlers, those fish are going to get caught and sold ..if there's enough out there to land. 

MRIP will, I believe, be the downfall of modern fisheries management. Unless action is taken soon to erase extra quota given to commercial fishers - quota that will become real landings & real overfishing - progress to date will be erased. 

What a shame. 



Capt Monty Hawkins

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