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Fish Report 4/22/06

Tog with a better sign of cbass.

Ocean City Reef Foundation Dinner - May 3rd - Hall's Restaurant - 60th Street and the Bay from 5 to 8 - $15 Link: http://www.ocreeffoundation.com/main.html

Hi All,

We've had a few decent shots of tog this week. Seems like fewer jumbos and the fish are getting fussier too. Still, there've been some 8s and 10s along with many limits. Wednesday and Thursday the bite was really off in the morning and picked up as the day went along - pretty tough. On the way in Thursday - slick calm, really gorgeous weather - we saw a LOT of blues.

On top finning; I suppose the blues were trying to get every degree of heat that they could. It's a scene I've often seen in early spring.

Ah Ha! Bluefish thick - tog biting late - light crowd. Yep, loaded the trolling rods on the boat and struck a course Friday morning for a day my customers would not soon forget!

Except that the blues were long gone.

Oh no, now what have I done. With the weather coming on and a late bite of tog a certainty, it was going to be a long day. Setting up anchors on a nearby hang was complicated by opposing wind and current. I'm really not liking this. The boat finally came tight on the set and in the lines went.

The first tog bit just as the fellow's sinker hit bottom. A pair of youngsters had 5 in the box before I got a line wet.

Funny how being certain does that ~ leads your thoughts and preparedness away from the positive potential of a situation...

Although the bite died out late in the day, the kids had limits of tog and 9 keeper cbass: decent fishing.

Going to keep fishing too! The transition from just tog to just sea bass takes a week, sometimes two. That's what the coming trips will be: The transition period ~ Tog & Sea Bass ~ Neither outstanding, but combined - OK. I don't anticipate outrageously great fishing; scratch dinner and a handful for the fridge kind of days, but there may be a hot rail now and again.

We've already had a couple pretty decent bass; one was caught by my mate, 'Chef'. Now here I was thinking that the Chef would like to contribute that fish to science, you know - put a tag in it. I didn't find out I was wrong 'till the fish swam away: big grin. No worries, he had tog for dinner instead. Maybe someone's grandkid will recapture that tag: they'll be calling the Coastal Fisherman!

I'll fish everyday the weather will let me - the book is open. Crabs and Clams provided. Saturday the 29th, and every Saturday, will be a long trip - leave at 6:30, return 3:30(ish!) - $125. All the other days in April will be 7 to 3ish.

If you book - don't be late! The west end of an east bound boat can be a sad sight...

The first limit of sea bass will come before May - of that I am certain. (Uh Oh!)

There's more of the writings of a deranged party boat skipper below.

Regards,

Monty

Capt. Monty Hawkins

mhawkins@siteone.net

Party Boat "Morning Star"

Reservations 410 520 2076

www.morningstarfishing.com

Artificial Reefs:

Why in the Billy Blue Blazes* do some scientists hold that artificial reefs serve only to 'congregate finfish for harvest'. (*from Charles F. Waterman)

It really is a big deal. Every once in a while I even hear a recreational fisher quote from these studies. What are they thinking?

For the purposes of temperate reef dwellers in the mid-Atlantic (cbass, porgy, tog - even cod, red hake, flounder and pollock) it is rubbish to suppose that the amount of viable habitat has no influence whatsoever on the production of these species.

If there were no reef-like areas in our region there wouldn't be any reef dwellers. And, if there were an increase in reef habitat there would be more reef fish.

In it's simplest form; habitat production minus effort equals stock. Habitat Production is the amount of successfully spawned larvae that survive to 'recruit' to a fishery, that is, they become legal sized fish, or, fish capable of spawning, depending on who's work your looking at. Recruitment is dependant on numerous factors. However, habitat is well recognized to be a key to juvenile survival/Production. Effort means what we and commercial fishers catch. Standing Stock, or Stock, is all the fish that are left after our 'Effort'. So, habitat production minus effort equals stock. (oh, the real equations are infinitely worse, worthy of a couple Advil, but stick with me!)

At present, the mid-Atlantic fisheries are regulated for ~ the recovery of our region's many depleted fisheries governed by ~ Effort reduction. You see the effects of this strategy every time the new regulations come out. And, as a group, we recreational fishers bemoan more restrictive regulations or celebrate victory when we are allowed more fish in the coming year. It's an increase or decrease in our Effort and is fine tuned annually.

While habitat is certainly a focus of the research and recovery work going on in our area's estuaries, there is no habitat consideration whatsoever in our region's marine recovery efforts. It stands to reason that increasing Habitat Production is every bit as effective as reducing Effort to help rebuild a fishery, perhaps more so. This is why they are knocking down dams and allowing salmon more useable habitat ~ it increases Production. And, dam removal is happening because Effort reductions have failed.

A heck of a lot more Habitat Production combined with the same Effort we have now would equal a lot more fish!

Well, what is this marine habitat? Hmmm... That's as deep and broad as you want to make it: from air pollutants settling upon the sea's surface effects on phytoplankton production to menhaden density, it all has to work in concert - all events that we allow have to be survivable or the system breaks down.

My focus is on a habitat aspect that can not be seen - can not be known - without a hard look backward.

Our region has experienced 80 some years of heavy commercial fishing. Several of these fisheries involve thousands of pounds - several tons - of gear pulling across or digging into the bottom. Whatever gets in the way either stops the gear: Or gets crushed as it moves through. Until 1976 there were nations from halfway around the world contributing to the seafloor habitat decline in this region as well.

What remains, maybe 15%, of our natural seafloor habitat is only the most robust - or lucky.

That vast meadows of sea whip and low hard coral reefs once flourished is, I think, provable. What ties the Production of these areas to the fact that 80 years ago a man could make a living commercial fishing with a boat launched from the surf is harder to get your arms around.

But it's there.

Imagine having to leave bluefish because marlin were wrecking your gear. It happened. With a one cylinder engine just a few miles offshore...

If it's going to happen again we must replicate - even increase - the amount of productive habitat.

There's no way to get there except by artificial reef. Naturally occurring cobble fields, rocks, sandstone slabs and hard clays that have been towed across with heavy gear contribute very little to Production until they have been left alone and corals have become reestablished. It is the 'complexity'- the hiding places - offered by mature growth on these substrates that allow significant improvement in spawning success. When juveniles avoid predation and are well fed, survival rates increase manyfold. Since it seems unlikely that these areas will remain undamaged by fishing gear for the decades needed for recolonization of corals, then the addition of new - more resistant to gear impact - substrates to the ocean floor will have to be undertaken. And is. It's artificial reef.

Although, at present, there isn't a 'plan' for using artificial reef to rebuild the fisheries; it's happening ~ a fortunate accident. It should be pursued with more vigor and science undertaken that can put numbers to the idea of Habitat Production.

Perhaps the least understood reason why artificial reefs work can also be taken from the example of the salmon. Every school kid knows that these fish return to their natal stream. Tag and recapture studies have shown that this is a natal bond - it's where they spent their juvenile period that imprints and becomes the area to 'home' to when it is time to spawn.

This behavior is hardly unique.

Many species of fish exhibit natal/spawning site fidelity, and, unlike salmon that die after they spawn, most species return year after year. It's not an uncommon behavior at all. Sea turtles, most species of bird, several types of shark, sturgeon, sea trout and ~ I believe tagging shows conclusively ~ sea bass, all return to their natal area to spawn. Some species, such as tautog, may have never left in the first place. In fact, it is more likely that any species that undergoes no specific migration to spawn are the odd ones out.

Every artificial reef becomes colonized by a few wandering fish and, over time, those fish and their progeny returning to spawn in successive years become part of a larger Standing Stock.

In conjunction with management that controls Effort: more habitat equals more fish.

Now, unfortunately, this is not 'the science'. The facts remain to be proven. I offer it as my thoughts on what we might be doing to better our fisheries.

Believe this: In the coming decades the artificial reefs we build will be factored into management as will areas of natural substrate. Habitat footprint ~ the total area of habitat ~ will play a role in ecosystems management. The production of these areas will be recognized.

Until then, fishers will enjoy the fishing and not worry about why.

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