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12.22.2010 Toggn' Soon

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Fish Report 12/22/10

Toggin' Soon

On the Management of Sea Bass

 

 

Hi All,

My next email will have news of tog trips. Maryland reopens on January 1st with a 4 fish limit. Seems like our best fish come in "The calm before the storm.." I'll email very short-notice trip schedules based solely on weather reports.

When we can go - We Will..

  

I'd just gotten done the first coat of bottom paint today when an old sinker-bouncer sends me this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE  Copy & Paste the link - Flash Mob's a whole lot more like Christmas than bottom-paint!

 

And their wonderful musical presentation is far more like Christmas than the threat of another fishery closure. This is the third sea bass crisis in a row. First the "Emergency Closure" then the fight for a season last year & Now again: I suspect it will destroy the southern recreational sea bass fishery

..and I'm still trying to convince the Government that reef-fish need reef to flourish; That our 'non-reef forming' corals do form reef; That their sea bass management hasn't worked at all except by luck.

YouTube search 'Maryland Corals.'

 

If an agreement can not be reached in the division of the coastal quota then the regulations for 2011 will be a 13 inch fish - July 1st to October 1st & early winter.

It takes 90 days off my fishing season.

I've seen the fish skyrocket in population with a 9 inch limit when folks could take as many as they could catch without ever a thought of a closure--but there were other factors...

Has catch-restriction restored weakfish?

The draconian cbass regulations of today won't repair the reef fisheries either.  

In fact, I'm certain that going to a 13 inch fish will make it worse.

 

Below is a piece I wrote, On the Management of Sea Bass, in an attempt to bring about a different type of fishery management than that wrought of Official Catch Estimates.

They call reef-fish the Data Poor Fisheries for a reason.

From the letter.. 

 

...Then as now, In some manner of statistical amplification/backfeed, the recreational catch estimate --MRFSS-- becomes wholly discordant with real-world catches when sea bass production is heightened.That statistical failure, a failure I have seen time and again in catch estimates, reverberates all the way down the coast because of our current 'coastwide' quota management. Because of southern New England's regional success due to the fishes' well-defined habitat fidelity, Statistical backfeed reverberating in coastwide quota could yet destroy fishing communities along the entire length of the management zone - from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras...

 

...We could expect better restoration & far better economic outcomes from modern fisheries management if, for instance, all the flounder fishers of Delaware Bay had the same regulation regardless of where they intend to land their catch; If Connecticut, NY and NJ anglers in Long Island Sound had the same rules, If southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island's management operated in response to the same biological & fish-removal triggers...........

 

Maybe you'll send these folks a Christmas card - or a New Years card - or just a post card with a picture of a sea bass.

Sea bass are so far off the radar that these folks may not know what one looks like - but they'll want their agency to be doing a good job.

Secretary Locke would want to see bio-economic stability; Dr. Lubchenco is a marine ecologist for Pete's sake; & Eric Schwaab is head of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

They all live within a hundred miles of our coral reefs.

 

We really are the government. Letters can cause a more careful review ..could even cause a revolution in fisheries management.

 

Could. 

Take a lot of mail though..

Tell 'em a fishery collapse created by recreational catch estimates data needs their attention.

 

Secretary Locke

U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20230

 

Secretary Lubchenco

NOAA

1401 Constitution Avenue, NW - Room 5128

Washington, DC 20230

 

CINC NMFS Eric Schwaab

NOAA Fisheries Service

1315 East West Highway

Silver Spring, MD 20910

Strangest Christmas card I've ever sent..

My Best To You All & Merry Christmas,

Monty

 

Capt. Monty Hawkins

mhawkins@siteone.net

Party Boat "Morning Star"

Reservation Line 410 520 2076

http://www.morningstarfishing.com/

 

 

On the Management of Sea Bass - 12/21/10 - Capt. Monty Hawkins

 

I think a reef-fish restoration plan using ecosystem based approaches can be fashioned: A plan that recognizes habitat, Size limit regulation's potential to limit or increase spawning stock, Divides the coast into eco-regions using new MSP charting & Manderson's work for best management effect, and Prevents regional stock collapse due to simultaneous pulses of industrial fishing effort will have far greater benefit to fish & fisher than present management.

 

 

Greetings To Secretary Locke, to Under-Secretary Lubchenco of NOAA & CINC-US NMFS Schwaab, To my DC Representatives, To Dr. Kray & the Ecosystems Workgroup, To Council & Commission Chairs, and To All Other Interested Parties, 

A fishery collapse created by recreational catch estimate data needs your attention.

Dissonance magnified; we have strayed far from the truth in reef-fish restoration. 

While I deeply appreciate any lifeline--and especially the emergency one recently crafted, I think now is the time to begin steering our nation's fishery management toward a more holistic approach, nudge us closer to ecosystem based management; to use this opportunity to its fullest. 

Need of understanding arrived; Yet we can not, if the truth were known, even maintain stable regional populations of sea bass without bettering our management strategy.

Allowing the default sea bass measures to happen would be the poorest of governance, would destroy a portion of the recreational fishing industry only to satisfy a need created by unbalanced statistics.

Better is a regional fishery restoration plan divided by political boundary--by state line.

Political boundaries, however, are at the centers of biological production; State lines would not have the same success of regional plan by biological division, of plans that account for the production centers of our major estuaries..

 

I think a reef-fish restoration plan using ecosystem based approaches can be fashioned: A plan that recognizes habitat, Size limit regulation's potential to limit or increase spawning stock, Divides the coast into eco-regions using new MSP charting & Manderson's work for best management effect, and Prevents regional stock collapse due to simultaneous pulses of industrial fishing effort will have far greater benefit to fish & fisher than present management.

 

Unfortunately, the defining character of eco-regional management is in the estuaries' outflows--which are all at state lines.

We could expect better restoration & far better economic outcomes from modern fisheries management if, for instance, all the flounder fishers of Delaware Bay had the same regulation regardless of where they intend to land their catch; If Connecticut, NY and NJ anglers in Long Island Sound had the same rules, If southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island's management operated in response to the same biological & fish-removal triggers.

 

No eco-regional plan can be created without a cease-fire however.

There is little possibility of transitioning to eco-regional management without breathing room in quota, without a 'better deal' for fishers within each given region. Since perhaps any deal at all would, currently, be a better deal, now is the time to utilize & focus our many resources and create a new eco-regional management.

Taking into account the stagnation that will surely follow if coastwide management can not be changed, it would behoove every stakeholder group and the management community to relax quotas enough that an eco-regional plan could be devised......

From National Standard #2: If there are conflicting facts or opinions relevant to a particular point, a Council may chose among them, but should justify the choice.

Using stock estimates derived from trawl-net surveys when shipwrecks, artificial reefs & remnant natural reef habitats are virtually all major trawl-hangs gives a very data-poor product.

Using the MRFSS centerpoints as hard-data is --scientifically-- outrageous.

Therefore there is no hard data in the reef fisheries. That's why the fishery management community calls them the "Data Poor Fisheries."

Where there is no good science we must trust to logic. We should never trust to bad science because it is all we have.......

For a body charged with fisheries restoration, it is fascinating that reef habitat has never been a consideration of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

My profuse thanks for allowing me to bring it into the conversation at the recent Ecosystems Workshop.

(Please YouTube search "Maryland Corals" for my video presentation given at the workshop.)

 

I hold that fish must always be a product of habitat before fishing can remove them, That true fishery restoration must consider habitat restoration a priority. Catch restriction management alone can not fix habitat: We can not truly have reef-fish in their historic abundance without reef-habitat in its historic abundance. 

The amount of fishing pressure a population of sea bass, tautog, or other reef-fish can take in a given area is absolutely relative to the amount of reef-habitat in that area. There is no more important aspect: There must be reef before there can be any need of reef-fish catch restriction.

It is a great irony that the more successful habitat restoration is, the easier it is to get a catch; But, because our current reef-fish management has no understanding of and no measure of habitat's importance to reef-fish restoration, The reward for habitat work is fishery closure.

In 2003 my clients limited-out more often than not on sea bass. That was the 6th year of official regulation & the twelfth year of self-imposed regulation in MD. I suspected then that we were at habitat holding capacity; That our region literally could not hold any more sea bass.... In 2001 I wrote about the success -the increase- in sea bass abundance we experienced in "On the Recent Improvements of Live Bottom Habitats in the Mid-Atlantic Bight."                  

So far as I'm concerned the Copernican moment in fisheries was with Lindholm, Auster & Kaufman's 1999 work: "Habitat-mediated survivorship of juvenile (0-year) Atlantic cod..."

A better title might have been 'On the necessity of healthy hard-bottom habitat in fisheries restoration..'

As I recall, just 2% of juvenile cod survived in rock/sand habitat that mimicked freshly trawled hard-bottom While 67% survived--recruited to age 1--in undisturbed, well grown-in reef-like bottom.

Don't need a calculator to see where we want to be..

MAFMC's sea bass management to date -with never a care of habitat in any form- has ridden the shipwrecks and remnant natural reef to paper-stabilized fisheries; Has now also claimed the fish production of our artificial reefs for their sea bass paper-restoration. 

I really think it is the disconnect between habitat's function in fisheries production & the actual in-the-meeting management of paper-statistic-paper that has stagnated restoration. Rebuilding of our reef-fish has come as far as it can without more effort on management's part. Holding on to paper restoration will collapse the recreational industry if no other consideration is taken of the data-poor fisheries..

Understanding how much habitat must have been lost in the surf-clam boom when a dozen boats or more would work alongside each other, When huge foreign factory trawlers struggled to find the last of our coast's codfish before Magnuson was enacted, When men would quit a boat because the skipper always brought rocks up in the dredge..

Understanding habitat's importance to spawning success; That after initial settlement from the water column in the first weeks of life nothing so influences spawning success -year class survival- as habitat quality; And then beginning efforts to better that juvenile success through habitat restoration & rebuilding are critical steps toward far better fishery management.

Natural reef restoration is certainly preferable. However, as might be evidenced by our nearshore clay-bottoms, these the relics of once vast sea whip meadows off our coast now lost; And is plainly seen in the virtually complete loss of oyster reef: Awaiting natural reef restoration may require thousands of years

..and still fail.

Where natural hard substrate is permanently lost, artificial reef substrate can be utilized to great effect.

There are places -island nations- where, absent management, lush reef ecologies yield no viable fisheries. 

In the Mid-Atlantic we see the most complex fishery management in the world can not reproduce--can not restore--a reef fish population without at least the original measure of habitat.

Where habitat is in great shape yet fish populations are nearly absent, it is catch restriction that's needed--perhaps even in it's most draconian form: area closure.

Where catch restriction has had wavering effect however; Habitat considerations must be brought into focus.

What I absolutely failed to communicate at the recent MAFMC habitat workshop was this: We have thus far created thousands of square yards of artificial reef to replace square miles--millions & millions of square yards--of natural reef, Some now lost more than half a century to industrial fishing gears.

We must restore/replace far more habitat in order to meet or exceed management's rebuilding expectations.

I also believe that without quotas decided by eco-region, pulses of fishing effort will always hamper reef-fish restoration: Our management today fails to take into account that reef-fish have site fidelity.

Unlike tropical reef populations, temperate reef fish will migrate --but no more than necessary-- then return to the very same reef.  

In order to create population stability in a rebuilding scheme, management must recognize that multi-state pulses of industrial effort upon a single eco-region's sea bass population can cause radical setbacks in that region's fishery restoration: That populations of reef fish spread over shelf waters in summer become more susceptible to overharvest when concentrated upon deep-water reefs in winter.

 

I predicted just such an over-harvesting event in the fall of 2003. It occurred in early 2004.

Management actions taken to maintain or restore reef fisheries will be met with only sporadic success in species where dockside landing values increase with the size of the fish; Where a 'medium' may be worth <$1 per pound and a 'jumbo' worth >$5 per pound. Especially in cases where the number of pounds per license is limited via individual quota, Large swings in regional effort--these pulses of harvest via industrial mobile gears--will lead to over-harvest of local stocks as fishers target best return on private quota. 

 

Site fidelity is perhaps the single greatest tool in the salmon restorationist's kit. It is how fish removals are decided.

Reef & river fidelity analogous; There need be similar care taken in the reef fisheries..........

Ecosystems work might also include fishes response to populations around them. It is a basic tenet of fisheries science & management that in response to population decline fish will spawn at younger ages, That production increases under fishing pressure.

Perhaps some readers are not aware black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites, That all black sea bass begin life female and only some will turn male in response to their reef population's spawning needs.

I now believe it is not the actual population--the number of fish, but the percentage of the fishes population that is larger, that is older, that triggers biological spawning response. Where, for instance, our sea bass are written all-through the literature as having entered the spawning stock at 7 1/2 inches, I believe the smallest spawning males on the majority of reef-like habitats in the DelMarVa region during 2003 were above the size limit, were over 12 inches; and those over-12 inch spawning males were fewer in number compared to the 14 & 15 inch fish. In 1998, however, virtually every sea bass above one year of age was in the spawning stock, some even in the first year of life.

I believe that we have long since escaped the surplus production threshold for sea bass; That we should return to an 11 inch size limit by lowering a half inch each year. And, while the size limit is being lowered, work should be conducted to determine maximum spawning stock benefit in size limit.

When the size limit was 9 inches and there was no creel limit, many sub-legal fish--perhaps all--were in the spawning stock: some having even entered at age zero.

Now the spawning population along DelMarVa has few age one fish, more age two and all age three sea bass. Obviously, many fish that once would have already been in the spawning stock do not contribute.

For the last several years southern New England's sea bass production has been squandered in coastwide quota; A wonderful regional fishery success lost to management's failure--A regional success hidden in coastwide data.

If Massachusetts & Rhode Island's fishers really do have a 1:1 sea bass release ratio, (where ours now hovers at about 8:1) If every other fish really is a keeper, If the commercial quota really is being caught in traps in a few days: Then that resource is being squandered in coastwide plan. Millions & millions of dollars from both recreational and commercial interests are being cast aside to preserve a data-poor management plan's paperwork.

Then as now, In some manner of statistical amplification/backfeed, the recreational catch estimate --MRFSS-- becomes wholly discordant with real-world catches when sea bass production is heightened.

That statistical failure, a failure I have seen time and again in catch estimates, reverberates all the way down the coast because of our current 'coastwide' quota management. Because of southern New England's regional success due to the fishes' well-defined habitat fidelity, Statistical backfeed reverberating in coastwide quota could yet destroy fishing communities along the entire length of the management zone - from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras.

 

The success -the increase- in sea bass abundance we experienced here when I wrote "On the Recent Improvements of Live Bottom Habitats..." was no quirk.

It was a real result of having accidental habitat increase via reduced trawl effort on specific bottoms, Maximum spawning stock potential in 9 & 10 inch size limit, & No calamitous increase in fishing effort upon our region's stock..

Millions & millions of dollars from both recreational and commercial interests are being cast aside to preserve a data-poor management plan's paperwork.

And that's just this year.

All without ever having discovered our reefs.

I beg your aid, I beg that we move forward with a logical reef-fish restoration plan, And I beg that industry not be marooned because of poor data.

In creating bio-economic stability we can move our nation toward far better use of a great resource; In eco-regional management we will find restorations thought impossible.

 

I beg that we try to build in a short-time our management for all-time.

Regards,

Monty

Capt. Monty Hawkins

mhawkins@siteone.net

Party Boat "Morning Star"

Reservation Line 410 520 2076

Morning Star Fishing

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