I am so glad some of you were able to join me Veteran's Day for a fishing trip. It was grand fun to have a few people at the core of restoration's task aboard. I was delighted too that we had such a memorable bite!
Yesterday I had about the same number of folks and fished a piece of bottom not far from where we went the other day. It too had fantastic numbers of sea bass - more so. We caught a boat limit and came in a touch early.
However, those fish were caught on a natural reef. Where we fished Tuesday was debris that rolled off a barge in heavy weather.
Our region's corals, fish, mussels; among all our reef community none can tell what substrate they've settled on.
It also happens that I had a sour grape last week. Really. I honestly don't ever remember tasting such foulness. Yuck! That nasty taste lingered. Awful. . .
The environmental & management communities are almost unanimously against building reef. I suppose "Reefs Aggregate Fish From Surrounding Reef For Easier Capture" is ingrained: Reef is bad because it concentrates fish.
Some of you caught sea bass in amazing numbers last week over what amounts to 'accidental' artificial reef. I absolutely promise the remnants of natural reef to the SE, SW, N & NE are not vacant. They are each supporting their share of today's diminished sea bass production in what could be described mathematically by equation were study of these reefs undertaken.
I believe it's because management & the environmental community have had entire mouthfuls of sour grapes from reef building's failures that reef building remains unused as a tool.
but reef building's promise is
Here's an example of how reef building was done with the infamous tire program back in 1976 to 1979 - Article's from the Salisbury Times, 1977 - text is original, italic bold underline is mine..
"Each of these reefs was placed so as to improve the fishing for the guy with the little outboard. We are going to try and put some farther offshore in a few years."
Head boat captains counter that because of the reef's close proximity to shore they will not live up to expectations, even for small boat fishermen.
"There's nothing going for the artificial reefs in those places." commented Capt. Ed Brex of the Taurus headboat.
Both Brex and the skipper of the Captain Bunting, Orlando Bunting, agreed that the tires were not put in places where "there's already good bottom." A place with good bottom, the captains said, is a fishing spot where there already is some natural bottom fishing activity. "It is better to add onto bottom that's already there."
One resort bottom fisherman noted that artificial reefs built off the coast of California were created by stacking tires on poles which stand straight up on the ocean bottom.
"If this reef was done right, there should have been small fish on it within three weeks," he maintained.
"These reefs are worthless," be said. "They are probably mostly sanded - up now and will just be sand dunes after a while.
They were set out like a string of pearls, when they should have been stacked."
For his part Councilman Purnell hopes to have a diving club visit Ocean City and dive down to the string of tires to actually see what conditions are there. Even with optimum results, headboat captains doubt that..
We still build on these nearshore reef-sites.
We've created wonderful fishing on robust substrates. We recently lost an inshore site that's been in permit since 1951 because there might be Indian sites - ACE tells us we need to fund a study..
We also know those tires didn't 'sand-up' for long. They marched sou'west, then washed ashore to leave a sour taste upon management's tongue for decades to come. We still have tires washing ashore after each major storm. They make headlines every couple years..
Sheltered from heavy currents by a larger reef deployment, we recently discovered a handful of tires from the 1970s that were well grown-over with coral, gorgonians & sponge.
I had invited Nick Caloyianis aboard to film a reef I knew had fantastic hard coral growth in 70 feet of water. Here's a pic by Nick showing what every single modern text describes as impossible: "Nothing Grows On Tires."
Here's another pic showing what I had discovered with my drop camera. The reason I put divers over the reef was coral growth from a wooden surfclam boat sunk in 1979..
Where would we be in our modern task of reef/fish restoration if those early reef builders had benefited from sound engineering? What if we had already understood the connection between fish production & habitat abundance, a concept still absent today..
What if we'd dug into the minds of commercial & recreational skippers of that era for their thoughts on habitat loss?
Capt. Orie & Capt. Brex were men I knew in my youth. They're the guys who told me about reef loss to the surfclam industry. It was Capt. Ward Brex who told me, "We had the best sea bass fishing on the coast and we let them destroy it."
Alexander the Great conquered the known world by using an old technology with a new twist. Yes, there's a fascinating study in his battle strategies & management of conquered peoples. Had he not seen the promise of training his soldiers to use a much longer spear than the traditional phalanx used, however, he could never have exercised his political will.
A vast collection of 18 foot spears are stored in the many pre-fab concrete manufacturers' bone yards, in the East Coast's rock mines..
Instead, "Artificial reefs are icky.
They wash ashore and bump into real reefs!"
For modern managers reef building is something to distance oneself from.
Oysters, corals, mussels: perhaps one day restorationists will seize upon the idea of increasing reef fish production via habitat increase.
In the Chesapeake they seem to love Reef Balls; while I prefer Reef Tubes, concrete pipe that did not pass manufacturer's inspection, because they're free. There are, literally, mountains of them waiting to be deployed..
Another reef substrate that won't migrate is boulder.
Although EXPENSIVE, I hope to have an enormous Chesapeake deployment in the next few weeks through the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative to show oyster restorationists another tool they might use besides shell & itty-bitty ground up rock.
Turning the ocean blue - not more green, will come from an industrial response to industrial oyster loss. Ecological repair requires an in-kind response to almost two centuries of both oyster harvest & shell mining.
I am heartened that an industrial response now seems begun, that CBL founder Michael Truitt's 1920 vision of "concrete brood-stock reserves" is now taking shape if only via little rocks.
Our task of restoring seafloor habitat is one you have yet to even recognize. Its repair will come from rolling boulders & "reef tubes" off many barges.
Together they can turn NOAA's catch restriction phalanxes aside and allow far more fisheries production, far more fisheries extraction ..with its resultant economic benefit.
If we rolled a barge load of boulder onto now-barren slab rock N of the Washington Canyon in 50 fathoms this week, I bet we'd see an explosion of life by July.
Were the biggest farm field imaginable planted in trees; from that point forward an increase in the squirrel population would only be a matter of time.
I don't know why, but for our reef species that's been an amazingly difficult concept to deliver..