Cbassing's OK - Reef Donations Great! - Thoughts On Today's "Spring Run" of Sea Bass
Sailing Daily For Sea Bass - Weather Permitting (Sakes!) - Saturday's 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 –Otherwise 7 to 3 at $110.00.. Fishing's been kind. Have lots of room most days..
Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - Weather Cancelations Are Common - 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 over-slept or had a flat..
Bonine Is Cheap Insurance! "Natural Dramamine" Does NOT Work! It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure. If You Suffer Mal-de-Mer In A Car You Should Experiment On Shorter Half-Day Trips First..
Bring A Cooler With Ice For Your Fish – A 48 Quart Is Fine For A Few People. No Galley! BYO Sandwiches & Soft Drinks. A few beers in cans is fine. (bottles break at bad times)
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!
Had a GREAT Reef Dinner! Please Support the Ocean City Reef Foundation!
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential.
If you know anyone with pallets of unsalable block, I know a fishy place or two we can store them. Forever. Will pay for trucking. If you have a few blocks in the backyard taking up space and just making snake reef, bring em. We'll toss em overboard with the rest. Have to do some calculating on blocks. Pretty sure we're coming up on 21,000...
Sea bass season opened A-OK for us. Had about 2/3rds of the boat limited opening day & have had a few limits otherwise. Tom Lane had our first sea bass limit of 2018.
Fishing's much better than last year's so-so opener ..but not at all what it could be if managers weren't so focused on data sets that couldn't possibly be real. Seriously, if they'd quit worrying about catch restriction based on NOAA's absolutely worthless catch guesses, real science could step forward and increase spawning production. Ain't likely anytime soon.
I'm writing from home in yet another day of heavy rain & wind. Though catching was right decent T/W/Thurs, I think Friday's trip worth special mention..Had a light rail as weather forecasts would have. Not the kind of weather that has folks beating a path to OC for some fishing. Still, forecast I was watching had winds SW at less than 10 knots & light rain. Ummm.. How about buckets of RAIN. A genuine deluge.
It looked like a banner day was shaping up. Now, understand heavy rains calm the sea. It's much easier to read wind speed from water's behavior without downpours. (google "Beaufort Scale Wind Speed" for an old-time method of gauging winds at sea.) I did notice ENE winds intensifying a little after 9am. When they reached a steady 15 on my Furuno anemometer I announced to clients I'd keep a careful eye on weather. Twenty minutes later it was a steady 20 knots.
I knew our fishing day was in trouble. Then 25 knots. Announced we were headed in early with 1/2 off vouchers for another trip. High man already had 9 keepers. As we pulled anchor I saw gusts to 30.
Heading home I would see the tops of seas being blown off -- where a whitecap is, literally, blown off a wave. Also saw 'smoke' as vaporized wavetops danced away downsea.
Thankfully, that part of the wind event calmed in less than an hour. Falling back to 20-25 knots & still in heavy rain, the run home was more manageable. My new mates, Daniel & Taylor, though both growing accustomed to party boat fishing, are used to working on the water & in other fisheries. They're already cutting fish like old pros & had our catch cleaned by landfall.
Nothing a party boat mate likes better than an easy boat scrub with a rain-washed deck and getting off early. So we changed oil & got off late. "In season" maintenance can be like that..Soon done with this difficult-to-forecast weather pattern, next week seems to offer a lot more sun & calmer winds. I think more sea bass will be moving in too.
The Spring Run.
Nowadays the spawning stock -fish that actually participate- is so diminished that there seems to be no real rush to occupy a particular piece of reef real estate. Today we have a "Spring Trickle." This owes sea bass's behavior change when the size limit reached 12 inches. It's something I've written about many times.
In a nutshell: All pre-2000 fisheries science had many female sea bass switching to male by 7.5 inches.
(Yes, w/o aid of elective surgery, some sea bass are always switching to male. It's protogynous hermaphroditism where females can change to male but not back again. It's not at all uncommon in reef fishes; ensures even an extremely isolated reef's population is balanced come spawning season.) That's exactly what I saw in early management.
Once the size limit crossed 12 inches, I believe the size of sea bass on every reef shut down the natural urge to spawn younger as when no (or dern few) large fish are present.
Wait.. What? Making the size limit Bigger made the spawning population Smaller? Yup. That's what I think.
In 1991 I was told by MD DNR biologist, Nancy Butowski, (who was working on a then-regional Chesapeake Bay Region fisheries plan,)
"All sea bass have spawned by 9 inches, some twice."
In 1992 the Nichols family, owners of the OC Princess (& what a fast, gorgeous rig she was) ..the Nichols allowed me to put a 9 inch size limit on sea bass. It would be 5 more years before Fed/State limits came into effect.
Lost business at first--No One Had A Size Limit On Sea Bass But Us. But we saw improvement in the fishing. Right away..After a couple years many boats were doing it. Even Martin's Fish Company was insistent commercial trap fishers not land smalls. Fishing for cbass got better & better. Client counts too..
As a teenager I'd been taught, "All fish die when thrown back." By August 1992 we were seeing cbass with even 3 or 4 hook wounds.. IT WAS NOT UNUSUAL to see hundreds of sub 9 inch male sea bass a day -- throwbacks. Sometimes a thousand. Females outnumbered them incredibly. Fishing was great.
In late October, 2003; the greatest sea bass year I've ever had, I wondered; "Where are the little guys?" Fishing was wonderful - but they were ALL good sized. Fall is when we'd traditionally see young cbass moving offshore -- the smalls.
In hindsight I realize spawning production had already slowed. We had 'tripped the switch' making sea bass behave as though resources were in jeopardy should they continue to spawn young - should they overpopulate. These sorts of variances are everywhere in population biology. Whether age at maturity shifts, or something as simple as incidences of twins in deer; the bust & boom of populations is not a new study.
For fishers, tricking sea bass into spawning young was a great way to create massive population increase. But it was an accident.
We had no idea why just a simple size limit, all before bag limits & closed seasons were used in sea bass regulation; why did just a size limit allow much better production? Because ALL sea bass had indeed spawned, some twice, before they became legal.
Already cbass fishing over a decade; I started paying close attention in 1991--started looking at the size of male sea bass back then; really watching. I'm confident, certain even, that where the vibrant colors of males are starkly evident, we've altered the age at maturity in sea bass by two years. At least..
That means my understanding is "anecdotal" & of
no use to science or management.
While MRIP recreational catch estimates that could not possibly be true are everywhere called 'science' by managers, and used as effectively to prove we've gone over quota as a preacher's testimony at a Salem Witch Trial; I've had no success in getting 'age at maturity' examined as a management tool.
After years of reading studies, watching closely at sea, and trying to understand "What Happened To Sea Bass Spawning Production?" - I believe, am sure actually, that when the size limit went to 12 inches management turned off that urge to spawn in age one (< 9 inch) sea bass.
Today seeing a male even as small as 11.5 inches is fairly unusual. Bigger - 12.5 and up is more normal.
- 12.5 inches is our size limit.
- An 11.5 inch sea bass in May will become legal by August.
- They'll spawn several times in a summer.
- Slower growing males now have a sudden evolutionary advantage..
When we see a legal sea bass nowadays, it's probably about to start spawning. But because it's been caught, it's spawning opportunity is lost and that fish will join its cousins swimming in hot oil.
-- and have never again seen the spawning production of the mid/late 1990s. I do not believe age 1 & 2 sea bass are active spawners anymore.
There's rarely a small, sub 9 inch male caught where fishing is at a constant. Unless where some calamity has occurred, such as years of driving sea bass off hundreds of sq miles with survey equipment; or, conversely, if we build a big artificial reef that leaves all sorts of 'open' spawning locations for colonization: there we'll see cbass behaving as before & during early management -- All Hands On Deck! It's Spawning Time! Where recolonization of abandoned reef habitat occurs, or new colonization of new reef begins: some under 9 inch females will become male even today.
It used to be almost all reef habitat within 15 miles of an inlet had enough fishing pressure to cause early spawning. That fishing pressure LIFTED spawning production.
Even 4 hour boats working our closest reefs would sometimes catch 25 per-person limits when bag limits first began.
But with that first bag limit in 2002 came the size increase to 12 inches. All those sea bass had been spawned with just a size limit in place - no season closure, no bag limit. Yet four hour party boat trips would have clients with a legal 25 fish limit.
Although much-much larger than spawners from pre & early management, today's sea bass are taken just as they're ABOUT to begin spawning. Reefs with the most pressure contribute the least to sea bass production. And boy does it show..
An aquaculture study showed removing the male from a tank of sea bass caused the largest female to show chemical signals of sex change beginning within HOURS. It's what they do..
Up north along the granite coast MRIP's regulatory cancer has choked-off any possibility of a real sea bass fishery as I know it. Pretty sure if we'd been stuck with that 5 fish limit & season from May 15th to September 15th, I'd have to fold.
It was a real possibility. A lot of folks wrote letters.. No one I know has heard from ANYONE in upper management. Does that mean they're working on it?
Are now allowed 3 sea bass in high summer. There is no May/June season. They have to be 15 inches!
I'm sure many of those will be female cbass. I have science from the 1970s where the researcher believed ALL cbass over 10.5 inches would be male. All the ones he saw certainly were..
In Connecticut anglers have a longer season but are still allowed just 3 sea bass ..unless you're fishing from a Party/Charter. Then you're allowed seven. MRIP, you see, has clearly---Oh So Clearly--demonstrated Private Boat anglers to be the scourge of fish populations ..while Party/Charter effort is as kind as a new mother's kiss.
Massachusetts fishers are allowed five..That cancer is coming south - promise.
NOAA's MRIP recreational catch estimates see INCREASING overfishing of sea bass from Shore & Private Boats despite always-tightening regulation that factually reduces Party/Charter catch.
I wrote a few managers a note about that opening day & have included it below.
We have fought & fought for fair regulation. Not for regs based on catch estimates No One believes, but from real fisheries science. By forming a "region" DelMarVa managers have preserved our access to the sea bass fishery. For now.
Before management began, MuRFFS (replaced by MRIP in 2012 & was better) MuRFSS often thought NJ Party/Charter alone caught more sea bass than EVERYONE Catches Today. Had yesteryear's spawning production continued apace, there be so many sea bass on our reefs you'd be able to catch them with a bucket.
But MRIP sez today's Private Boaters are pirates..
There's been no noticeable change in Private Boat numbers of cbass caught. Except today those same numbers of sea bass weigh a lot more--they're bigger. That counts against recreational quota in a bad way.
True: There were days in 1991 when clients aboard the party boat I was running caught and killed more sea bass in a day than we'll kill all summer now.
we'd have nailed it.
We have not.
Understanding spawning production is key. Understanding habitat's role in production would help too. (Reef? What Reef? There's only sand & mud in the Mid-Atlantic..)
Today management's always tightening regs are based on MRIP's always increasing catch ..except for those who are actually doing the catching. Party/Charter catches fewer when regs tighten.
See note I sent managers opening day below. (Remember, Private Boat is said to WILDLY outfish Party/Charter these days.. I did finally hear about two Private Boats out opening day..)
Headed out on our sea bass opener. There are 3 well sold party boats and, I believe, 4 charters out today from OC. My crew & clients were the only cars in the OC Fishing Center parking lot. No one has seen a private boat despite we’re all headed in different directions. Could there be? Sure.
But of 150+ paying clients that we know are out, so far Private Boat has a goose egg.
Please compare that reality to the statistics from which you create our regulatory reality and see lunacy. Were our clients to consult MRIP, in fact, they’d not have bought tickets. They’d have fished from MD shores where sea bass average 1.3 lbs &, after recalibration, those MD-only shore anglers will have —by the “Best Available Science”— landed nearly half what all Party/Charter landed from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod.
As Odysseus blinded the Cyclops with a fire-hardened spear, so too have ecology, population biology, and Justice been excluded from regulatory actions owing adherence to what could not be true - MRIP..