July & August Open To Reservations - Still Catching Cbass Well - What’s That Flat Thing? - The Hardest Advocacy
Sailing Daily For Sea Bass - Weather Permitting - Saturday's 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 –Otherwise 7 to 3 at $110.00..Fishing's been kind. Nice sea bassing most everyday. Flounder just starting to show up on reefs/wrecks.. So Far We Are NOT Targeting Fluke! (..but seeing some anyway.)
Opening Reservations from mid-July to September 3rd. When you're wondering "how'd those guys book the stern?" - they called early! From now to Labor Day is open..
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!
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential.
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.
- TNC's Restoration Reef 278
- Doug Ake's Reef 3,459
- St. Ann's 2,106
- Al Giles/OC RUST Reef 1,613
- Eagle Scout Reef 970
- Sue's Block Drop 593
- Nichols' Concrete 1170
- Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 813
- Benelli Reef 430
- Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 974
- Wolf & Daughters Reef 470
Recent Blocks Supplied By Frank Graziano & Jeff Bauer @ Potomac Valley Brick -- Thank You!
Have a line on LOTS of tractor trailer loads of unwanted block. Will see how that goes!
Have had many nice days of sea bassing. For weeks & weeks we generally had a few clients limited with everyone having done well. Even had a boat limit one day where we couldn't have legally kept another sea bass. Of course, we also had a day of the Haves & Have Nots. Man-Myth-Legend (in the flesh and plenty of it!) Hurricane Murray had limited 6 trips in a row when, suddenly, ol'man Murphy (of Murphy’s Luck) had Murray signed on as an observer instead of catcher. Yup, guy next to him bagged-out while the Hurricane had 5..
Happens. Ocean never owes us a fish. Slowing a touch as summer comes; we're seeing some clients in double digits & the occasional 15 cbass limit.
Fishing’s been kind. Much better cbassing than our worst-ever spring of 2016.. It also happens that we’ve had a sign of Summer Flounder off the beach a bit. One keeper here, a few throwbacks there; mate alumnus, Wes, catches a limit. It’s coming.
For years now I’ve been offering summer trips where I have no idea what will bite better - sea bass or flounder. It’s a nice problem to have. But it’s not time yet — just sea bass for now. Flounder caught in the short term are truly a fluke.
Loggerhead turtles, ocean sunfish, & Wilson’s storm petrals here for weeks now - it’s summer. I send these reports a lot less frequently as the grind of high season takes its toll. My crew & I fish hard everyday - passengers will always have our best effort.
Started the project back in 2011 when TNC gave me two pallets of Oyster Castle Blocks. These blocks designed to interlock and withstand wave energy, The Nature Conservancy has used oyster castles for years back behind VA’s coastal islands to -very successfully- build oyster reefs.
Hoping to grow corals instead, we started dropping reef blocks on a couple spots where two substantial reef units could be ‘stitched together’ thus making a much larger reef, and atop barges whose flat deck otherwise didn’t offer much complexity for growths to attach. When a smooth, hard surface like a barge deck is made more complex - growth soars.
After 10,000 Oyster Castles, grant monies started becoming available from the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf. With oyster castle prices tripled, we began using whatever concrete block was available--and mostly free. Chimney block, a 16 x 16 square block with a large 8x8 center void is my favorite. Have to buy those, but they make an awesome boat deployed reef unit - strapping 3 or 4 together makes a mini tog condo, a short square piece of pipe.. Delmarva Power donated 23 pallets of block; Jeff Bauer at Salisbury Brick is forever finding an odd lot somewhere we can have. Now Chuck Burnham has discovered LOTS of truckloads we can have for free. Am arranging transport & storage with Dave Bauer.
The Reef Block project could not proceed without local storage, however. The Gudelsky’s had lent us the parking lot at the old Marlin Club on Rt 50 for years. Now sold, Mo O’Boyle has graciously allowed us storage on her land in West O.
You’ll find plenty who will say ‘it will never work’ - that you can't build a reef with just cement blocks. After almost 40 years reef fishing, and not quite a decade of building with boat deployed blocks, I’ll promise it does work. Have had several years where clients' best bite of the year was on a block pile, and that's saying something..
Been emphasizing four main points—trying to get NOAA/NMFS/Council/Commission to accept several truths and admit major failings. No luck yet, but that’s no reason to give up.
A) I’ve written: "Hey NOAA! Check out these nearshore corals!"
Fisheries scientists around the world recognize habitat loss as a major factor in fisheries diminishments. Those same scientists are well versed in “habitat impacts from stern towed commercial gears.” Still, none have considered the 40 years of serious stern-towed fishing effort that occurred prior to management’s earliest beginnings as a possible factor in Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Restorations.
In my works I find we lost far more natural reef-like seafloor habitat from 1950 to 1980 than currently remains.
I fished a slough the other day where patches of rocky bottom provide reef habitat - there are three trawl nets hung and lost in a 3 mile stretch. Many wrecks have nets hung and lost; some a net on each end. This lost gear could be 30, 40, and more years old.
The point isn’t trash, and lost trawl net isn't at all like lost gill net that keeps killing and killing until it's scoured in; my point is trawlers have long TARGETED wrecks & rocks for fish. A little too close - lost gear. Must be worth doing or they wouldn't take the risk. A full set of trawl gear is seriously expensive.
Everything that could be trawled - was. Where hard bottoms are not rock or stone they can be lost permanently. Where stones are caught and hauled aboard they are transported away to a sandbar where they’ll scour in and disappear. They call this ‘cleaning up’ a slough... Decades & Decades spent “cleaning up..”
I’ve often written,"It’s as though we stare at an enormous wheat field and wonder where the squirrels are. Maybe missing trees would offer squirrel restorationist a starting point? Yet fisheries restorationist today have NO IDEA of our missing marine reef footprint. (But, jealousy exposed, NOAA does know where every single oyster bar was, thus allowing a habitat rebuilding/restoration plan.)
Current marine restoration strategy (in the ocean) offers only hunting controls to restore those missing squirrels--fishing season, bag, & size limits to restore fisheries whose ecology has been trammeled. There were more sea bass caught and sold by the pound from 1950 to 1961 than in all the decades since - combined. Nearly all were trawl caught. [here's an underwater video showing a trawl in action https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbSQhy0axH0 ]
Far more damaging to even robust substrates is the surf clam industry. Said one skipper who participated in the surf clam bonanza of the 1960s & 70s, “Yeah, we rearranged a lot of bottom off there.”
An example of lost habitat; just one area of natural reef off OC--there are others, and along every part of our coast--just the Bass Grounds was cut down from about four square miles of soft coral sea whip meadow ..to a few square yards. Seriously. The loss of substrate where soft corals could grow was nearly absolute as surf clamming soared.
Absent any forest, squirrel production ceases. Decade after decade of shaving the seabed lessened incredibly the amount of reef in the Mid-Atlantic.
The damage was done by 1980. Virtually every bit of reef-like bottom that could be trawled, was. While I did observe and video trawl damage to regrowing natural reef in the early 2000s, it was in no manner near the scale of early habitat loss. (Video from 2010 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cMC8JVa2Bk ) I haven't witnessed trawl damage since.
Big marine conservation groups want to 'protect the bottom'. Ain't much good w/o a time machine.. A few places escaped - not many. What we must do is examine fishing's history to create a habitat restoration plan. Where habitat's been lost - putting it back is as simple as rolling rocks off a barge. (Gonna do a whole lot of that in coming weeks with the OC Reef Foundation's largest ever reef deployment..)
B) Also habitat related: "Hey NOAA! The OCEAN has turned GREEN!"
Seemingly plain in marlin fishing’s history; as oyster populations declined in Chesapeake & Delaware Bays, so too did water quality in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. While many species are affected by diminished water quality, these pointy-nosed sight feeders are particularly. Decade by decade the marlin fishery has moved offshore — from just a few miles out in the 1930s & 40s to sixty and more miles today.
Recently Erik Zlokovitz turned up a 1940 Bureau of Fisheries (before NMFS) paper titled, “The White Marlin Fishery of Ocean City, Maryland” Swepson, Earle.. The paper adds a scientific twist to my anecdotal assertions of a shifting fishery via a chart of the fishing grounds back when. Marlin anglers are running 40 to 50 miles further today than in the 1930s & 40s..
A man fishing for sailfish out of Stuart, Florida, can put lines in right where his great-grandfather did. The southerly-flowing Labrador Current is damed by the Gulf Stream as it exits Hatteras. Labrador at it's weakest, Gulf Stream the most powerful on earth. Therefore, in the lower Mid-Atlantic we find ourselves in a huge eddy that doesn't flush as well as most coastlines.
Some assert marlin moving offshore is only a result of overfishing -- that we've caught the marlin off so badly you have to run forever to find any. Yet when we do get a shot of pretty blue ocean water inshore, it’s again possible to catch white marlin inside 30 fathoms instead of outside the hundred fathom line. It’s also worth noting record daily catches have been made in recent years that shatter historical catches.
It’s not overfishing that has caused marlin to move offshore; they’ve been driven off by poorer and poorer water quality. Oysters in our estuaries seems so distant from bluewater billfishing, yet the estuarine benthic/pelagic coupling is absolute.
As bay waters have become overloaded with nutrients, we've also harvested oysters down to less than 1% of their historical number. Nutrients allow algae to thrive -- oysters feed on algae.
(See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Zm-yMpHsaQ for a demo on oyster filtration..)
Turning our ocean blue again will require vast oyster reefs - an estuarine restoration finally begun in recent years with wonderful oyster restoration successes in MD & VA -- and first, I believe, by The Nature Conservancy in their Virginia Seacoast Preserve. After so many decades of Can't, now we Can. We know how to create thriving oyster reef. It's only a matter of time & effort ($$$$) before we turn the Mid-Atlantic blue again.
C) While fishery management based on fish population-estimate & associated responsible harvest levels have long been recognized as sound management--
Quota harvest controlled by Season/Size/Bag Limit; because recreational landings are calculated by statistic, our estimates have wandered off into levels of lunacy never imagined possible by professional anglers.
NY Private Boats complain of fishing pressure on reefs & wrecks from Party Boats. The sea bass fishery indeed lends well to the Party Boat trade.
MRIP, however, asserts NY Private Boats in 2016 landed 2X what ALL Party/Charter landed from Cape Hatteras to Maine.
And while no living soul believes that MRIP catch estimate, it has been used to severely curtail recreational access to sea bass, especially in NY. No matter what fishery from Texas to Maine, NOAA’s accusations of recreational overfishing are a trick of statistics and nothing else.
And now NOAA/MRIP intends to increase Private Boat catch across the board by three times. Now that one example (from among dozens) will jump from NY Private Boat catching 2X to 6X what ALL Party/Charter caught across 650 miles of coast. Uh hu.. Sure proves we caught over our recreational quota. Right?
Perhaps you'd think repair of glaringly obvious errors in our catch estimates; accounting for a greener sea in habitat restoration goals; & pointing out what must be the greatest loss of US Essential Fish Habitat in our nearshore reef loss a rather simple thing to convince regulatory bodies of -- not yet.
In fact, not at all.
Where my other assertions are well supported in science except my beef with catch estimates.. My argument to compare Private Boat against the more well-known & measured Party/Charter landings hasn't gained an inch. I can get 100 regulators laughing out load by comparing Private Boat's insane estimates against Party/Charter, but they'll take not not one step toward using such comparison to truth the data.
MRIP estimates are, after all, supported by brilliant statisticians who do not fish, yet the numbers are implausible beyond belief----and about to become many times worse under NOAA's impending "Recalibration." Bayesian Stops are REQUIRED.
Currently an estimate stating Shore Fishers from one state, in one two month period, catching more fish than ALL COMMERCIAL EFFORT causes no discomfort to regulators.
I've detailed many such exaggerated claims over the years.. So far as NOAA's concerned, there is no height recreational fishers cannot achieve where over-harvest of quota is concerned.
My thoughts on sea bass spawning production, however, cut against all teachings in fisheries science. Where today science holds "big old fecund females," or "BOFF" as the best way to bolster egg production and therefore a population's spawning production is increased, my experience with sea bass populations shows BOFF to be wholly ineffective.
In fact, I believe BOFF-type thinking has curtailed production so badly that DelMarVa's nearshore reef spawning production has been nearly lost.
Indeed, today's sea bass population is mostly comprised of large females--larger than scientists once believed even existed prior to 2000--yet spawning production is minimized despite the greatest female population of sea bass since fishing began.
For years & years I’ve been trying to convince management of size limit’s affect on black sea bass production: how ALL sea bass found at sea prior to 2002 were once spawners, but when the size limit increased to 12 inches their age at maturity—(or ability to participate)—shifted from age zero/age one to age three or better.
This spawning participation is, I believe, evidenced by the blue hump on a male sea bass; the nuchal hump. We call them knotheads.. When I was told in 1992 that: "All sea bass have spawned by 9 inches (age 1) and some twice," it was a true statement.
It's not crowding. Sea bass were astoundingly crowded in the late 1990s/early 2000s, but they still matured young as, so far as we knew then, they always had.
When a lot of age 3 fish started populating reefs however, younger fish ceased showing the nuchal hump -- almost completely. When the size limit was 11 inches and smaller, all the sea bass we threw back were spawners. Some for another year too.
When the size limit went to 12 inches (and then 12.5) almost none of our throwbacks were spawners. They grow 3 inches that 3rd summer. A 12 inch male thrown back in May will be legal come mid-June. Seeing larger fish around a reef stops the biological urge to spawn at age one dead in its tracks.
Inshore grounds where fishing pressure is heaviest continue their downward sea bass population spiral, except on new reef.
The greater fishing pressure is, the greater size limit impacts production. Used to be our heavily pressured inshore reefs contributed importantly to spawning production -- more so, I believe, than even distant & lightly fished reefs populated by jumbos.
Pre-2002 size limits 11 inches & below forced ALL sea bass into the spawning population. Now we take sea bass JUST as they begin spawning.
Timing is everything.. Just as cbass are joining the spawning stock today--just as they are about to have their first spawn -- they also become legal. Spawning population ain’t much good in a fry pan.
Experiments with sea bass aquaculture from: http://www.unh.edu/news/news_releases/2 ... 1bass.html
Berlinsky’s team found that females were more likely to change sex when no males were present in the tank. Additionally, the fish were more likely to turn into males when kept in crowded tanks.
Did I mention they change sex? This a development that assures reproductive success on even far-flung isolated reef communities. It's at the core of my argument.
I believe we can purposely trigger age one fish to become males and start spawning simply by lowering the size limit a bit.
Well, we've recently completed an (unplanned!) experiment on this idea of shifting age at maturity. In the spring of 2016 we had our worst 'spring run' of sea bass ever.
We also had the utter evacuation of at least 500 square miles of seabed -- sea bass & flounder had completely left the area affected by sub-bottom profiler surveys in the MD Wind Energy Area by the summer of 2015. (see a video I had made in Jan 2016 with video from 2004 & the last day of August, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46ahNqo8geE )
After the surveys ceased in late summer 2015, recolonization for spawning's purpose began in 2016. I predicted a return to sub-9 inch male spawning colors owing there were no males staking their claim to prime habitats. I also predicted an increase in spawning production.
It wasn't just the wind area. Though especially there, we also saw small males on many reefs/wrecks outside 15 fathoms owing, I believe, to suitable habitat unoccupied by age 3 or better males. This recent spawning population of age 1 & age 2 sea bass propelled us to today's better fishing.
They were fully in the spawning class that summer. We had the most 'knothead' sea bass off here in a very long time. In 2015 I was still writing how we'd only see less than a dozen under-9 inch male sea bass a year - hadn't since 2002.
In 2016 it was fairly commonplace to see small males again offshore a bit in some areas. Small, age one males were a frequent occurrence in 20 fathoms, some places 15 fathoms too.
Perhaps the greatest reason this is so important is because every teeny, tiny bit of anything sticking above the seabed is colonized by some little guy and his girls. Increasing the percentage of the population in the spawning class makes for great reproduction. Now age 2, they're making for a lot of throwback action. Soon the fastest growers will be legal.
Age 1 - 112.92g - 0.25 lbs - 5.5 to 9.1 inches.
Age 2 - 243.19g - 0.54 lbs - 8.7 to 12.2 inches. (our size limit 12.5 inches)
Age 3 - 395.48g - 0.871 lbs - 10.6 to 16.1 inches.
Age 4 - 604.69g - 1.33 lbs - 13.4 to 20.5 inches.
Age 5 - 861.95g - 1.90 lbs - 16.5 to 22.0 inches.
They can live to 12, perhaps older, but growth slows as it must..
Those surveys about drove me mad. Guvmint said of survey noise:
"They're as quiet as a ships propeller" ..couldn't do a thing to reef fish. But fish fled the noise - left entirely after a couple years. As in so many things in nature: From Catastrophe, Abundance.
We'll be drawn into MRIP's trap soon. Always able to find "overfishing" - MRIP even has 2016's MD Shore anglers loading up on 1.3 pound AVERAGE SIZED sea bass, and far more than Party/Charter caught that same year. We'll have a 15 inch size limit and some short season like up north -- all to "Prevent Overfishing."
A fishery that survived true overfishing's darkest days of even distant water fleets of factory trawl pummeling US fish populations; our recreational sea bass fishery may not survive management's ignorance.
Would that it might.
I absolutely believe a full suite of management options, including Ecology & Population Biology, can send sea bass populations above even those that must have existed during industrial fishing's earliest days.
It'll never happen so long as managers find regulatory comfort in recreational catch data that couldn't possibly be true.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD