"Further evidence" that the decline of winter flounder is not a product of "climate change" but rather "excessive dragging and gill netting" is that toutog (blackfish) migrate in to Boston Harbor with winter flounder each year with the same intention to spawn.
In the past, before the dragging intensified in 2013 and to date, my boat recorded between 30 and 40 tog each spring which I have been quite successful in getting my customers to release because they are usually chock full of eggs.
Since 2013 that number has been steadily decreasing and as of 2018 we had only four for the whole spring. That 90% decrease coincides with a similar percentage decrease we have seen in winter flounder catches and the interesting thing is that Boston Harbor is the northern-most limit of tautogs tolerance for cold waters.
That means if the water is becoming "unfavorably warm" for winter flounder then it would have to be getting "more favorable" for toutog. It is not!
Even more important, from a "fishery management standpoint" is that with this kind of dragger efficiency (removing at least 90% of the biomass from the area), how can cod be expected to recover?
When there were these proposals for increasing the winter flounder quotas back in 2012 and 2013 because the fishery managers wanted to give the draggers "something else to work on" (after they decimated the cod) I fought against it with all I could do.
I was told then that only 6 state boats, "very small draggers and gill netters" were participating in the state waters fishery and the increase of 500 pounds/day (from 250) would only allow them to keep and sell the fish they were already catching and keep them from going to waste. As of my meeting with Dr. David Pierce on July 11, 2018 he stated that there are currently 26 vessels participating in the state waters winter flounder fishery!
As any scientist should think analytically, can anyone here honestly say that if the recreational fishermen are seeing a 90% reduction in their catch and the reduction almost exactly matches the ramp up of the commercial catch that the two are not intimately connected? To cry "global warming" in spite of the reality of the situation is a crime in itself.
The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the draggers and their overly efficient ability to wipe an area clean (or as Dr. Pierce phrases it: "local depletion"). The answer to why we (recreational fishermen) have lost 90% of our winter flounder is quite simple:
There are too many, too efficient draggers fishing in a contained area (state waters) when the winter flounder, the last of this species in a viable, inshore breeding population, are concentrated in relatively shallow, easy to drag state waters.
By all rights there should be NO DRAGGING OR GILL NETTING AT ALL IN ANY GOM STATE WATERS WHERE FISHERY MANAGERS (STATE AND FEDERAL) "WANT" COD AND WINTER FLOUNDER TO RECOVER.
To say/do otherwise is negligent...
Captain Jason Colby
LITTLE SISTER CHARTERS
Dear fishery managers and other concerned parties:
My name is Ron Powers and I have been the ad hoc outdoor writer for Massachusetts Bay for the better part of 20 years. Far from a classical scribe (I keep my On The Water editor busy!), what prompted me to pick up the pen was my love and appreciation for the great outdoors, principally for what has historically swam in my home waters of Greater Boston. Like many who have grown up in these parts, it was the winter flounder which was the enabler of my passion.
I’m hardly alone in being inspired to become an outdoor steward and professional thanks to winter flounder. I read with great interest, recognition and appreciation the press release from NOAA regarding scientist Dr. Tom Munroe who received the 2018 Robert H. Gibbs Jr. Memorial Award https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature- ... tom-munroe Like many who were exposed to the winter flounder, Doctor Monroe regards “our” flounder as his favorite fish and as he put it, he was “hooked” on choosing his field by the winter flounder as he grew up in New England.
Sadly there is a dark cloud over our blackback flounder and it is by your decree and signature Doctor Pierce that it will be wrought. Your Director’s Declaration of a Suspension of the 2019 April State Waters Commercial Groundfish Closure, singed by you on March 27th could very well spell the end of the winter flounder and it’s historical significance in the northeast!
https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/20 ... 1547650423
One of my responsibilities as a writer is a weekly on-line column for On The Water Media that we refer to as a Fishing Forecast and in preparation of that column I speak to every, single bait and tackle shop and numerous charter captains that reside between Cape Cod and Cape Ann, which encompasses the very swath of ocean which the Commercial Groundfish Closure protected! By your actions that sanctuary will now be exploited by commercial interests to the detriment of the winter flounder, inshore cod biomass well as recreational share holders.
A little over a year ago Doctor PIerce at a meeting I attended in your office with DMF official Melanie Griffith and Captain Jason Colby, I presented to you affidavits from each of those small bait and tackle businesses which are struggling to survive because of the precipitous fall in winter flounder numbers. Historically in Massachusetts it was not the cod, haddock, striped bass or bluefish which kept these unique small businesses afloat but the winter flounder. Anglers by the busload - literally - came from afar, and in addition to loyal local anglers, they spent a lot of money at these places and towards the local economy in general for seaworms, gear and other expenses. The buses are long gone and I fear that the flounder and those shops will soon follow suit!
The free-fall of the winter flounder biomass can be directly traced to the ill-advised and reckless doubling off the trip limits for commercial industry which was enacted on November 26, 2012. This measure increased the trip limits from 250 pounds to 500 pounds and very swiftly we who love and fish for flounder have seen the difference. Ironically this regulatory change was enacted only one year after saltwater anglers were mandated to pay for a permit to fish! We are now paying as we lose our winter flounder!
https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/20 ... 1547650423
Ideally I would like to see you reverse your decision but I know that’s not reasonable or likely since you no doubt have considerable pressure on you not to do so. But I am writing to you with the utmost certainty that I feel to my core that your declaration will lead to an environmental catastrophe. When your grandchildren cannot drop a line to the bottom of MassBay and expect to catch anything and make no mistake about it, it was always the flounder which would most likely respond, then it will have happened under your watch!
Massbay, from Plymouth to Plum Island, does not have the diversity of life that more southern environs have such as Buzzards Bay. We do not enjoy a sufficient amount of scup, black sea bass, tautog, fluke and other species which the Cape and points south have for there to be any semblance of a fishery. We know full well the current plight of the striped bass, bluefish have become an aberration and only anglers who have a boat big enough to make a 15 mile-plus haul have a realistic chance of catching haddock, pollock or any of the other gadoids which swim in the GOM.
Inshore, in the very same area which is now being pummeled by the fleet, the very same grounds which enjoyed protection prior to your edict, it is the winter flounder and that is about it! Your declaration Mr. Pierce will marginalize an entire group of thousands of recreational anglers who will stand little chance of catching anything resembling a groundfish in MassBay! To be more specific, what we have left of a rapidly dwindling winter flounder stock is now confined between Scituate and Swampscott.
Flounder have not abandoned MassBay waters because of rising water temperatures and migrated northward. I know full well what swims north of the border having written a New Hampshire/Maine version of our Fishing Forecast for nearly 20 years as well. My bait shop and charter captain partners there tell me that they have no viable flounder fishery!
Doctor Pierce, the State Waters Commercial Groundfish Closure introduced in May 28, 2015 was instituted to protect the cod biomass but it had also provided relief for winter flounder which continue to migrate from offshore at that time to spawn.
https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/20 ... 1547650423
The suspension of this closure will have dire consequences for not only the last biomass of winter flounder but will also incentivize the commercial sector to kill more cod, the stock of which has hardly recovered. How with any conscience can a declaration such as this be executed?
Our reality is the we are on the precipice of losing a unique one-of-a-kind species and with that a historical recreational fishery that generations of anglers once enjoyed! What is needed is an immediate reinstating of the April State Waters Commercial Groundfish Closure and a state-wide reduction of trip limits for winter flounder from the current 500 pounds to 250 pounds. The 250 pound trip limit was enacted by the ASMFC as Amendment 1 to Addendum 1 to the Interstate Fishery Plan for Inshore Groundfish in 2009 and this move produced dividends almost overnight.
If strict conservational measures are not put in place immediately, very soon “our flounder” will suffer the same plight of the SE/MA flounder biomass and like that stock no amount of too-little-too-late measures will bring them back!
Sent from my iPad
Dear Doctors Paul and Elizabeth,
The purpose of my enlisting Dr. Munroe was to get help in pursuing the end to the commercial slaughter of the last viable, inshore stronghold of the the species "winter flounder".
As you must be aware, this species has issues throughout it's traditional range of say Maryland to Nova Scotia with "ground zero" being The Boston Harbor area and in particular, "Quincy Bay". To make a long story short, I watched this species "recover" in the Quincy area from the late 1990's to about 2012 when the dragger fleet was largely ignoring the flounder in it's desire to make cod extinct.
When they finally beat the cod biomass down to (according to fishery biologists) "about 4% of healthy" in The Gulf of Maine, the fishery mis-managers finally decided to cut back on the cod quotas.
With those cutbacks, the "managers", who seem to think their job is all about killing every possible fish in the ocean for commercial exploitation, incentivized the dragger fleet to "change over" to winter flounder so they could have something else to work on with the lack of the cod. This resulted in an immediate reduction of recreational take that was compounded each of the next 5 years with 2018 being about 10% of the catch levels (recreational) of 2012.
Outdoor writer Ron Powers and I met with the Massachusetts Director of Marine Fisheries on July 11th, 2018 to express our concerns and Mr. Powers had with him a signed "plea" from every single tackle shop from Plum Island to Plymouth stating that flounder fishing has fallen to almost nothing over the past several seasons
After first trying to blame the issue on global warming and then looking at his temp charts admitting that was not the issue, he then admitted that he was aware of the issue and he promised to do "all that he could" to help reverse the trend. In the following months, Dr. Pierce and the Ma DMF announced that there would be a mobile gear and gill net closure in most of Massachusetts' GOM related state waters for the month of April while the winter flounder are moving inshore to spawn. While this closure was "far too small" (in my opinion) it at least would have given the fish a chance to spawn.
The link below is the announcement of Doctor Pierce from 03/27/19, rescinding the April closure.
I can only imagine that either Dr Pierce "caved" to commercial lobby pressure or he was threatened with removal by the politicians who crap all over the public that pays them. I feel (and every citizen should feel) violated!
Please tell me who can justify wiping out the last remaining inshore population of a species for a couple of million dollars worth of "catch" at the total expense of the recreational fishery AND the future of the commercial fishery for this species? The problem, as I see it is there is no accountability for these "managers" when they screw up. Once they destroy one species they always push "the fleet" on to the next species and the cycle of depletion and rebuilding has to always be starting over.
All I want is someone, who is a "flatfish expert/scientist" to help me with this fight, I can't do it alone.
Captain Jason Colby
Little Sister Charters