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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

  Sunday, March 02, 2014: There’s very little chance of missing this approaching winter mess. I tried my hardest to wish it further south but my energy gave out at the worst possible time. I got the…

 

Sunday, March 02, 2014: There’s very little chance of missing this approaching winter mess. I tried my hardest to wish it further south but my energy gave out at the worst possible time. I got the worst of the storm out of NYC – and even past southern Monmouth County. Then my wishing gave out as the system aligned with us – I mean down to the square foot for LBI.

My power of positive thinking was noticed by the weather people but they couldn’t say a storm was jaying southward so they came up with the expression “trending.” Virtually all forecasters began saying “The storm system is trending to the south.” The problem is the trend is trended out. We’re about to be trended upon.  

As of this a.m., the snow epicenter – for all of Titan -- is literally Southern Ocean County. Unless things jay/trend further south – and the odds aren’t great, though still there – we might top the entire country, snow-wise/inch-wise.

Then comes the friggin’ cold. Some regulars in here might recall that last week I feared and forecasted the coldest temps of the entire year hitting this week. It is going to happen tomorrow night. With the polar vortex air sure to crush the crap out of our thermometers, there is one minor natural benefit to the snow. As I oft note in here, a snow cover can actually serve as a bit of a buffer, protecting pipes and such from the below-zero winds. At the same time, there is nothing to protect those who must be out and about. Good luck.

HOLGATE HAPPENINGS: Down Holgate way, the effects of the frigid cold has taken a ferocious toll on baby clams – 1- to 2-year old clams, larger than seed size.

The last couple days I've been hiking out to the mudflats. In fact, I’ve gone further than ever before. A combination of blowout tides and the washover of sand from the erosion along the Holgate frontbeach have opened bayside access further north than we’ve seen since 1961, post Great March Storm – when Holgate was washed over and left as a vegetationless spit, beach to bay.

Back to the tiny clams, the entire length of my 1.5 mile bayfront hikes, I saw hundreds of dead clams on the surface. They were apparently too small to dig deep enough down to avoid the freeze. That’s a catastrophic loss for a bay area struggling to reestablish a healthy natural clam population. In fact, I have no doubt future low-tide clamming in Holgate will be hurting for clams because of this. They were the future.

Speaking of the extension of the bayside mudflats, there was only 75 yards of sand between the Holgate front beach and new bayside clamming grounds. It was a blowout tide but that doesn’t change how little stands between the ocean and the bayside sedges and meadows. Here’s an exclusive look for this blog: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmPUmHKKLv0.

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Feds favor use of seismic air-gun blasts to track oil, gas in Atlantic

SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Seattle Times] By Sean Cockerham - February 28, 2014 - 

WASHINGTON — The Interior Department is endorsing seismic exploration for oil and gas in Atlantic waters, a crucial move toward starting drilling off the Carolinas, Virginia and possibly down to Florida.

The department released its final review Thursday, favoring a plan to allow the intense underwater seismic air-gun blasts that environmentalists and some members of Congress say threaten the survival of whales and dolphins.

The oil industry wants to use the air guns to find out how much oil and gas lie along the U.S. Atlantic seabed. Federal estimates of a relatively modest 3.3 billion barrels of oil date from the 1970s and 1980s and are considered too low.

“The currently available seismic information from this area is decades old and was developed using technologies that are obsolete,” said Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The federal government wants to use the information to decide whether to open the mid- and south Atlantic to oil and gas drilling for the first time in decades. President Obama had planned to start allowing drilling at least off the coast of Virginia, but he postponed consideration of the idea after the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Interior Department’s plan is to start allowing underwater seismic air-gun tests from Delaware to Florida’s Cape Canaveral, though most of the push for offshore drilling involves the waters off the Carolinas and Virginia.

The seismic tests involve vessels towing an array of air guns that blast compressed air underwater, sending intense sound waves to the bottom of the ocean. The booms are repeated every 10 seconds or so for days or weeks.

The echoes are used to map the locations of subsea oil and gas deposits.

The Interior Department received more than 55,000 public comments on the proposal. Environmental groups warn that the blasts make whales and dolphins deaf, preventing them from feeding, mating and communicating. More than 50 members of Congress, including a few Republicans, have sent letters to the president opposing the seismic air-gun tests and saying that up to 138,500 marine mammals could be injured by them.

Interior Department officials said their plan protected the endangered North Atlantic right whale by closing areas along the whales’ main migratory route to the air-gun testing. Beaudreau said the tests would be monitored closely.

“We’re really going to require and demand a high level of environmental performance,” he said.

The American Petroleum Institute called the recommendation a critical step toward bolstering the nation’s energy security, predicting that oil and gas production in the region could create 280,000 jobs and generate $195 billion in private investment.

The environmental group Oceana said the protected area was too small and the endangered whales would suffer from the “dynamite-like blasts.”

“They are like the American bison of the ocean. They deserve protection. There are only 500 of them left,” said Matthew Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist for Oceana.

Oceana last week spearheaded a letter from more than 100 marine scientists and conservation biologists that urges the Obama administration not to approve the seismic tests until the National Marine Fisheries Services releases upcoming new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is expected to give the final approval to the seismic testing plan in April. At that point the government would start reviewing the nine applications from companies that want to conduct the testing and decide whether their specific proposals should go forward.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the seismic testing plan was a major milestone for efforts to open the Atlantic to oil and gas drilling.

“While it has taken far too long, this step today will help put America on a path to open new areas to more American energy production,” Hastings said.

The Obama administration is weighing whether to include mid- and south Atlantic oil and gas drilling in the next federal offshore leasing plan, which runs from 2017 through 2022.

Radio show transcript:

Salmon equipped with internal compass use earth's magnetic field for navigation (Fish Radio)

SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Fish Radio with Laine Welch] February 28, 2014

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – How do salmon find their way home? I’ll tell you more after this

The At-sea Processors Association’s contributions to Alaskan universities represent the largest privately funded marine research program in Alaska’s history. Learn more at www.atsea.org

Federal grants are available to help “Made in America” companies compete with imports and save US jobs. Learn more at www.nwtaac.org

How salmon find their way to their home streams to spawn is an amazing mystery. Scientists have long believed the fish use their sense of smell to get home – but after years far at sea, how do they know which direction to go in the first place? They seem to use the earth’s magnetic field.

"In this most recent study of ours we’re actually able to show this does occur. That the fish are able to figure out where they are based on the magnetic field they’re in." 

Nathan Putman is a professor at Oregon State University. Research by his team show that sea turtles, sockeye salmon, and now in a new study, king salmon, appear to have built in compasses. It confirms what scientists have suspected since the 1960s.

"We changed the magnetic field around the fish to simulate one that exists sort of north of their oceanic range, and even though they’re sitting in rural Oregon, they act like they’ve been displaced somewhere up near Alaska. And they swim to the south. Give them a magnetic field that exists in the southern end of their range, and they act like they’re there – they swim to the north."

The ability to navigate is based not just on magnetic intensity, Putman says but also the angle of the field as well.

"We know they can tell the difference between far north, far south, and the center of their range, which is sort of the home area. But whether they’re doing anything more specific with it, those are the experiments we’ll be doing in the coming year trying and figure that out." 

The earth’s magnetic field moves around quite a bit in geologic time, and Putman says that could be a reason salmon seek out new areas, are late, or never return home at all.

"We’ve actually seen some evidence for that with sockeye salmon down in the Fraser River. Whether fish are coming in from the northern or southern end of Vancouver Island seems to be dependent on how the magnetic field is at any particular time. "

Putman’s research shows that salmon appear to be born with the navigational skills that determine north from south. Their sensitivity to magnetic fields should be kept in mind, he says, when rearing salmon in hatcheries built of concrete and iron rebar

Thanks to the assist from KMXT/Kodiak.

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods - who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. (www.oceanbeauty.com)

In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.   

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SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [New Press] - February 28, 2014 - 

An eight-legged mollusk with a big appetite has once again threatened to wreck Lee County’s commercial stone crab season.

Hordes of octopuses have invaded the area and are turning trapped stone crabs into piles of shell fragments.

“They’re real thick offshore; past 30 feet deep, we’re catching a lot of them,” commercial fisherman Shane Dooley said. “Some traps have two or three in them. They eat the crabs as soon as they get in, and they go from trap to trap.”

All of Island Crab Co. owner Jeff Haugland’s traps are in 40 to 55 feet of water.

“It’s like a desert out there,” he said. “My boats are seeing plenty of octopus, and they’re seeing no stone crab, almost less than none. They brought in 100 traps yesterday and four pounds of claws. Two days before that, they pulled 98 traps and got one claw.”

Octopuses are a stone crab’s and a commercial stone crabber’s worst nightmare.

They’re voracious predators; they love stone crabs; they can easily crawl into and out of stone crab traps; and they’re smart.

“I have thousands of hours working with them; they’re amazing animals,” said octopus expert Ron Toll, provost and vice president for academic affairs at FGCU. “They’ll go where the food is. They’ll also go where the shelter is. If they find a place where they can grab a crab in a pot, they will. Then they’ll move 20 meters away, hunker down, and wait for the next round of crab. These are very bright animals.”

While octopuses are plentiful off Lee County, they’re not causing problems in other parts of the state, said crab expert Ryan Gandy, a research scientist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

“I haven’t heard a lot about it,” he said. “There are some out there, but we haven’t seen many in our traps. Maybe in your area there’s a bigger population than anywhere else.”

Commercial fishermen in the Keys are seeing a “fair amount” of octopus, said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, and they haven’t been a problem off the Ten Thousand Islands, said Damas Kirk, owner of Kirk Fish House in Goodland.

“We’re starting to see a few, but they haven’t really moved in,” Kirk said. “Traditionally they move in up around your area before they get to us.

“Octopus tend to do better when water temperature drops because the crabs move slower and can’t defend themselves. Crabs are terrified of them.”

Lee County experienced bad octopus outbreaks during the 1996-1997, 2004-05, 2008-09, 2010-11 stone crab seasons (Florida’s stone crab season runs Oct. 15 through May 15).

So, why do octopuses invade some areas and not others, and why do they show up some years and not others?

“I can’t say what happens in any given year, but I can tell you the variables,” Toll said. “In different years, it’s different things.”

One of those things has to do with currents.

A female octopus lays up to 500,000 eggs, which are attached to the substrate; when the eggs hatch, the paralarvae (baby octopuses) rise to the surface and live among other plankton for up to two months before settling to the bottom.

If a local octopus population has a good breeding year in the northern Gulf, large numbers of paralarvae might ride the currents south and settle off Lee County. Suddenly, octopuses are packing crab traps.

Another factor can be a local lack of predators eating planktonic or adult octopuses.

“These animals have very, very rapid growth rates,” Toll said. “If you have a local burst of fecundity or a reduction of predators, a pile of little octopuses can become a pile of big octopuses pretty quickly.”

Stone crabs are an important fishery in Florida: From 2003 through 2012, commercial fishermen harvested an average of 2.68 million pounds of stone crab claws with an average dockside value of $23.09 million.

Lee County’s 10-year average was 136,666 pounds of claws.

As with any fishery, stone crab landings fluctuate from year to year: The 2007-2008 season was the best of the past 10 seasons with a statewide harvest of 3.17 million pounds of claws; 2005-2006 was the worst season with 2.06 million pounds.

“This season has been kind of mixed,” Gandy said. “Right now, landings are two legal claws per trap. That’s the low end for this time of year. Landings peak at the beginning of the year with four to five legal claws per trap, and then you have a steady decline to two at the end of the season. Every trip out is a grind when you’re getting two claws or less.”

And every trip is a bigger grind when your traps are full of octopuses and shell fragments.

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