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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Tuesday January 22, 2008: Marina madness and fish scale archeology

Tuesday, January 22, 2008: Sorry I took a short break there. A truckful of duties and demands put me in one of those winterish low-energy funks.

MARINAS SEEMINGLY SINGLED OUT: I have heard a huge amount of chatter regarding the DEP’s aggressive effort to implement a public access policy that could apparently put some marinas out of business.

In case you hadn’t heard, under what amounts to a sudden implementation of the Public Trust Doctrine, virtually all marina businesses in the state would have to allow public access to their property, 24 hours a day, while supplying restroom facilities and child care.

I’m just kidding on that child care but the other mandates seemed just about as radical to not only marina owners but the legions of boaters who use the marinas – and aren’t wild about the idea of unbridled public access to areas around their vessels.

Personally, I’m stuck between a bad place and an awful one. I’m one of the state’s most outspoken proponents of the Public Trust Doctrine. Applied to the U.S., this doctrine assures that all beach and shoreline areas, which fully belong to the nation’s people as a whole, stay open to one and all.

Steering clear of the marina issue for a minute, I have seen what amounts to a wholesale elimination of the opportunity to visit and enjoy many areas of our coastline. Most often, it is the wealthy or vested business interests that have quietly wrested away huge chunks of our shoreline. Profoundly unfair – and contrary to the PTD.

That said, I sure as hell can’t fathom why the state has so heavily targeted marinas. This move actually hurts my effort to get people to see the merit in keeping access open. I can make some long-shot guesses at the DEP’s power move. Highest on my suspicion list would be the state’s need to go full-bore with the Public Trust Doctrine to qualify its actions along the oceanfront, where it has demanded access and bathroom facilities as a prerequisite to beach replenishment. Without a collateral emphasis on going Doctrine on the bayside, it might leave itself vulnerable in court. Of course, the marinas are already going court on the DEP’s marina move so a serious test of the Public Trust Doctrine’s parameters will soon be all but crashing into the judicial system. My guess is a superior court or even a Supreme Court ruling will eventually be in order.

Another suspicion on my part, is the DEP actually wants something along the lines of occasional public access to marinas, for certain times of the day. The folks in the department knew asking only those concessions would cause a roar and reaction so using a ploy long utilized by politicos, they astoundingly overshoot their desires, hoping a seemingly conciliatory backtrack to more moderate requirement would be looked upon as something of a victory for marina owner and operators.

Both of the above theories are purely products of my suspicious thinking. Only the DEP knows for sure and they’re not taking to me -- yet.

From the BHM&TC “Fishy News”: The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has announced new regulations for the harvest of weakfish. These regulations were adopted to remain in compliance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Weakfish.

For New Jersey, effective immediately, the possession limit will be reduced from the current eight (8) fish to six (6) fish while the size limit will remain at 13 inches. The change also establishes a coastwide commercial landings limit of approximately 3.7 million pounds. The Board's action was taken in response to a significant decline in stock abundance and increasing total mortality since 1999. For more detailed information on the changes please visit http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/news/2008/weakfishchanges.htm on the Division of Fish and Wildlife's Web site.

Artificial reef bill headed to Assembly

Friday, January 18, 2008

Anglers and divers are gearing up for another attempt to protect the state's artificial reefs for the purpose they were intended -- hook and line fishing. Energized by the 33-0 passage in the Senate during the last session, anglers hope for a better outcome this time in the Assembly -- where the bill was never posted for a vote.

The Assembly bill to ban pots from the reef is A1519, sponsored by Assemblyman David Rible (R-11th Dist.) with co-sponsorship by Nelson Albano (D-1), Patrick Deignan (D-18), James Holzappel (R-10), Allison Littell McHose (R-24), and David Wolfe (R-10).

Deignan, also a sponsor in the last session, had mistakenly been posted as being in favor of tabling the bill when Sean Kean made a motion to bring it up for a vote on the final voting day of the last session. The legislation must go through committees in both the Assembly and Senate once again. Those supporting the effort should ask their legislators to co-sponsor.

SCALING BACK FOR WINTER:

I always have to scale things down for the winter, meaning I can’t go on my typical 2,000-word excursions to who-knows-where and back. Or can I?”

Assuming that scaled back state of mind, I thought I might bring up, uh, scales, as in fish scales. (When it comes to ferreting out off-season topics for this column, I amaze myself sometimes.)

Fish scales are actually incredibly cool when looked at under a microspore – as are carpet lice and certain nose hairs but that’s for some other column.

The subject of fish scale examining came to me in a very odd way.

I’m actually quite a swinger. (That got your frozen-over attention, eh?) By that I mean I’m a self-ordained master of metal detecting. Using the latest in metal detecting equipment, I’m constantly swinging the loop of my state-of-the-art equipment through history-laden areas, trying to salvage relics about to go under the developer’s heavy-metal treads.

While swinging along Route 9 recently, I made a fairly fascinating find in the form of a midden, a.k.a. shell mound, dating back to deep colonial times. By “deep” I’m talking the days of the first white people seeping into this area, around the time Jarvis (Gervais) Pharo settled in eventually-named West Creek, circa 1705.

Sexy Sidebar: As many historians are aware, Jarvis (Gervais) was an ingenious settler. To take-on the exotic bayside lifestyle in West Creek, he designed a flat-bottomed shallow draught vessel profoundly suited to the tidal backwaters, conditions not real familiar to arriving Europeans. Of course, the Vikings would have handled shallows quite well but we won’t get into that who-was-here-first debate.

Jarvis’ bay-boat design became the standard shape for those colonialists plying the backbay for fish, mollusks, crustaceans and, eventually, premium bayfront property. His vessel design was initially referred to as “One Of Those Boats Like Jarvis Pharo Uses Down West Creek Way” but early boat builders found that hard to write on a receipt. It was soon shorted to “Jarvis Boat” and finally assumed the quickie name, garvey.

By the by, the Indians, who lived on Jarvis’ property and watched him build the first garvey called it something like wongska, which, loosely translated, stood for, “How freaky is that thing?” They quickly switched to calling it a garvey, since that was about the funniest word they had ever hear. They would often walk by one and other and real-quick blurt out “garvey” and then giggle uncontrollably for the next hour or so. Hey, I helped dig the Pharo homestead in search of Indian artifacts so I have all these highly accurate here-to-fore unwritten historical insights.

Oh, one other bit of related history. West Creek is absolutely not named after the fact it’s on the west side of the bay and runs perfectly west to east. European elitism has led to that all-white assumption. The town’s name actually reflects the poetic Indian name of the creek, Westecunk, which in the Lenape language means, uh, “it’s on the west side of the bay and runs perfectly west to east.”

But back to my midden.

In archeological terms, a midden is a somewhat sophisticated term for an historic hole in the ground that once served as a refuse depository associated with homestead kitchens. Yes, you could call it an ecologically cool garbage disposal but I doubt you’d get so much as a smile from historians who hate cracks like that.

Middens were almost always within tossing distance of the kitchen, that’s so the ladies of the house could get what little enjoyment a colonial day offered by jump-shooting clam shells through the window and into the hole. “She shoots. She scores!” As she moon walks across the kitchen. Hey, back off. I’m an historian with a little imagination.

Anyway, middens are sometimes simply called shell mounds, since clam and oyster shells are far-and-away the prime component of excavated middens. However, the more exhaustive examination of the contents of a midden can reveal amazing insights into real-time history, in this case what was being cooked up during the first days white settlers spent in Ocean County.

That’s where the fish scales come to life.

While I have some experience at archeological digging, having once paged through a book on the opening of King Tutankhamen's tomb, I still grudgingly leave the intricate work of properly documenting historic sites to specialized teams of experts -- providing I get to hawk over them, constantly asking, ‘Oh, can I have that?” However, upon coming across this latest site, I couldn’t get a read on its age without some serious test siftings, done with a screened rectangular wooden box, onto which I have inked in the words, “Is this really worth it?” Believe me, sifting the likes of middens is some backbreaking work, all for some table scraps. Still.

It didn’t take a ton of sifting this midden before its impressive age shined through.

With my first sifted screen loads, I realized I was instantly at the primitive roots of the Tobacciana age. Yes, there is such a thing as Tobacciana, meaning anything to do with the history of smoking, primarily tobacco. I sifted up white clay pipe fragments with a bore size (thickness) that suggested they were produced in the 1600s. However, these clay pieces were not a prime dating mechanism since clay pipes were prized and often survived well after they were made.

Sidebar: I’ll bet you didn’t know, old Chris Columbus almost saved the world from the terrible tobacco haze that has enveloped the entire planet. During his very first stop in the New World, -- most likely San Salvador Island or Samana Cay (Bahamas or Gran Turk Island) -- the local Arawak Indians took one look at the scruffy seemingly humanesque beings that just sailed in and legitimately concerned that they might be equipped with, like, toxic fangs, decided it best to befriend them by offering gifts. In Chris’ own words, “The natives brought fruit, wooden spears, and certain dried leaves which gave off a distinct fragrance.”

Once back at the ships, the sailing guys veraciously ate the fruit and played with the wooden spears by throwing them at each other’s feet -- until Chris yelled across the deck, Knock it the hell off!” However, those pungent dried leaves (tobacco) were ordered to be thrown overboard by Columbus, essentially making the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria the first “Smoke Free” cruises. (See, still not so much as grin from the historians. Tough room).

Back to my pipe stems. Having found pipe stems at many, many historic sites, I had often wondered why there were so many of those suckers out there, short of the fact smoking was as addictive then as now. I was then told that by an old-timer that many clay pipe stems were very long and made in such a way that they could be periodically broken off when tar closed off the stem hole. Some old paintings show new pipe stems over two feet long, with the guy at the end turning blue trying to get the smoke all the way through. People were kinda freaky back then.

Anyway, I could tell at a glance that the pipe stem fragments I was sifting at this midden were from way-back times, early 1700s, the Jarvis days. Hell, the people who had broken off those pieces of pipe stems were probably buds of Pharo, which is a pretty safe assumption considering they were the only white people for miles around.

Sifting this midden also reveled occasional hand-forged iron nails. This type of nail predates the famous American sheered nails, known as “cut” or “square” nails. A hand-forged nail tapers on all four sides, from equal hammering on all sides. A sheered nail, cut from a larger piece of steel, is only tapered on two sides. This will be in the final exam.

A serious amount of arm work went into each and every hand-forged nail; that metal smithing was often done by a guy called, appropriately enough, a nailer. I’m not sure how well such a title sat with society back then, however, as is the case today, I’m guessing it was a good idea to be on at least moderately friendly terms with anyone called “nailer.”

I know I have to get to those fish scales but gimme just one more archeo-minute first. I have to mention one other age indicator in my midden siftings. I found four small pieces of incredibly thick greenish/black glass. Having hunted antique bottles for over 40 years, those shards were gorgeous – and hyper-telltale. In their once-together form, they constituted a European/Dutch onion bottles, commonly dated between 1680 and 1720. Similar to nails, bottles were incredibly essential back in the colonies. Not only were they indispensable as beverage holders but they also became essential trade items with the Indians, particularly when said bottles were still filled with spirits. Side note: What a catastrophic trade-off took place back then. We introduced the Indians to alcohol and they introduced us to tobacco.

Anyway, I was once told by an expert on the Lenapes that onion bottles were so prized they were buried with important members of the tribe. I just picture this majestic Indian spirit in the afterlife walking around with a fat old grog bottle in tow, all the other spirits asking, “What ya got there, Chief?” And him looking down at the bottle thinking, “Where the he’ll did this come from?” (Well, now I’m sure to be kicked out of the Stodgy Historian Club.)

OK, on to the fish scales. (What’s your hurry, it’s winter?)

So I’m sifting away and I keep catching glimpses of small transparent thingies. Being a scientist, I figured they were just the tiny departing spirits of the objects I was digging up. (Oh, boy, there goes my membership in the Stodgy Scientist Club). Understand, when your sifting you’re shaking loads of dirt and sand and loam and vegetative material and paranormal residue and old insect legs all combined with identified bits of who-knows-what. It was quite a shake sessions before I actually go to the trouble of pinching one of these small transparent flakes. One pinch and it was an easy ID call. Not only was a sifting up perfectly intact fish scales but the first one I pulled out was clearly a striper – and undersized to boot. Just kidding. We’re talking maybe 1710 here. Fish and Game officers had barely reached as far south as Toms River.

I began grabbing various scales and quickly saw the catch-of-the colonial-day arising. Along with bass were scales from weakfish, drumfish, possibly a bluefish and a couple huge scales that belonged to something big-ass, most likely a dragon. (Hey, I want to at least save my membership in the Crouching Dragon Club).

I admit that my fishy findings in that ancient midden are nothing historically newsworthy, per se. I’m pretty sure it had already been suggested that earlier Ocean County settlers actually ate. However, there is something kinda cosmic about uncovering the scales of the past. With a near mystic appreciation, I would hold one scale then another up to the light, realizing the last people to touch these, the people who ate the very fish that once bore these scales, were the very founders of our great country. I was literally in awe of that reality and continued my regression meditation for a solid couple minutes, then realized I, too, was getting kinda hungry so I chucked the scales and made sure to wash my hands real good, not knowing what the hell kind of diseases those settlers might have had on their hands.

Views: 51

Comment by philip abernathy on January 22, 2008 at 10:25pm
that was very great jay. i just thought you would like to know that the state did an archaological study of the west creek site that we both know and love, way back in 1986 or 87. i was there then and talked to the head bone digger. he came out to moms house to see all the things we had from there. out of it all, the only thing he expressed interest in was the flint chips i saved.
Comment by SteveOnLBI on January 26, 2008 at 4:16pm
Hi Jay,

Not that I think you really will ever run out of words to blog, as you intimated...But if the muse ever evades you, there was an idea you had a few years ago about posting tips on fishing, tackle, rigs, baits, etc etc. Good for the winter time. Now with the Comment feature, it seems others can easily add tips as well. Just a thought, for when the ground freezes and you can't dig anymore...

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