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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Feb. 26, 08: It's the Animals' Fault

It's The Animals' Fault

This week I need to make a few new foes since many of my past ones are getting too submissive. So I’m going to go paradox in this column. That’s a way of saying I’ll be writing on some you-can’t be-serious issues, from cormorant to coyotes to cod to seals, all of which are getting a bum rap in an all-too-human blame game.


CRY CORMORANT: I’ve had a number of letters asking about the impact of double-created cormorant on fish stocks. The off-the-cuff sense is these large diving birds are stealing our fish. The issue is enough to get the feds involved.

Quoting a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Environmental Impact Statement regarding double-crested cormorant, “The Populations of double-crested cormorants have been increasing rapidly in many parts of the U.S. since the mid-1970s. This abundance has led to increased conflicts, both real and perceived, with various biological and socioeconomic resources, including recreational fisheries, other birds, vegetation, and hatchery and commercial aquaculture production.”

That study has led to the feds allowing states to permit the hunting of inedible cormorant. Michigan and Pennsylvania are among states already cross-hairing these birds.

One of those “real or perceived” conflicts seems to be building along the Eastern seaboard, where some anglers and even entire angler groups are claiming these skillful diving birds are slowing the recovery of certain distressed gamefish species.

I chatted with David Mizrahi, a researcher at the Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory, and he said the cormorant population is probably no different now than it was a century ago. He was discrete enough not to bring up the fact that it was human overfishing that has the certain game fish species squirming in their survival suits. I sure sensed he wanted to point that out – and I would have agreed fully. Mizrahi did note that there is actually not a ton of data on double-crested cormorant. He also brought up what I think is a rapidly surfacing issue in both the fishing and hunting realm when he commented, “It’s hard for me to imagine what users group has claim to the resource.” That’s huge. And right-on with my theme this week.

Sure, cormorant are steady eaters but not overly voracious. And I have this nagging sense that they have some claim to the resource since they and their relatives have been around for millions of years. Over that span, they have become well-practiced and masterful meal-finders. To see underwater footage of them water-flying after prey you can see why there’s no easily escaping their hooked beaks. Also, I have watched cormorants diving in Holgate during their fall migration and they are equal opportunity eatists. By that I mean you can write a who’s who of local fish species by what comes up in their beaks.
Sidebar: Cormorants are such crafty catchers that Asian old-school fishermen use tethered cormorant to dive down and catch fish. The birds can’t swallow the fish because the fishermen have chocked off their esophagi with pieces of rope or the likes. The birds come up after a dive, trying for all they’re worth to swallow their meal, but the fishermen grab the fish first. The look on the faces of the birds each time that happens is pretty telltale. That shaking of the head isn’t to dry off. Also, if there is such a thing as a chuckling sound among birds it can surely be heard coming from the wild cormorant as they sit around, full-bellied, and watch the action in the those fishing boats.

Despite this bird’s super skills at fishing, I just don’t think they’re high on the “cause” list of fishery recovery woes and slowdowns.

Now comes that paradox theme. As cormorant are increasingly blamed for complexities in fishery recoveries, we continue going bonkers to further protect the striped bass, of which there are now million and millions and million -- downing millions and millions and millions of young-of-year gamefish, including weakfish, flounder, bluefish, you name it.

No, I’m not signing off on saving the stripers but to blame the cormorant for so much damage when their foraging amounts to a drop in the ocean bucket?
Which leads me to …



COYOTES VERSUS MANKIND: The ongoing hatred of coyote expressed by many deer hunters is a paradox wrapped inside absurdity. New Jersey hunting groups are noisily claiming – to my utter amazement – that coyote are the cause of recent declines in deer kills during hunting season. .

I hear this then read that NJ hunters shoot and kill, on recent average, 60,000 deer a year, while motorists kill another 5,000 to 7,000 annually and natural habitat is disappearing at a rate of 10 percent of undeveloped land mass a year. How, exactly, are a few thousand coyote, statewide, destroying all deer hunting? Hunters have gone as far as requesting that the state cyanide them – along with the young -- in their dens. There’s a realm environmentally sound concept.

Enter more absurdity. Deer hunts, done by humans, are meant to control a burgeoning deer population. So, here we have a form of wildlife – and, yes, coyote are indigenous to New Jersey – also controlling the deer in a natural manner but human hunters want the coyote eliminated so they can do all the killing themselves. I even heard a couple hunters say (I swear this is true), “I pay good money for a license. The coyote don’t.”

Anyone see an ugly irony here besides me? I repeat the above quote, “It’s hard for me to imagine what users group has claim to the resource.”

What’s more, deer are far from a coyote’s chosen foodstuff. In fact, the main reason these canines are proliferating across the U.S. is their scavenging excellence. A coyote’s main entrées consist of rodents, rabbits and, most of all, roadkill, roadkill, and more roadkill. All of those things are associated with the proliferation of mankind.
Admittedly, during whelping season, female coyote will surely run down fawn if the opportunity arises. I’ve seen it firsthand. However, the impact on the deer population is utterly miniscule, especially when juxtaposed to the take by hunters (Reminder: 60,000 deer shot per year).
The thing that really sets me off is the way these deer hunters all gather in force to address the alleged problem of coyote, then, when I go to meetings trying to stop the mass development of wilderness areas, I never see a single deer hunter. They’d rather blame the coyote – not the wolves of land developing. (I want to strictly exclude waterfowl hunters from the above criticisms. Groups like Ducks Unlimited have saved more wilderness area than virtually any other user group in the nation.)

By the by, I’m not even remotely opposed to deer hunts. I have seen the horrific damage a deer overpopulation can do to the ecology. The human angle is obvious. Some 150 people die each year in more than 1.5 million traffic accidents involving collisions with deer, according to an insurance industry-funded reports. The economic damage is set at $1.1 billion. More insidious is the deer’s role in the spreading the ticks that carry Lyme disease.
But least we stop blaming the wildlife …

BLAME THE SEALS AND LOBSTER: Now here’s a quick capper to this blame game theme.
New England, famed as the home of lobster, is watching its world famed crustaceans go they way of its groundfish. The drop in the lobster harvest is alarming to the point of dismay.
So where’s the paradox?
This is from a write-up about lobster fishing: “There are a million more traps than there were a decade ago, according to (Massachusetts) state marine biologist Carl Wilson, and the lobster fleet has grown in size and power. In the 1990s boats cost $35,000 to $50,000 and averaged about 32 feet, but today they range up to 50 feet and cost between $200,000 and $400,000 …Yet, the 2007 harvest was the lowest since 1997, and the drop from 2006 was stunning: Landings decreased from 73 million pounds to 56 million pounds, a drop of nearly 23 percent …”
Enter the paradox, from the same write-up:
“They (the lobsterers) suspect, however, that as groundfish numbers grow due to conservation, predators such as cod are consuming a larger share of the resource…”
Oh, please, just sink me now. First there’s talk about the insane proliferation of the fleet then the blame gets lowered on the backs of the frickin’ cod – which were all but extirpated due to overfishing.
But let’s not stop the insanity (Whatever happened to that crazed lady?).
The harp seal hunt will once again be taking place up Nova Scotia way. For ecological reasons I’m not opposed to a very limited hunt, especially when such a hunt also benefits indigenous peoples of Canada. And don’t give me that nonsense about baby “white seals” being clubbed to death. That has been banned for over 20 years, yet the bumper stickers persist.
Here is an interesting read from Canada's Minister of Fisheries and Oceans: “I want to make sure the facts are clear. Canada's commercial seal hunts are humane, sustainable and economically important, based on sound conservation principles and regulations that are carefully monitored and enforced. Our quota levels ensure the continued health and abundance of seal herds, and with more than 5.5 million harp seals just off Canada's shores it's wrong for anyone to suggest that their population is at risk. This number is triple what it was in the 1970s…”
That said, I’m here to play on an underlying semi-absurdity to this seal hunt.
One of the reasons behind the hunt is in response to anglers alleging the seal are eating the cod and preventing the species’ recovery.
Does anyone recall the lobsterers saying too many cod were eating their lobster?
I just picture the cod hearing this and going “What’s with those people?”
I’ll stop here despite a load more of these paradoxical phenomena. But just to encapsulate: The cormorant, the coyote, the seals and the cod are all to blame for natural imbalances – not humans. Please, somebody laugh incredulously along with me.

CRABBY ANGLERS: As recreational anglers ponder which of the equally distasteful options to choose for this year’s fluke fishing regs, I was rethinking a species popularity poll I took last year at my daily update blog (http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/). As a template, I listed virtually every single species that could possible come to line in our waters. I threw in blue claw crabs as an afterthought. I figured that anglers would rate, by preference, the fishes they most like to catch and I’d thusly come up with a master list of which fish are favored – and not so.
I got exactly 100 respondents – and some significant surprises.
One of the stunners had to do with fluke. Where I figured it would all but rule the roost it barely made a splash.
Before getting into that silence of the summer flounder, I have to insert another shock, that being the way anglers steadfastly refused to even acknowledge more than a handful of species. With the exception of maybe a dozen fishermen, no fish-litser picked more than five fish as their favorites -- and fully blanked on the other species. I got an endless stream of “I’m only interested in these other species” at the end of very short lists, quite a few only listing three species. I was totally stunned by that. I had always though that most fishing folks went after anything out there. No surprise that bass, blues and weakfish were top picks for nearshore anglers and various tuna, sharks and billfish filled the list of big game guys.
But back to that summer flounder pool freakiness. As noted, fluke was consistently unlisted. Overall, it wasn’t even close to being on average favorites list. And, yes, many of them were boat fishermen. It took me some time to home in on this odd finding but I realized it most likely had to do with the angle I gave the poll. Without saying it, I believe it was taken as a pool of which fish most fun – and challenging – to catch. Face it, fluke are what is often referred to as meat fish. That means they’re caught to fill the freezer – and even to cover gas costs. Hey, with flounder fillets sometimes going as high a $9.99 a pound, it does have a fiscal angle when it reaches the table. How many fishing folks target fluke for catch-and-release? Actually, that’s not legal but you see the point. This species is not a gamefish in the sporting sense of the word and likely its non-showing in the pool.
Which brings us to the pool’s freakiest finding.
Remember those blue claw crabs I added to the list as an afterthought? I figured those crustaceans would be rock bottom on the targeted species list. Well, weird on weird, across the board blue claw crab fishing was a strong contender for top five honors.
I may have written about this before but I think the popularity of crabbing has a lot to do with he “family outing” side of things. I can’t count the number of serious fishermen who honorably get the little lady and kids out on the water via crabbing outings. It’s all good. And, dollars to donuts, those anglers first enter the outing in a mere tour guide role then quickly have that competitive nature kick in and before you know it they’re barking out instructions on the right way to fight a crab, as they take over the string to go one-on-one with a huge Joey.
“Now, kids, that’s how it’s done.”
“Daddy can we try now?”
“Pretty soon.”
THAT’S PINK OF YOU: While buying fish, did you ever think to yourself, “That farmed salmon sure looks colorful?”
I have to admit I often see salmon fillets that are right off a “Go Bright!” Sherwin-Williams chart.
That’s always been a bit curious to me since I thought that the fillets of farmed salmon were far less, well, salmony colored than natural. In fact, farmed salmon flesh is kinda a drab tint due to the foodstuff they’re fed.
Well, some other observant folks wondered out loud about that dazzling color, eventually leading to lawsuits over hues.
In what I consider something of an unfair attack on farmed salmon – which I eat without hesitation and enjoy immensely – the farmed product’s color was taken to task after it was reveled that hand-fed salmon were getting a color boost via man-made additives meant to simulate natural coloration of foodstuff that lead to the flesh coloring of wild salmon. The deep pinkish orange hue of wild salmon comes about from the shrimp they eat.
Unfortunately, thing get a lot more serious when you look at the European read on salmon coloring. A recent article in www.guardian.co.uk reads, “ … Concerned that the chemical being fed to farmed salmon to give them their bright hue may also be harming people's eyesight, the maximum amount of artificial colouring allowed in the fish by the EU is to be slashed by a factor of three.
" ‘Brighter eyesight or brighter salmon?’ was how the European commission described the stark choice yesterday.
“The pigment at the centre of the scare, canthaxanthin, is also fed to chickens to give their skin and eggs a brighter yellow complexion; the maximum authorized levels for poultry will also be cut.”
While that might be a tad over reactionary – as I squint to read the fine print on the computer screen – back here in The States” it has been decided that consumers should be told that the saucy salmon color in farmed salmon is enhanced by mankind. That notification could be placed on package labels or via placards next to display case fish. However, that battle is still swimming around in the courts.

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Comment by ronk654 on February 27, 2008 at 3:23pm
I really get crabby thinking about how a lifetime ago we would rent a rowbost from Chapman's father or grandfather up on the Manasquan and think we were having a bad day if we went home with a half bushel of crabs.
Last year I had the great joy of taking out one of my customers and his young son on my boat to catch some crabs in the bay. His father tells me that his son is still talking about it. Nice. Just imagine if it was a half bushel instead of the measley six crabs.
I know that the stripers in the bay are chowing down on the tiny crabs but I think that maybe the 2000 or so commercial traps might have a little bit more to do with it.
Like Rodney King once said, why can't we all get along. Lets declare a moratorium on all she crabs for just one season and see what happens.If we don't, both recreational AND commercial, the end of crabbing may be near.
Comment by ronk654 on February 27, 2008 at 4:32pm
I really get crabby thinking about how a lifetime ago we would rent a rowbost from Chapman's father or grandfather up on the Manasquan and think we were having a bad day if we went home with a half bushel of crabs.
Last year I had the great joy of taking out one of my customers and his young son on my boat to catch some crabs in the bay. His father tells me that his son is still talking about it. Nice. Just imagine if it was a half bushel instead of the measley six crabs.
I know that the stripers in the bay are chowing down on the tiny crabs but I think that maybe the 2000 or so commercial traps might have a little bit more to do with it.
Like Rodney King once said, why can't we all get along. Lets declare a moratorium on all she crabs for just one season and see what happens.If we don't, both recreational AND commercial, the end of crabbing may be near.

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