SIPHON CLEANING THE BAY: Imagine having a canary in a coalmine that not only indicates the presence of invading toxins but then essentially sucks them up?
Well, it’s not that long a stretch to label good old mussels as just such indicators and eradicators, wrapped in a fairly fragile shell.
Such is appropriate world-class praise for a marine creature that seldom gets a second look from most of us. In fact, mussels might be labeled as overly obvious, particularly when packed onto Island groins or bayside pilings. They’re mere presence is so ingrained that even an ardent beachcomber seldom goes to the trouble of noting them.
Mussels have seemingly flown well beneath the ecological radar.
Now, science is rapidly recognizing that these understated creatures are habitat clean-up specialists, second to none. Mussels are more than willing to literally siphon off any and all filth placed in water by a seemingly forever-indifferent mankind.
The scope of mussels’ water-cleaning capacities is fully stunning – and quite possibly an unique solution to rampant water pollution, in both fresh and salt waters.
Ironically, it is a mussel species gone bad that has opened the eyes of researchers.
The zebra mussel, native to southeast Russia, is making its invasive way around the globe, bull rushing native mussel species wherever it goes.
In 1988, zebra mussels first made their ways into Great Lake waters near Detroit (which is between Lake Huron and Lake Erie), arriving either as larvae in ship ballast or as juvenile mussels on the anchor chains of oceangoing vessels. The foreign mussels found the Great Lakes (and the U.S. in general) an incredible hangout.
To introduce themselves to the local habitat, the zebra mussels demonstrated why they rank as one of the most reproductive organisms in the world. They popped out progeny in all directions. A single adult female zebra mussel is capable of producing between 30,000 and 40,000 eggs per year. Mussel mats can be comprised of hundreds of thousands of individual mussels. Making matters worth, very few North American creatures have zebra mussels on their “Must Eat” list.
Once Americanized, the zebra mussels went ballistic, numerically speaking. This population explosion sent environmentalists into a panic. Not only were the invaders extirpating the indigenous mussel species, they were also devastating the piping and infrastructure systems associated with cities along the Great Lakes – not to mention the industries that plied the waters, especially the shipping and boating realms. The mussels easily outpaced the most aggressive barnacles when it came to fouling equipment.
But it wasn’t only the mussel’s population output that created a buzz among scientists. It was also their intake.
Great Lakes fishermen first noticed an intriguing affiliation between the invasive mussels and what was akin to an overnight clarification of the waters in the Great Lakes. Waters that had been turbid for a hundred years were clearing. The anglers swore it was the mussels.
Scientists initially panned the anecdotal notion that mere mussels, regardless of their numbers, somehow cleaned up huge badly polluted lakes. The fishermen stuck to the guns – and rods. So the scientists took to the test tubes, wanting to see things for themselves. What they soon saw made it crystal clear: the mussels were, in fact, veritable filtering machines.
I got into the zebra mussel issue years back. After reading about a potential eco-catastrophe from the invasive bivalves, I called an egghead biologist I knew up in New York. He was just getting involved with studying the mussels. And he was already stunned, when I called. Only a few weeks earlier, he had begun a research project by taking a “small ball” of 50 mussels and placing them in a 200-gallon tank of brackish water that had been purposely allowed to go “bad.” He recalled the water was so foul and algae infested that it stunk. He even worried the mussels might die of shock when placed in the tank.
Placing the mussels in the tank on a Monday evening, he prepared a 10-day chart to note any progress the mussels made in clarifying the water. “The next morning, I turned on the light (to the lab) and began screaming, ‘Who was messing with this tank!’ ” he recalled.
The water in the tank was absolutely crystal clear.
He quickly realized it was the mussels’ anti-messing within the tank that made the water acrylic clear. The bivalves demonstrated a siphoning capacity beyond anything he had imagined.
A technical find: A one–ounce mussel can filter 2 gallons of water an hour. Those 50 mussels needed only 2 hours to filter the filthy tank clean. So much for the 10-day chart.
While this story of de-pollution would seem a match made in environmental heaven, the long-term deleterious affects of the zebra mussel invasion are also coming to light. They’re truly bad news. But the news about mussels isn’t. They’re astounding as pollution eaters and, just as importantly, data collectors.
The Mussel Watch Program, the longest continuous contaminant-monitoring program in U.S. coastal waters, has long known that. Per that program’s website, “The project analyzes chemical and biological contaminant trends in sediment and bivalve tissue collected at over 280 coastal sites from 1986 to present.”
That group focuses in on what the mussels have already sucked in. The thinking is logical: The suspended particles (called particulates) sucked in from the water must be held inside the bivalve, at least for a while. Dissecting mussels and testing what has been siphoned in can offer a very accurate read of what’s in the water, i.e. good, bad and God-awful.
Interestingly, the mussels seem to know which sucked in items are nutritionally tempting and which are just plain bad to the core. A mussel expels its organic intake as good old feces. The obnoxious, usually inorganic stuff is encased in a mucous material and is separately expelled. This is known as psuedofeces. Hey, what else would you call it?
Get this: After Hurricane Katrina, the most expeditious way to test water for dangerous contaminants – to allay the fears of an already stunned and suspect citizenry -- was to bring in the mussels. Yep, they were shipped in, placed in vital water supplies and virtually overnight scientists were able essentially sample the water with the help of swift-siphoning mussels. There should be some sort of memorial to the mussels that gave their lives for that cause.
With all this in mind, I just know there must be a way to use utilize massive quantities of mussels to clean up our rapidly filth-ifying bays -- clean ‘em crystal clear. It sounds far-fetched at first but you have to remember that you can fit thousands of Barnegat Bays in the smallest Great Lake, where mussels (albeit invasive mussels) sucked the water into lucidity – down to hundreds of feet below the surface.
At the same time, clams are not that far from mussels when it comes to natural filtering devices. The horrific decline in our local clam stocks – a destruction of which I participated in as a clammer – might well be a hugely contributory factor in the sudden over nutrification/nitrification of the bay. As we speak, groups Like ReClam Barnegat Bay are trying like all get-out to bring the clams back. I’m wondering if the initiative of this group could lead to bringing in more indigenous mussels, possibly even devising a huge multi-tiered contraptions that could be loaded with hungry mussels and placed strategically around the bay by helicopter.
Hey, they laughed when Columbus said, “Did you hear the one about …”
HOTDOGGING HAWK: I have to share a nature incident that took place Tuesday morning just outside my side-door, Ship Bottom. It was a bird happening that is likely totally new to the phonebook-thick annals of bird watching lore.
As I’ve oft mentioned in here, I have a long-term feeding relationship going with a herring gull named Henrietta. She first came calling almost a decade ago and has since become a veritable a.m. (and often p.m.) fixture, hanging out on the edge of my neighbor’s roof, awaiting a meal.
While I’m not a huge fan of herring gulls, Henrietta and I bonded that first winter when she could be found on the roof edge in even the most hideous conditions. Ice, deep snow, howling nor-easter gales, she was there – often looking truly pathetic.
Now, early a.m., Henrietta assumes her privacy-invading position on the edge of the nearby roof. I say privacy-invading because each morning, as I go into the bathroom for my a.m. relief, I get this primordial sense of being watched -- my commode being right next to the window. That would be Henrietta, staring in the window with that bird vision capable of spotting a single Cheerio at over a football field distance away.
“Do you mind!”
Henrietta is a hotdogger. No, she doesn’t do aerobatic stunts and maneuvers; she’s way too much a lard-ass for that. She simply loves hotdogs -- to the exclusion of normal gull fare, like bread, or even the occasional mullet or baby bunker I’ll throw out there.
My daily offering to her is one dog, hold the bun, mustard and catsup.
To feed my ersatz pet, I open the kitchen side-door and flip the elongated meat onto the neighbor’s driveway. That girl’s off and roof and on that dog almost instantly, all but inhaling it -- though she then quickly assumes this very apparent air of indignation over the fact that I’ve made her stoop to groveling at ground-level for a meal. (Hey, her and I have been together for 10 years. I know her real well.)
Anyway, Tuesday morning’s feeding quickly turned disconcertingly bizarre. I first noticed Henrietta was atop the chimney of the neighboring roof and not at her usual eave’s edge post. Whatever. I went to fridge and grabbed the last dog in the package, opened the side door and chucked it out onto the driveway.
No response. Henrietta didn’t move an inch.
I stood there stunned –and concerned. I instantly thought about calling the vet – as if Henrietta would jump into my pickup and take the drive over to Stafford to be checked out. That’s when I caught sight of a blur coming out of the sky from the north.
In a proverbial flash, this large tan-colored hawk came swooping in. With talons pitched out to where they were actually leading the raptor, it grabbed up that hotdog as if it was a tasty rabbit or a delicious little kitty.
The entire sharp-shinned snatch took no more than a few seconds, being more of an after image left in my blurry just-up mind. I did immediately process the hawk’s speed, which was downright fearsome.
The entire event was also profoundly odd, on a couple fronts. First, how the hell did that raptor even know about hotdogs as foodstuff? Even odder, how did that particular hawk know there was a hotdog handout near the Mann household?
I was hoping for a repeat performance but was out of hotdogs. What’s more, Henrietta was back to the roof’s edge. All was now right in the side-door world. As for the world of hawks, things seemed to be changing a bit.
MANN WAY OVERBOARD: Does it strike anyone as ironically remarkable that a single afternoon blow like we had on Monday carried with it enough wind energy to supply all of Southern Ocean County with electricity for days on end -- and that another wind session would likely arrive before we used up the free energy allotment from the recent storm?
Along similar lines of wonderment, is it just me noticing that the perverted price of fuel is about to rape all of us blind -- yet we’re barely moving toward utilizing the limitless natural energy that we actually have the technology to tap?
Is anyone even remotely apprehensive about that the concept of essentially fighting for oil in the Middle East until a national shortage of young people becomes as devastating as the shortage of oil?
Here we’re the most technologically advanced nation in the world and we sit dumbfoundedly, on our passive asses, watching a blazing sun or whipping winds fill the skies without aiming so much as a whimper toward our government to move their frickin’ asses and start grabbing that God-given source of life-giving energy?
Oh, hell, maybe it’s just me. Besides, when gas tops $10 a gallon, I’ll just sit at home more and catch up on reading, letting the wind waft through the window – listening to to soft slush of my cholesterol surging.
Speaking of which …
I want to note that I, along with a slew of fellow anglers and funky-blooded Baby Boomers, have been coaxed into the cult of Lipitor takers. My doctor signed me up.
You likely know that Lipitor is this minuscule pill that if taken daily just might lower your cholesterol to the point you may be invited to do a commercial where you’ll look really young and active – right before the over-exertion causes your liver to burst into flames.
I bring up my Lipitorization to note that I will also be changing my diet, due entirely to the fact my Lipitor prescription will be costing me $320 so I can only afford half-eaten lettuce leaves purchased on eBay.
Looking at the small $300 handful of puny white pills that constitute a script’s worth of this drug, I all but flash back to those famed cocaine years of the Seventies and Eighties, when the idiotically indulgent use of coke was perfectly portrayed by comical genius Robin Williams when he said (without cracking a smile, it should be noted), “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you have too much money.”
Well, those sleepless and disco-driven misadventurous nights of yore might be gone but recollections still linger of the insanity of otherwise sane people paying $100 for a mere gram’s worth of drug. One of the rallying cries to stop the madness was the way drug cartels in Columbia were getting so rich that they could afford to buy entire nations, as evidenced by Columbia itself. That in mind, I did some computing on the Lipitor, loosing an incredulous chuckle when I realized the stuff costs somewhere in the vein of $150 a gram! Is God trying to tell me something, Mork?
Oh, well. Times change. Inflation and all. And surely we have no cartels in America to blame – much less cartels that can buy an entire nation. Whew, that’s relief, eh?
Oh, one final Lipitor-induced vision on my part. I’m thinking back on those punks that years back were stealing $100 Air Jordan sneakers right of the feet of schoolyards kids. Well, some of those punks are now hitting 40-something and surely achieving high-flying cholesterol counts. You know America is graying when the thieves are out there strong-arming folks for their Lipitor. And can street-grade Lipitor from Columbia be far behind? Hell, I’ll be among those bolting into the city for a better deal.
“Yo, Brother, you know where I can score 30 tabs of Columbian Lip?”
“You ain’t a cop are ya?”
“No, way. Here, check out my latest blood tests from Doctor Picarro.”
“Whoa, you’re flyin’ high. Pull behind that abandoned building over the there and look for an old guy with a big belly. Tell him Jerome sent ya.”
RUNDOWN: Junk weather left a mark on a weekend when many anglers were hoping to make their own marks – on bass and bluefish.
Prior to the blow, bluefish were the talk of the walk – whether you were walking the beach, the banks (Graveling and even up river a ways) or on-water. The inlet and bay bluefish were blasting noisy surface plugs, especially those with some metal shot (bearings) inside, making a rattle racket. The beach blues were very bait oriented, though a few guys talked of good action on plastics jigged toward bottom. Inlet boats were also finding the plastics the surest way to check on the presence of blues.
It’s kinda amazing the compatibility of bluefish and anglers during the early season. An email I had read, “Blues can be as much fun as any fish we got …”
Unfortunately, the junk weather scattered the blues – and the fishermen. Still, charter captains I talked with are thinking it could be another nonstop hyper-outstanding bluefish summer – beginning to end, as was case last year when cocktails blues were caught by the slewload, daily. .
The stripering remains all over the place, which is often a way of saying it ain’t that good, per se. .Some night locales (near Holgate and also mid-Island bayside) are having torrid bouts with schoolie and keepable bass. Then there are surfcasters across the way who can’t buy a bass touch. Live-lining remains the surest way to seek stripers, however, small plugs are beginning to show their stuff, especially just inside Barnegat Inlet (think Dike and west). I’ve been doing some ineffective troll fishing– troll, as in haunting night sites below the bridges.
Weakfishing is super sketchy, on whole. I had a wild report from a sharpie who is usually very right-on. Though he wasn’t catching any tiderunners, he was into what might be called “medium” spawners, pushing 4 to 6 pounds. He is a fanatic catch-and-releaser so no weaks were harmed in making his commercials. Please release fat spawning weaks. They’ll be moving back out – a tad thinner – so you can nab them for the platter then.
I have had a slew of folks picking up black drumfish from beach, inlet and bay sites. At first it seemed we were into a usual decent drum run but now a few very knowledgeable black drum sharpies say that bite is showing in number and coverage way above the norm – if there really is such a thing as “norm” since this is an underutilized fishery.
I was asked whether black drum filets can be frozen. I went into the spiel about the low edibility of larger drum. Having no idea about the cryogenic capacities of black drum, I noted that drumfish as a family of fish is all over the board when it comes to what might be called “storability.” Weakfish are not great freeze material. Red drum are generally poor. Kingfish freeze up very well. Croaker are so-so. I added to that the fact that most fish – even those that don’t freeze well – make very good fish cakes or fish stews.
The fluke continue to move in at what might well be portrayed at a torrid clip. This comes from not only anglers catching them in a secondary manner but also from pros who know their stuff when it comes to what fish are moving in and what pace.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the angling pressure on winter flounder this year has been as so light as to be downright bizarre.
Fished the bay Saturday morning(don't want to say where), clamming for stripers. We kept getting small rapid taps and having our bait cleaned with no hookups. Very unstriperlike. Out of curiosity, we baited a small hook with a bit of clam and, lo and behold, came up with a fat 5lb. taug. No structure, wreck, or rocks - just open water. We were near some mussel beds, however. Caught one more and missed quite a few. What's with that? I always thought taug were "hidey hole" structure seeking creatures. Any comments?”
Great observation on that tog hookup, i.e. “Just in open water.”
What you nabbed was one of the famed "in transit" blackies moving into the bay -- stuck between structures, so to speak.
Folks don't realize how many blackfish are involved in the spawn spectacle each spring. By way of numbers let’s just say “All of them.”
I am a huge blackfish fan but even I balk at nabbing these very slow-growing structure-fish before they’ve spawned out.
Yes, protecting the spawn is why the season is all but shut down this time of year. However, as I’ve oft noted, the decline in blackfish is due in large part to a ferocious sniper/poacher element combined with a precipitous decline in the environmental quality of the Barnegat Bay.
Although tog are pure bulldogs -- quite possibly our hardest nosed fish, bar none -- they suffer horribly when water quality goes south. The pollution devastates the success rate of spawn -- and one or two bad spawns are all it takes to cripple the stocks.
As for those nibblers that were bugging you, folks are discovering the short-hitters include kingfish, blowfish (very early), winter flounder (which will attack a wider variety of baits than many anglers realize), bergalls (also in a spawn mode) and even tiny black seabass. I’ve noticed a few folks also nabbing larger American eels, which mean the smaller ones will be tugging on baits