Seabass Beckoned Back – To the Frying Pan
RETURNING TO THE MOTHER SHIP: For my bizarre-o tale of the week, I once again turn to those goofballs that go by the title of scientists.
You have to hear this.
Data-collecting scientists up at Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts, have acquired a juicy $270,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to test what’ll happen if you teach 5,000 hatchery-based black seabass to learn that old Pavlovian trick where you ring a bell every time a feeding takes place. The concept is called conditioned reflex, ask any grade-schooler.
To substantiate the need for over a quarter million dollars, the scientists will be nixing the “simple bell,” like Pavlov used, replacing it with a high-intensity computerized variable-oscillation device that issues a transmission that sounds just like, uh, a simple bell.
So, this new bell sound will hypothetically get the hatchery seabass salivating, even when no food is in play. Sure, it’s a tad tough determining if a fish is salivating or just having fun sucking in water to shoot through its nostrils, But, no one said science was effortless – or cheap.
The test’s initial goal: The scientists want the fish to be imprinted with the overwhelming desire to swim forth when the bell sound strikes them. “Good, boy!”
Here’s where it gets a lot cooler.
As you might know, if you routinely raise thousands of tilapia in your backyard or simply buy farm-raised fish products at the store, it’s getting hideously expensive to farm raise seafood. The marine products used to feed farm-raised fish are themselves running out.
Science consideration: What happens if we allow semi-farm raised fish (my expression – as if you couldn’t have guessed) to be retuned back into the ocean to mingle with Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom? Seems damned likely that the semi-farmed fish, officially called sound-trained hatchery fish, will fatten on nature’s free bounty. Sorta a for-free fattening process. And they won’t be mulling around in their own waste, as farmed fish now must.
The big what-if: How about calling back those sound-trained seabass after they’ve obtained a table-worthy plumpness? Might it be as simple as ringing that high-intensity computerized variable-oscillation devise that sounds like a simple bell?
That’s the $270,000- question.
(I’d like to have taken on that $270,000 question. Unfortunately, I’m guessing NOAA would want more than the answer I’d offer, namely, “Uh, maybe.”)
I think it’ll work. That guess is on the house. I’m just thinking of the ripple it’ll send through the bio-community on the ocean bottom.
Just imagine what will go through the minds of those experimental fish when the Woods Hole ship comes back, kinda like one of those spaced out movies where the Mother Ship returns for its spawn.
Scenario: As seabass schools are nonchalantly feeding down below, this sound trickles down from the surface of the water. Huge numbers of dining seabass suddenly stop in their tracks, eyes becoming fixed, seemingly staring outward to some nebulous mental focal point.
As the sound recurs, first one seabass, then another, and another, begin mumbling, “It is time. The sound has returned.”
By the thousands, fish begin to eerily, robotically, swim to the surface, humming snippets from Paul Simon’s song, “Homeward Bound.”
For me though, just imagine all those nearby naturally occurring non-Pavlovian seabass, looking left then right as thousands of fellow fish suddenly begin a mass upward migration.
I can picture those remaining fish watching, dumbfounded, as the final summoned seabass disappears out of sight.
“Now that’s gotta be the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen, Sam.”
“To be honest, it’s scarin’ the squid outta me, Louie. Makes me wish I was more of a church goin’ type.”
“I’ll tell you what, Sam, you go find religion, I’m getting’ the hell outta here.”
(Hey, just see Saving Nemo once and you’ll know I’m reporting these dialogues damn accurately.”)
Anyway, the study indicates that a return rate of only 50 percent will float a business enterprise.
I, on the other hand, can already here the screaming and gnashing of teeth as anglers atop some structure watch as a commercial fishing boat arrives, rings a bell and tons of fish begin to jump aboard.
TMI TAKES ITS TOLL: I’d like to get absurdly technical for a short stint -- but it’s highly gerund to our fishing realm, as you’ll see.
If you want to be a hit at a convention of biology geeks or alienate yourself from a group of anglers idly chatting in front of 7-11, commit to memory the term transmarginal inhibition.
If you have a tough time even vocalizing the term, it can be simplified. Since even geeks get tired of bandying about scientifically elitist words, they indubitably resort to initializing. In this case, transmarginal inhibition becomes TMI.
Yes, the letters TMI are now far more commonly known in computerese shorthand, standing for “too much information,” referring to chat folks who respond to a quickie question like “What do you do for a living?” with a three-hour treatise on the way their parents and friends ruined their lives.
Well, the TMI which I’m introducing here might also fall under that too much info category but I think many observant anglers have long wondered why certain fish are amazing survivors when caught -- frightening able to survive for hours out of water; scaring the bejeezus out of us when we go to fillet them only to have the diehard creatures spring back to life – while other species keel over and ghost-out shortly after being caught.
On the quick-die side of the stay-alive coin are the likes of spearing, bay anchovies and, to some degree, baby bunker. Face it, these are swimming heart attacks waiting to happen.
I’ve seen spearing die on principal alone. I’m serious. I’ve accidentally netted a spearing and even though the thing was not remotely injured and had only been out of the water a few second it nonetheless went into the dying method as if the ghost of Cecil B. DeMille was watching. Even as I picked that spearing up to throw it back in the water, it lay there with little “X”s in it eyes. I could all but hear the expiring forage fish thinking, “Well, this is it. The last round up. I’m dead as a doornail. It’s all over but the dyin’. I’ve reached last call. Gotta go. Been nice. Onward to that big bay bottom in the sky …” At the same time, I was thinking, “You’re an idiot. Here, you’re now safely back in the bay.” Even when gingerly placed in the water, it did a dead duck float -- until it came to the seemingly disturbing realization that it was just fine. Weirdly, some fully uninjured spearing never recover from even a few seconds of captivity. Academy Award winners.
Why such a range in survival capacity?
It was our old buddy Ivan Pavlov, the dog/bell guy, who noticed that creatures respond differently to pain, which he euphemistically referred to as “stimuli.” He began noting the point where overwhelming stimuli caused a veritable shutdown of mental and bodily capacities. That’s more or less the definition of TMI: the response of an organism to overwhelming stimuli.
In the human world, the TMI tolerances can be all over the board. One individual can experience mental and physical trauma and come out smelling like a rose while others push up daisies, unable to take the pressure. Interestingly, intense studies are currently being done by the military as it takes on post-traumatic stress disorder, which is 100 percent about TMI.
As for angling, transmarginal inhibition looms huge in the catch-and-release realm. It should be emphasized here that physical damage is a major component of TMI. Pavlov noticed early on that all stimuli – mental, physical and even genetic – effect the way organisms respond overall.
That genetic angle is what intrigues me.
It really seems that forage fish are born to die. I’m dead serious. Bunker, herring, the aforementioned small forage fish, all seem to go belly up in a heartbeat. It’s odd to think about it, but nature is apparently being kind in keeping TMI tolerances very low in creatures that don’t stand a chance against higher ups in the food chain. Forage fish seemingly reach that go-toward-the-light phase the minute things turn ugly.
The higher up one hangs in the food chain the greater the propensity to survive. Gamefish like tog refuse to kick the bucket even after lying for hours inside said bucket. A very odd TMI phenomena can be seen with bluefish. Tiny snapper blues, when foodstuff for other species, seem to go goner very quickly. When filled out to chopper dimensions –up there in the marine food chain – this species takes on some serious survivalness.
Sure, some scientists will attribute life endurance to the situation at hand – a beached bluefish under a summer sun will expire a lot faster than the same bluefish beached on a cool fall day (that’s one unlucky bluefish). However, that TMI thing is definitely the overriding reason we have to get certain fish quickly back into the water (weakfish are fairly wimpy) yet can take some serious time before releasing others (striped bass are survival bulldogs).
BARBIE, YOU BRUTE: I was recently giving casting lessons to my 5-year-old little buddy J.R. Sproule. I found the tiny kiddy rod-and-reel combos his mom had bought him were not half bad.
We had backyard fun casting the supplied rubber dummy plugs over the top of the house – and across electrical wires and every tree in sight.
It was J.R,’s Nana who suggested the rods probably couldn’t really catch a fish. I disagreed. While they were a long way from a Loomis rod coupled with a Van Staal reel, the combo’s mono was good and the drag was quite decent – the two things needed to land a better fish. That’s not too surprising since some of the prime makers of kiddy fishing kids are Zebco, Rapala and Shakespeare.
As I flung the attached rubber thingamajig over the roof and entangled who-knows-what out front, I emulated a huge hookup and vowed to take the likes of a Barbie rod into battle down in Holgate this year. I noted it on one of my blogs and got emailed a link to a fully astounding, all-time record fish taken on stock Barbie gear.
Just this year down Texas way, 4-year-old Phoebe Swann, daughter of a news photographer, hooked a 40-inch, 50-pound black drum on her tiny-model Barbie rod and reel. It went for a worm she was fishing off a backyard dock.
To her credit, Phoebe new she was in over her little blond head when 50 yards of line bled off her tiny reel. Her dad dutifully stepped in and duly impressed daughter dearest by displaying what had to be some significant fishing savvy, fighting and landing the drum after 30 minutes of plastic-straining give-and-take. Nice work, Pops.
Also to dad’s credit, he humbly disregarded the fact he was soon the center of angling attraction, as other folks in the vicinity moved in to get a closer look, as he frantically fished a dashing pink Barbie-logo rod and reel. “Nice reel, Big Guy.”
Pink or no, he got that 50-pounder in. After some fine photos, the big drum was released, fully unharmed – and undoubtedly a tad humiliated, since many of his drumfish buddies had watched the fight from the water, giggling their scaly butts off. They thereafter nicknamed him Ken.
SIMPLE MATH WITH A FATAL FLAW:
This week, a Japanese newspaper announced a business venture that will take small bluefin tuna and raise them into maximally lard-assed bluefin tuna -- just what the Nippon buyers want to the tune of paying hundreds of yen/dollars a pound to enjoy.
Raising tuna is nothing new to that seafoodish nation, which now has many preserves within their EEZ for farm-raising tuna. What makes this venture odd is the entry of a markedly meatier prime player.
Nippon Meat Packers Inc., a major Japanese meat processor, is joining up with a seafood-processing firm to “cultivate” bluefin tuna. The effort is an undisguised lead-in to the packing company fully immersing itself in the tuna fattening business.
This is the first “meat” company on the planet to take on fish fattening. It’s not that much of a stretch, when you think about it. Such a company would surely have insider insights into fattening up things, though, to start, Nippon Meat Packers will be focusing on the intricate processing aspect, when tuna is artistically crafted to maximize its look, feel and (most of all) its utilization. At hundreds of dollars a pound, clever crafting can be worth thousands of extra bucks per fish.
This tuna growing venture hopes to tack an astounding 75 to 100 pounds onto its penned bluefin tuna in just 18 to 30 months.
Now comes the math.
To fatten young tuna into gordo tuna, the company announced it would stuff the penned tuna with forage fish and fishmeal. That forage fish for tuna fat would seem, at first glance, to be an astronomically economical swap. Forage fish cost pennies per pound.
Enter the mathematical flaw.
Throughout the world, fish farms are going under because those seemingly dispensable forage fish are running out. Matters are made worse by fuel costs making forage fish harvesting untenable. Forage fish are not only valuable they’re ecologically worth their weight in gold. We are learning that the hard way even hereabouts with bunker.
The banging the last of the planet’s forage fish because it’s still economically feasible when producing a hundred-dollar-a-pound product is subsidizing the final phase of fishing out the ocean. I’d like to say boycott tuna – but even I’d ignore that. Instead, let’s just continue to go big guns to preserve forage fish around the planet.
RUN-DOWN: Well, we’re in the guts of summer and angling is dog dayed. Most species are slow or silent.
Striped bass are barely showing. Even resident stripers seem to be scarce. I’ve had small one of plugs or jigs near jetties, mid-Island.
Bluefishing is surprisingly iffy, far from last summer’s sizzling cocktail action.
Black seabass are doing their part but getting to them through weather and winds is a task. Ditto on tog, which are out there at a sure-fire one-a-day pace but also subject to weather allowances.
Spike weakfish are percolating here and there. Barnegat Bay has some and Grassy Channel seems on the brink of a bite but no place is lighting up with sparklers. Jigging is finding the better weaks. Grass shrimping action should kick in – also allowing the taking of of somewhat plentiful kingfish, many of which seem to just now be reaching the backbay. I’m not sure if that is a spawn move by the kingfish or not. Maybe someone who is catching them can drop me a line on whether those kingfish are ripe or not.
Now onto the fluke, which are out there in truly astronomical numbers. I know this is the umpteenth week I’ve written this but it’s the talk of the dock. You simply can’t miss when looking for fluke. I have people catching them all the way back in Manahawkin Bay. Inlet areas can offer a nonstop bite. The surfline is full of flatties, even away from the jetties. Nearshore waters have them out to 75 feet down.
I can offer no quick cure for the fact that a dozen or more flatties need to be sorted through to find a lone keeper. I will (also, for the umpteenth time) add that some folks just step in it when it comes to keeper finding at a ratio far better than mere mortals. I have studied what these successful anglers are doing and it is really no different than the rest of the pack. It’s cosmic, dude.
Here’s one report offering an upbeat keeper ratio: “I was out fishing in the bay on the in coming tide , using tube squid and local spearing combs. Managed 5 keepers to 18.5" out of 30 fish. Fish were soft biting, stealing your bait if you didn't keep it moving [jig it]. Two rods were hard to keep up with. Lost two possible keepers at the boat. The key was skinny skinny water. I had the place to myself – until some spotted my net action and tried to join in. Two boats [too big] needed to be pulled back to deeper waters. It maybe due to traffic in the main channels keeping fish in the flats, thanks too gas prices it seems everyone's fishing the bay. A word of caution if you use O.C. channel ,it a no wake zone when passing the dredging zone, Buoy 30-40. Police are targeting this spot.”
Important point about that Oyster Creek dredging: It’s “No Wake” and obviously enforced.
WHIT SURE TO BE A HIT: The White Marlin Invitational Tournament (WMIT) begins this Wednesday evening with the captains’ meeting. It takes to the open sea Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Entrants get to choose two of the three days to fish.
The offshore science behind that choice of days can be way up there in techno-land. Many captains spend days, even weeks, prior to an WMIT event to intensely study complex offshore surface water temperature charts, anticipating the potential development or continuation of so-called warm-core eddies and the impact or arrival of cold-core eddies. There are some captains on-line with every climatic service out there, trying to garner some insights into offshore currents, related to the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current.
By the same token, some top offshoresmen give the weather maps a glance just prior to the event and take on the tourney equipped with hunches – and a whole lotta know-how.
It seems to be looking fairly decent, weather-wise, for this week’s WMIT.
A small cold front will pass right before the event, followed by yet another bout of heavy heat.
That forecast heat session is not the best thing for the tourney if land-an-sea breezes take over the way they have all too often this summer, leading to fierce nearshore winds. While those hard-to-predict winds aren’t usually rippin’ at the onset of an offshore fishing trip, since most boats head out in the middle of the night when winds are tame, the SE-erlies can surely muck things up during the “inside” portion, as boats return home in the afternoon.
By the by, weather in the canyons – where all the contestants are bound -- is beyond the land/sea breeze impact zone. It looks like it should be ideal out there, with (hopefully) enough wind for a bit of a surface stir.
I’ll be writing up the daily going on with the WMIT so check out http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/ .