Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Late ID: This is a mink (and family) in BL rocks. BYPASSING BASS FOR GAS: One of the world’s largest producers of sterile stripers has given up raising hybrid bass – and has turned to raising subaquatic grass. Bass for grass, as it were. . Looking kinda gray at the gills, Kent SeaTech of San Diego saw the writing on the aquacultural wall: You can’t make no stinkin’ money farm-raising stripers. The reasons were glowing in red ink: The cost of fish feed is now nearly as costly as the final fish product. Plus, there’s the need for high-cost, often overnight, specialized shipping. Then, along comes farm-raised everything from China, Vietnam, East Jebip. Just when SeaTech’s business seemed fully submerged, algae began rising from the water like a high-octane savoir, scaring the crap out of everyone from mid-management downward. The near belly-up company got word there’s a mint to be made in algae agriculture, technically aquiculture. Adopting the name Kent BioEnergy, it transferred its in-water bass growing expertise into mass-producing lots of green, uh, crud. 'We are still in the aquaculture business,' said Jim Carlberg, vice president of operations at Kent BioEnergy. 'We are just now growing algae instead of fish.' It all stems from this tiny need we have for something called fuel. We use the stuff like there’s no tomorrow, maybe in quiet hopes that we will soon tame the plasma power of dilithium crystals, like the Star Ship Enterprise. Per Kent BioEnergy literature, the company is focused on producing competitively priced renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels. It get a tad more esoteric when the company touts that Kent BioEnergy has “advanced, proprietary, and industrially-relevant solutions for each of the critical technical and economic obstacles known to remain in the development of commercial-scale production of liquid fuels from algae.” No, s***. That sure is a mouthful considering they’re talking about primitive single-cell organisms. But there are many other mouthfuls simultaneously voicing the potential of algae as a non combative means to save us from our petroleum guzzling selves. Over a dozen major American companies are in hot pursuit of the algal gravy train. The world is also on the same track. In fact, one New Zealand company, Aquaflow Binomics, is hyping an organic algal biofuel “from wild algae harvested from open-air environments.” Hippy-mobile owners have to be ecstatic. What’s more, all this high-powered algae-power talk isn’t some far-off algae in the sky dream. A Washington State-based company called Solena is talking with a Kansas power firm Sunflower to build a 40-megawatt power plant run on gasified algae. Surely, something as simple as algae can’t cure something as complex as world-wide energy needs, right? It can – and don’t call me Surely. I need to do one of those hand-on-the-shoulder listen-very-carefully type explanations to all y’all. Get this: The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require 15,000 square miles of aquacultural area. Sounds insanely large, right? Nope. Not only is that only a few thousand square miles larger than Maryland but that is merely 1/7th of the area used to grow corn in the United States in 2000. So, should we all run out and start hording all the algae we can get our hands on, including sea lettuce and eel grass? Uh, sure, why not. SAND COLLARS OF HARDENED SLIME: I got three emails about some off roundish, sandyish, hole-in-the-middle things washing up pretty much along the entire length of the LBI beachfront. I like the way Gail K. described them as “remnants of what appear to be bagel shaped and sized brown/gray rings of egg bearing capsules/pouches/cases. (Gotta love a fellow slash user, as I was/am/will be. Jim G. sent in a few photos of the UBOs, unidentified beached objects. The mystery items are colloquially called sand collars. Technically, they’re dried out moon snail egg sacs. And, admittedly, mighty weird-looking. The sacs are comprised of snail mucous, sand with just a pinch of oregano. The popular name comes from the sac’s resemblance to old-fashioned removable collars worn under shirts. I guess that was before someone invented T-shirts. Moon snails themselves are indigenous shelled invertebrates noted for their ability to envelope bivalve prey within a gooshy meaty embrace and pry even the tightest shells apart. Although the moon snail is a vital part of the local ecology, it is glared upon by baymen since the species dines almost exclusively upon various clams. However, bitter irony alert, the entire population of moon snails can’t eat in an entire year what commercial clammers catch on just one summer’s day. Alarmingly, the potentially catastrophic reduction in clams, both ocean and bay, will surely threaten any long-term return of snails. It’s not easy being a slimy marine creature. As for the sudden showing of so many sand collars? I think the source of this showing might date back to those yestermonths of heavy stormage, spring and early summer. Such a beached sand collar collection is likely not a great thing, species-wise. Logic would dictate that it is best for the snails’ egg sacs to remain in the water to fulfill their offspring dispersion mission. Of course, it’s impossible to tell if the stranded egg sacs were exhausted, already void of viable embryos. The dried up egg sacs aren’t the only odds-and-ends angle to moon snails. The snails’ shells are popular pickups for beachcombers. A lot rarer – and a top-shelf find for collectors – is the amber-colored ear-shaped operculum that a living moon snail uses to (somewhat) seal itself off from predators. Since opercula are thin and light – kinda plastic feelings – they are most commonly found in wrack lines and not among shell pieces. Note: A wrack line is the point where waves deposit floatables and other lighter objects on the beach. Unfortunately, in this day and age, those wash-up lines are monopolized by human junk that has been driven ashore, commonly during storms. However, I’ve never been squeamish about walking ratty wracklines to seek out less-trashy items, including opercula and drift seeds. (I’ll be writing on drift seeds in an upcoming column.) Human usages of moon snails are pretty much limited to ethnic hankerings. During my youngest years as a clammer, a bunch of us impending baymen would collect any and all moon snails for an older (but beyond-energetic) Italian lady. She gastronomically highlighted the snails in some mighty mean old-world pasta sauce, coupling the snails with scungilli, whelk, that we also routinely grabbed for her. To this day, I vividly remember the way she would, now and again, all but corral us clammer kids and sit us down for a meal at an outside table, below a large willow tree in her backyard. Muddy and gnarly from a day of clamming, we’d be less than festive over the prospect of downing snails and whelk. We’d sit there sniggering as she rushed in and out of the slamming backdoor to her kitchen, loading the table with enough food for the entire clamming fleet of Jersey shore. Things were made a lot more kid-tolerable when she poured each of us a small glass of red wine. Also, arriving loaves of steaming fresh garlic bread and these tasty but weird looking squishy cheese balls allowed us to fill up with appetizers -- as a strategy to minimize the intake of bizarre forms of marinara-ed marine life to come. Tapping into a beyond-my-years personal epicureanism, I fully realized her pasta and snail/scungilli sauce were nothing less than epically good. Of course, my immature buddies acted as if they couldn’t even put the food to their mouths, instead leaning over their plates and giggling sideways at each other while picking out snail meat and dropping it to old gal’s two mutts, which hung out under the table. I still run into those guys now and again. They’re all obese. At one point or other they must have greatly expanded the parameters of what they’d eat. To this day, I wish like anything I had allowed old Mrs. M to teach me the tricks to cleaning snails and whelks, which, by the way, ain’t an easy chore. For more data and photos on moon snails, Google the words “sandy hook moon snails,” click on the first listing. YOU OTTER SEE THIS: Email: “We have been coming to LBI for summer vacation for several years and on our usual trip up to the lighthouse last Thursday, I came across these curious little animals. We thought they were ferrets or weasels, but they could even be minks. We were wondering if anyone else has ever reported seeing them. We watched them for several minutes as they traversed through the rocks of the jetty. Then one scored a fish head and they both scurried under the rocks. Vanesssa S.” When I first got your emails, I assumed the weasely beasts were river otters. I forwarded the pics to our photo department w/o a glance. After later reviewing the photos -- and getting some outside input -- they turn out to be mink. They are indeed a rarity. And a sight to behold. I'll be checking out that area for a gander of that far-out family of mammals. I have never seen any on LBI. What we do have is a slew of otters. Since I worte up a segment on theese larger relatives of mink, I'll add that in here. Unbeknownst to most visitors -- and many longtime locals -- the bayside areas of LBI have a goodly number of these genetically high-strung, chronically curious and sometimes downright antagonistic mammals. In fact, by my anecdotal count, we got otters out the kazoo – to the chagrin of many bayside human residents who contend with these buggers getting into crab traps, minnow pens, herring pens and even freshly planted gardens. The garden thing is odd since otters are strictly seafood eaters. I’m wondering if otters go garden when fish products are used as fertilizer, very common at the shore. Ship Bottom Mayor Bill Hulsenbeck and I have oft chatted about the otters that have plagued his bayside bait pens. As fast as the mayor tries some new locking device, the otters ingeniously find a way to get at the penned baitfish. His neighbors suffer at the paws of those same resident otters. The mayor, famed for his hunting forays around the world, didn’t suggest going aggressive on the otters, but he’s open to ways of humanely fending them off. A couple years back, I wrote about night kayaking fishing beneath the Hochstrasser bridge (last Causeway Bridge onto LBI) when an irate male otter came within a couple feet of my anchored up vessel and intentionally splashed me, repeatedly, by somehow throwing his body sideways in my direction. I eventually was forced to pull anchor after getting dose after dose of ice-cold water in the face. Sure, I yelled at the little beast. And he yelled back (gospel truth). I also wrote about a passerby atop the bridge looking down and seeing a man in a kayak angrily arguing with an otter. He had just come from the then-Quarterdeck bar. He swore he was going on the wagon after that. I had just noted in here last week that otters tend to be sun shy. And they are. However, this is the time of the year -- when the demands of a new brood necessitate day and night forays for fish – you’ll get some glimpses of them. Still very rare to see by day. Otters are yet another denizen of the Island’s sewer system, along with wharf rats, opossum and, to a lesser degree, raccoons. Sure, it sounds kinda icky down there but not really. When the underground sewers go dry, they’re actually pretty clean, flushed by previous storms. Hell, at the height of summer I often crawl way up into a cool outflow pipe, ball up and wait for the crowds to leave. Bio-note: Studies are showing that otters may be particularly sensitive to the toxins and heavy metals in forage fish. There is a significant decline in the overall population of the mammal. Obviously, loss of habitat is another biggy in that drop off in the otter numbers. Again, the otter population on LBI seems very large and healthy. The prime (un)natural otter predator is the feral cats, of which the Island has a huge population. The cats go after the otter pups. Otters also display one of the oddest perpetuation propensities imaginable. Females produce brood sizes seemingly based on overall populations. Distressed populations and they have larger broods; plentiful numbers and the progeny count drops off drastically. White tailed deer also display this fascinating trait. How nature passes on census info is cosmically mysterious. Humans do not display anything remotely similar to this instinctive count-control mechanism. So, you wanna run out and watch frolicking otters? Not so fast. I’ll reference a line I read in a federal study on otters: “Otter are everywhere until one starts looking for them.” One major otter studies indicated that 98 percent of research time was spent simply searching for otters. Hey, they should have just followed me into that outflow pipe. There’s a ton of them in there playing Texas Hold ‘Em with me. Bets chance of seeing one: Around the Hochstrasser bridge at night. Binoculars with low-light capacity (they don’t have to be night scope) help the otter-watching cause. JUST SAVE THE FRICKIN’ BEACHES, PLEASE: I recently suffered through more moronic news stories spurred by clueless-ites trying to abandon efforts to replenish Jersey’s beaches. I won’t go into a full-blown rant on exactly how stupid it would be to quit saving our sands. I only have to note that the coastal industry – and it is fully an industry -- keeps more people working than any other form of commerce in the entire state. As for total employment -- and money distribution at the grassroots level -- it easily exceeds the state’s famed pharmaceutical mega-corporations. For decades on end, the money gleaned from the coastal economy (from sales tax to property tax) has floated the ship of state. Economically stated: Lose the beaches and the state goes instantly and irreversibly bankrupt – a bankruptcy so catastrophic it is nearly unfathomable. If that beach-based money washes away, erodes as it were, every household in the state – even those farthest from the Shore, would see taxes quadruple then quadruple again. We’re a tiny state so it’s not like we can go out and find some other form of massive-dollar commerce to replace that lost with a vanished shoreline. As to the allegations that beach replenishment only serves millionaires, numerous polls indicate that over 80 percent of all the state’s residents have enjoyed the beaches. All millionaires? I want to offer you a Global Warming angle you likely haven’t heard: I fully question all this rising sea prattle. I’m not even remotely questioning green house gases and melting ice caps, That’s a happening ting. But nature is never as simple as mankind would fancy. Thanks to the wondrous World Wide Web, I have monitored the gauges and water level gadgets on U.S. docks, bridges and waterways. We’re fully into a decades worth of global warming and I see absolutely no signs of rising seas. In fact, some West Coast waterfront gauges are showing drops in sea level. Again, this is not denying that kick-ass ocean rises aren’t mustering just beyond the horizon, but why they haven’t begun is a big bit baffling. Since no one was keeping very good water height records during the meltdown after the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago), it’s hard to say if dissolving ice caps always translates into an equal and opposite sea rise. Right about now, it’s absurd, both socially and scientifically, to abandon efforts to sure up our beachfront. We can safely -- and advisedly -- fix the beaches for the present. It is simply good business – and social consciousness – to maintain one of Jersey’s most beloved tourist attractions – and beloved income sources. Even if Jersey’s beaches survive for only another decade, that’s billions of dollars worth of income – and survival for the entire state. RUN-DOWN: Reef and structure fishing remains hugely popular this year, likely due to the angler frustration with too-small fluke taking such a chunk of a day’s effort. The average daily seabass count is definitely showing the fishing pressure. Latecomers to a worked over piece of structure swear the seabassing is way off – and it is, by that point. Tog are thick as bricks out there. Culling out to keep the larger blackfish is common. Yes, there are still some spawn-ready females, even this late into summer. Please release accordingly. Technically, the one-a-day tog regulation means a single angler can keep a single fish of legal size. However, that regulation usually translates into a fish per every person on a vessel, including three-year-old sleeping below board. Whatever. Bassing just isn’t there. Even residential fish seem to be in some other neighborhood. Per usual, a few early-day anglers are getting a single fish here and there. Small jigs are kinda fun. Late-day has higher tides this weekend so there could be some arriving over-the-bar stripers showing toward dark. Fluke fishing in and on reefs is picking up. Though some folks claim that you need to fish right atop the reefs to find flatties, there also seems to be something of a halo of life around reefs, out as far as 50 yards or more, where fluke abound. Years back, Bill Figley confirmed this, based on underwater studies he conducted while building reefs. On a whole, this persistent hot weather and sun have driven the larger fluke out of the bay. The oxygen demands of larger fluke is very high, thus the need for cooler ocean waters. However, nature offers a high-sustenance niche for smaller fluke, which can easily tolerate the warmer bay waters, especially those that get flushed daily by incoming tides. I’ve gotten a load of reports on how fat the fluke are this year, even the throwbacks. Always a good sign. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see a huge relaxation of fluke laws by next year. If not, fishery management has lost all tough with ecosystem management and is instead trying to over nurse a single species at the expense of other species. I had two emails about way above average fluke fishing in the surf. I’ll say this, surfcasters seem a lot less critical of undersized fish than boaters. The folks I’ve talked with, along with the emails, all hype how much fun it is to catch even undersized flatties. In fact, not one report mentioned any keepers, though one north end caster said he had a dozen fluke, the most he had ever taken in the suds. Related email: “Jay, I’m kinda pissed. I had the family out for three fluking trips (bay) and everyone caught as many fluke as we’ve ever seen but the stupid regulations won’t let us take one…. I read your columns and agree that there might be too much attention paid to saving just certain fish. I disagree with your comments that maybe we’ll see relaxed rules by next year. It won’t be until the fluke start dying of overpopulation before they’ll wise up… J.M.” (I hear ya, J. And you’re absolutely right to disagree with my comment that next year could see better regulations. I based that on new efforts to better count fluke, along with promises made by management in recent years. They’ve been all but assuring that fluke regs will, in fact, get better for recreational fluking. I know all too well that some new factor could jump in by next year -- most often it is estimates that we took too much fluke poundage this year -- and all bets are off for sensible size limits. Truth be told, I’d much rather see bag limits held down and lower minimum sizes emphasized. I think the average person would like to take at least something home, as opposed to needing an entire cooler’s worth of meat. Finally, try to make the most of the fact you’re out there on the water and the family is feeling fish. And keep some crabbing gear onboard. Nabbing some tasty blue claws can make for dining fun that night. J-mann)

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