Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Thursday, April 08, 2010: I was metal detecting Toms River area yesterday – actually on the bottom of the river, with an underwater detector. I was near a swimming/fishing pier on the south side of the waterway. I was finding loads of coins -- and more castaway fishing sinkers than my goodie bag could hold.
There were guys at the end of the dock, fishing their brains out trying to attract even a single winter flounder. That particular pier has been known to have excellent floundering, though recent years have fully sucked, so much so the locals are looking for explanations in all the logical places: pollution, stock decline, freshwater intrusion, commercial fyke nets, etc. Well, I single-handedly added a new slice of mystery to the their fishlessness.
I use a sturdy hand net to scoop up those readings I get underwater, on the bottom. The process is a bit like working in the dark. When I get a reading on the machine, I first fan away the top layer of sand with my foot. I listen to the reading again and usually hear it’s still deeper down. I repeat the swiping away sand process. Once I can hear the target is right beneath the detector’s loop (a sharper and louder sound), I net-scoop a load of sand, gravel -- and hopefully the reading. Well, as noted, this day I was into coin after coin; all modern and barely worth their face value after the water has gnawed way at them. In fact, as I got into deeper water, I was getting frustrated with so many crumby coins. When I get frustrated I get aggressive, so I began whipping the net all around the bottom in an unadvised effort to quickly grab as much bottom material as possible. As I brought up one particular net full of sand and stuff, I got a face fill of water as the sand in the net came alive, literally. You guessed it. I had scooped a damn near keeper-sized winter flounder.
I showed the fishing guys, who took it with a chuckle, coated in frustration. Then less than five minutes later don’t I do a repeat. This bycatch flounder was smaller – and a lot less well-received by the anglers. They still hadn’t lost a piece of bait for not just hours but days of effort. If I was netting these things haphazardly, there had to be a goodly load of the fish down there.
The only thing I could figure was my repeated fanning up of bottom material was uncovering all sorts of worms and smaller invertebrates. That would also explain why the frisky fish were inside the holes I had swept open. Still, why they wouldn’t go for fresh bloodworms bait was a bit of a mystery. I was half tempted to put in my mask and snorkel to see how many flatties I was attracting. But, the Toms River waters were a tad too murky for such a firsthand investigation.
The nation's top fisheries cop was replaced Thursday after a federal review detailed mismanagement at his agency and found that he ordered dozens of files destroyed during the investigation.
Dale Jones was removed as director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's law enforcement office and was replaced on an interim basis by Alan Risenhoover, head of NOAA's Sustainable Fisheries Office.
In announcing the changes, NOAA Fisheries head Eric Schwabb said in an e-mail to employees, 'Ensuring a fair and effective enforcement program is our focus moving forward.'
It was unclear whether Jones was fired, put on leave or subjected to some other administrative action. An NOAA spokesman, citing privacy laws, said he could not comment on specific personnel moves.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said the decision was 'painful at NOAA, but it had to happen.'
'Replacing this official was an important step to clear the air and turn the page,' Kerry said.
Gloucester fisherman Richard Burgess, who has fought $85,000 in fines, said Jones' removal was a first step but the problems go beyond Jones in a corrupt agency that has persecuted fishermen.
'It's a chip off the iceberg, but the iceberg is full of very bad people,' he said.
'Dale Jones is certainly a start, but they can't stop now.'
NOAA's law enforcement office is charged with enforcing the nation's complicated fishing regulations, which include rules about where fishermen can fish, how much they can catch and the gear they can use. Violators are subject to major penalties, which range from $5,000 to $80,000 for a first offense.
Northeast fisherman have complained for years of excessive fines, uneven enforcement and retaliation by fisheries officers.
Last year, NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco requested a review of the office by the U.S. Department of Commerce's inspector general, Todd Zinser. His January report found that Northeast fishermen were given double the fines of other regions and that the process for penalizing violators appeared arbitrary and unfair, but it didn't uncover widespread abuse.
The report questioned why an agency that deals mainly with civil fines was dominated by criminal investigators. Fishermen said that showed the agency viewed them as criminals.
Zinser also ordered a forensic audit of how fines collected from fishermen were spent when NOAA couldn't determine how the money was used. Fishermen compared the fines to a bounty, but Jones has said all the money was spent according to NOAA rules.
Last month, Zinser testified before a congressional committee that Jones had ordered up to 140 files destroyed after IG staffers met with him to explain the scope of their review. Zinser said that Jones told him the shredding was unrelated to the review and had been planned long before he learned about it.
The revelation prompted numerous calls for Jones to be fired or to step down. U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., said Thursday that he would request that the IG publicly release its report after it finishes its ongoing investigation of the shredding.
'This is imperative and only fair to those in the fishing community who have been unjustly targeted for so long,' he said.
Since the January report, Lubchenco has announced some reforms on the way fishermen are policed, including requiring her agency to better justify its penalties against them.
An attempt to contact Jones through a phone message at the law enforcement office wasn't immediately successful Thursday.
(((((((((((((((((())))))))))))))))))[EC release] - April 9, 2010 - A new tracking system of bluefin tuna from catch to sale will allow closer control over the alarmingly depleting stocks in EU waters.