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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Saturday, August 22, 2015: The northeast winds came in at maybe 10 to 12 mph

Saturday, August 22, 2015: The northeast winds came in at maybe 10 to 12 mph. It snotted up the ocean a bit but the bay was fishable. The winds won’t get any worse than this for the weekend. Air temps were fine, low-80s along the beach. Ocean water temp is 74 to 78 degrees.  Waves are three to four feet, short-period northerly swell. Fair surfcasting at best.

Getting some interesting reports of weakfish spikes and some keepers – one a day, per angler. I think these fish are game enough fighters that they’re a fun catch/release species. One of the reason these sparklers are making a good showing has is the number of bayside folks panfishing – using chum to arrack blowfish and drumfish. There may be no other nearshore gamefish that loves chum more than weakies. While grass shrimp (see below) are famed as a weakfish attractant, I’ve coxed them in with crushed ribbed mussels and, especially, chum logs.   

 

BAIT PRATTLE: I should reemphasize the huge amount of forage fish in the bay. By name, there are spearing, mullet, bunkies and even some herring-like little numbers. AWOL are grass shrimp, at least absent in their usual high summer numbers within eelgrass beds. Most noticeably lacking grassies are the eelgrass beds over toward LBI. On the other hand, the mosquito creeks over in the back bay are loaded with grassies so there isn’t any sort of far-ranging problem with the species. It could have to do with the slime grass haunting near-LBI shallows.

Mullet are already mustering (schooling) toward the east side of Barnegat Bay. These are the famed ocean run mullet schools, which depart though Barnegat Inlet and travel the shores of LBI, joining with other school which have moved into the ocean further north – as far as Canadian maritime.

Another segment of the over-summering Barnegat Bay mullet population, which grew up south of the Causeway, moves southward within the bay, passing along the west side of  Manahawkin Bay and Little Egg Harbor, joining other mullet schools using that in-bay route. We never see them during their ocean run since they go out to sea a bit further south, toward AC.

As the time to migrate draws near for mullet, I have watched them do these test runs, sometimes zipping along the entire length of the south jetty before turning around the rushing back inside to more familiar territory. They’ll do these faux migratory runs for days, even weeks, on end. Then, one day, they just round the jetty bend and the race is on – to where not one of them knows.

It must be weird for the little buggers since they really have no sense of why they suddenly have overwhelming compulsion to abandon what had been a perfectly fine and fat life in the bay.

For folks knew to the mullet-as-bait game, what we call mud mullet are those mullet still eating algae in the bay – and filled with same. The green can be seen around the anal opening. Ocean run, are mullet that have swum in the ocean long enough to fully empty their intestines of all algae residue, which decays very quickly if the mullet are collected at that point for bait. Not only are ocean run mullet cleaner inside but they’re essentially harder, due to what amounts to swimming exercise.

Although folks still try, you cannot freeze mud mullet. As they thaw out, the algae decays and the insides soften and even rot out. Not a good looking bait, to be sure.

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Beautiful weather for the next few days. Light and variable NE winds. Looks like the seas could be calm enough for a Barnegat Ridge exploration. I'm going to give it a try, if it's not a flat ocean, we are staying in the bay to target weakfish on live shrimp and light tackle. I am ordering a batch of shrimp as an insurance policy in case the seas are too rough or we are not catching at the Ridge. It only takes an hour out there to find out. If there's readings, birds, slicks, or hookups we stay. If it's lifeless or the water is ugly green we shoot back in the bay to salvage the trip with some light tackle action. Whoever signs on has to be willing to do either. 

Sunday and Monday, Aug 23 and 24, 7AM to 1PM. $175 person. 3 people max. All fish are shared. 

Capt. Dave DeGennaro 
Hi Flier Sportfishing 
732.330.5674 
www.hiflier.com

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Here is a retort to recent RFA alerts regarding fluke.

What the Fluke is RFA Talking About?

Photo By Capt. John McMurray

Photo By Capt. John McMurray

Either RFA is intentionally leaving out important details on summer flounder or they just don’t get it

Given the kind of thing that usually comes out of the RFA (Recreational Fishing Alliance) shop in Jersey, I wasn’t exactly surprised to see their latest press release.  But yes, I was a little taken aback by the complete lack of context, not to mention the direct attacks on Council Members trying to do the right thing.

So…  I think it’s important to explain what really went down at last week’s Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council Meeting.  Because to say that the RFA release:VOTE TO TORPEDO RECREATIONAL FISHING COMMUNITY, COUNCIL & COMMISSION TURN DEAF EAR TO FLOUNDERING INDUSTRY is misleading and omits important facts is an understatement.

For context on the summer flounder situation, I suggest reading my last blog:  And the Fluke Hits the Fan: With Summer Flounder, is it Really Time to Panic?  But if you don’t have time to do that, the short version is that yes, after years of contentious debate and lots of pushback by industry (both recreational and commercial) we bit the bullet and rebuilt summer flounder to high levels that benefited a lot of people, including myself.

In the last couple of years, however, we’ve backslid some.  According to the NE Fisheries Science Center, there’s been poor “recruitment” (read poor spawning success) from 2010 to 2013, with 2014 being the first year approaching average since 2010.  Consequently, now we’re seeing fewer fish in the Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB).  So, if there are less fish around, you probably don’t want to fish on them at the same levels you were when there were a lot of fish around right?  At least not if you want to maintain them at a “rebuilt” level.

Thus, the Summer Founder Monitoring Committee initially recommended what would have been a pretty drastic 43% cut in the 2016 quota, to get the summer flounder resource back on track.  The Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council leadership, recognizing the effect this might have on the fishing industry acted quickly to find a way to ease some of the economic repercussions of such a cut, recommending a 3 year phase in of the reduction.  The Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) – a body of scientists who sets the upper catch limit – agreed that such a thing was doable while still conserving the stock, and so they recommended a 28.6% reduction in 2016, then another reduction of 2.5% in 2017 and another 1% in 2018.

Last week the Mid Atlantic Council met to discuss these recommendations.  Before getting into what went down, let me make a few things clear.  The Council is required by law to set an Annual Catch Limit (ACL) no higher than the Science and Statistical Committee (SSC)’s Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) recommendation.  That was a very deliberate inclusion in the last reauthorization of federal fisheries management law (Magnuson Act).  And it makes A LOT of sense.  You want the upper limit of what the stock can handle set by scientists, not by fishermen/industry reps often with a direct financial interest in killing more fish.   Otherwise you have what is a perceived, and often a very real fox-watching-the-hen-house situation.  What this stipulation also does is it gives Council Members cover to make those tough, but wise decisions that benefit all of us in the long term, by putting the onus on the SSC.  Believe me, this is important given the pressure Council Members are often under.  Without this stipulation in place, it is difficult to impossible to rebuild and maintain stocks at levels abundant enough for anglers to actually benefit.

Photo By Capt. John McMurray

Photo By Capt. John McMurray

Getting back on point, the Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) sets its Acceptable Biological Catch by taking all the available information and developing an Over Fishing Limit (OFL), then reducing it to a certain extent based on the confidence they have in the science.  If they believe the science we have on X species is good, the buffer between Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) and the Over Fishing Limit (OFL) will be small.  If they have little confidence in the science, it’ll be higher.  In the case of summer flounder, the science is actually pretty good.  So we only have an 8% buffer between Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) and the Over Fishing Limit (OFL).  In other words ABC is at 92% of the OFL.

Still following me?  Good.  Let’s get on to what actually happened at the Council meeting and of course RFA’s warped interpretation.

At the meeting we were presented with the Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) recommendation.  About the only thing the RFA press release got right is that a commercial fishing industry representative from New Jersey, did indeed make a motion to remand the summer the flounder ABC recommendation, with the intent that the SSC consider setting the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) right at the Over Fishing Limit (OFL).  In other words get rid of the 8% uncertainly buffer I described above, which would create an approximate 20% reduction, instead of the 28.6% reduction that comes with the Science and Statistical Committee’s recommendation.

Here’s the problem with that.  Not only is it a really bad idea, we simply CAN’T do it.  The Council developed a remand policy years ago.  It basically states that we can only remand when there’s an error in calculation, an error in fact or omission, or a failure to follow the Committee’s terms of reference.  None of that happened here.  And the SSC went on record at the Council meeting saying it has no justification to set the ABC at OFL.  I mean, doing such a thing would be tantamount to saying the science is perfect, and there’s no uncertainty at all.  I think we can all agree that this isn’t the case here.

So the motion Mr. Donofrio expected us all to vote for was null and void from the beginning.  Even if it passed, the SSC was clear they would not set ABC at OFL.  That’s a pretty important detail that the RFA release fails to mention.

And for argument’s sake, let’s say the SSC actually did set ABC at OFL.  Given all the uncertainly in management, and the historical propensity to go over the catch targets, in all likelihood we’d be going over the Over Fishing Limit (OFL) pretty quickly.  IF that were to happen, paybacks would kick in and the reductions the following year would be way, way worse than the 28.6% reduction we’re looking at now.

I mean come on man.  Anyone with an ounce of foresight could see that.  One of the reasons that buffer is so important is that most of the time keeps us from going over the Over Fishing Limit (OFL).

So yeah, that motion just didn’t make sense in any respect.  It was not a “solid compromise” like the release makes it out to be, it was just, ehm, stupid.  And THAT is why it failed by a wide margin.  To even imply that it was because the Council turned a blind eye to industry is either dishonest or a complete failure to understand how things work.  Council leadership heard the concerns here and tried very hard to mitigate the impacts with the proposed 3 year phase in of reductions.

Photo By Capt. John McMurray

Photo By Capt. John McMurray

Now that this is out of the way, let me talk about the ad hominem attacks in the release.  It’s become a staple really of how RFA operates.  If you disagree with any of their kill-more positions, they try and paint you as a dreaded “environmentalist”.

In this case, there’s mention of my position as Grants Administrator at the Norcross Wildlife Foundation, and well, no mention of the fact that I’ve run a relatively successful charter fishing business for the last 15 years and been a regular contributor to just about every fishing magazine out there.  Pretty clear what the author is trying to insinuate.  That I somehow am not a real fisherman and that I don’t’ have a real fishing business, and that I’m just some enviro.

I dunno man.  The freak’n 100-plus days I spend on the water breaking my ass to pay the bills might suggest otherwise.  It’s people like the one behind this release, who believe they have a right to kill every fish they catch, and that NOAA has no business constraining fisheries, that make charter fishing businesses like mine so God damn hard to keep afloat these days.  I want you to think about striped bass when I say that.  Guys like us NEED healthy abundant stocks to put people on fish.

In regards to Norcross, absolutely I’ve been the Director of Grant Programs here for 14 years.  It’s work I am very proud of.  During such time I’ve helped the Foundation make grants to organizations like the Coastal Conservation Association, Jersey Coast Anglers Association, Trout Unlimited, Hudson River Fisherman’s Association, Fish America Foundation, Atlantic Salmon Federation, just about all of the Water/River/Sound Keepers, Clean Ocean Action, American Fisheries Society … I could go on and on here.  Pretty much all of those grants went to equipment for on the ground fisheries conservation and habitat protection.  Norcross does no fisheries or other advocacy work!  It’s irritating that these clowns keep trying to drag Norcross into it.  Norcross has been a supporter of the conservation minded sportfishing community for decades!

The point is, it’s all tied together. To somehow insinuate that I’m not a “real” fisherman and that I don’t have any real skin in this game, and that I don’t represent the recreational fishing community (at least the part that doesn’t want to kill every damn thing in the water) is pure unadulterated BS.  I can guarantee you I have more days at sea in the last two decades and way more at stake here than the deskjockey who wrote that release.

That’s why I think it’s important that we manage an important resource like summer flounder with caution.  We need to insure that there are enough fish in the water to support the entire recreational fishery, not just the part of it that wants to kill more and smaller fish.  That means the kind of availability we saw a few short years ago.  Where keepers could be readily found in the bays and in the ocean.  Not just by a handful of people prosecuting a fishery in 60’ of water.

Given the documented poor recruitment and what I and many other Captains and fishermen are seeing on the water I believe the 28.6% reduction we’re facing in 2016 absolutely makes sense.  You just don’t beat on a stock at the same level when it’s experiencing a downturn as you did when it’s abundant.  I mean, this is exactly the way fishery management is supposed to work.  Stocks go up and down, regulations change as a result.  This is not the last reduction we’ll see and I expect we’ll see some increases.  As I mentioned in my last blog, yes some consistency would be nice, but nothing is consistent in nature.  If you can’t handle that simple truth then yeah, maybe you shouldn’t be in this business.

This is a public resource and needs to be managed with the public in mind, not just the special interests behind this release.   I’d really hate to go back to the days where everyone was killing 14” fluke and 20” fish were very, very hard to come by.  But I’m pretty darn sure that that the folks behind this press release want to do just that.

Those of us who care about the long term viability of marine resources need to make sure they aren’t successful.

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Catching fluke off the rocks — at Island Beach State Park.

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