Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Sat. Feb 9. 08 -- Birdplay ignites in the Rip

Saturday, February 09, 2008:

I saw a couple guys out giving fishing a try along the beach. No word but, hey, you never know -- same with the Mega-Millions.

For the second day in a row, there has been amazing birdplay at the Holgate rip during the outgoing tide. Yesterday I saw hundreds of gulls swooping, fairly frantically eating something or other. My pretty-certain guess is the herring gulls are going after sand eels, or, more specifically, the larvae of same. Sand eels are famous for their ability to bury themselves in the bottom sand in under a second. That bottom habitat is favored by these small soft-bodied fish but when under heavy attack from bottom-feeding predators, they bolt upwards. Even more importantly, it seems sand eels ball up during spawns (see below).

Also known as sand lance, due to their spear-like body shape, this species is hugely important as forage for everything from gamefish to whales. As I’ve oft noted in here, there has been a horrific decline in sand eels in the past 15 or so years.

The odd thing with sand eels is how little is known about them. There is virtually no data on their spawning tendencies. However, the larvae have been known to abound in January and February off the New England seaboard, based on tows taken by scientists aboard the Fish Hawk, between 1924-25 1920s. That was done in Cape Cod. Those dates would align with right here, right now, for us.

However, the same intense birdplay phenomenon taking place at the Rip right now, took place a few winters back -- and it wasn’t larvae involved. There were dark patches of balled up sand eels, the bait balls were the size of a house. They were near the surface, shifting around the shoals, which were near the Rip back then. I used a spotting scope and top-grade Nikon binoculars, and clearly saw gulls grabbing full-grown, maximum-sized sand eels. That observation was backed by two high-proof incidents. One morning, I found dead stranded sand eels as I was driving the beach (January). They had been driven ashore at night by, possibly, hake. I also saw gulls fighting over a single sand eel. It was lost over the beach and fell to the ground to allow me a positive ID.

In my research of this species, I found some astounding accounts of fish, namely cod, scarfing down sand eels from thick pods. The sand eels noses were so sharp, some of the swallowed fish apparently used a swimming and burying action inside the fish’s belly and drove though the wall of the stomach cavity and became encysted in the fish’s body, found in captured fish being cleaned.

TOUGH TOG TALK: I had a feeling I’d get some input over the prospect of a moratorium on tautog, N.J. being out of compliance with federal directives.

While tog anglers are not a huge group they are very dedicated – and haven’t been ecstatic over recent regs greatly limiting tog fishing.

N.J. must now reduce its take of tog by 25 percent. That above the existing rules that close the fishing for tog (short of one-a-day) through half the year.

Mixed in with the regulatory crunch is the lingering fear the live fish market is illegally tapping into undersized fish stocks. Add to that the controversy over commercial pot fishing on the artificial reefs and the entire species is becoming a stinker for anglers.

Here is one email touching on a couple of those local tog angles.

“Jay, I don’t want to get the names and/or facts wrong but let me run this past you…

  1. Recently a bill to remove commercial pots from the states reef sites “somehow” did not make it for a vote in Trenton!!.
  2. Now, just months later, NJ is found to be not in compliance (noncompliant) and must reduce harvest by 25%!!.

NOW, I don’t know what the net-impact of the reef bill would have been on the overall tog stock but it must be a contributor… even though this may not have been the primary reason for pot removal. In any case, it would be an interesting statistic to know.

I did have one thought…. Just maybe some of the special interest boys in Trenton knew this was coming from ASMFC and by postponing a vote they can now tell THEIR constituents that they did their best and its now out of their hands! Lets see, now they (Trenton) can blame someone else…

Silly, silly, me…I must be wrong. It just smells “FISHY”.

Stay warm and thanks for the reports. Sea Ya. John

PS: Pease keep in mind that I support both the commercial and recreation fishing industries…we all have to get along.”


Thanks, John.

I never make anglers happy when I say this but commercial fishermen keeps me in food. I don’t eat meat (haven’t in 40 years) nor chicken, fowl, etc. The pros keep the grocery ice covered with product and that’s me at the head of the pack pointing out the fillets I want. I also support commercialites for their fishing for folks who can’t get out there to get the seafood that constitutionally belong to everyone in the nation. However (and here’s where I lose any minor support I have among the pros), I can’t tolerate the inequity seen in fishery management, which seems to repeatedly turn an uncaring eye toward those thousands and thousands of employees within the angling business. What’s more, the value of an individual fish caught in the recreational realm is 10, 20, maybe 30 times greater than that realized in the commercial realm. Part of the Magnuson-Steven Act requires the maximization of a fish’s worth.

All said, I do agree that getting along, via a fair and equitable management regime, is the way to go. And, quite obviously, the only

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