Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Tuesday March 18, 08 -- Troubled tog and no-show herring

FISH SMARTS: A study published March 7th, 2008 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition gave fish eating very high marks, academically speaking.
Per a report from a Norwegian study, about 2,030 people in their early 70s reported their fish consumption and took various mental skills tests.
People who reported eating on average at least a third of an ounce of fish per day -- 10 grams -- outscored those who skimped on fish, regardless of factors including age, education, and heart health.
It then came down to a correlation between the amount of fish eaten and the amount of smarts gained. It seemed apparent that the more regular seafood items entered one’s diet the better the brain gain, however, tests scores plateaued for people who ate more than about 2.5 to 2.8 daily ounces of fish. Of course, other studies focusing on seafood and heart health add onto that seemingly minimal amount of fish. The benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, found in many fish, seem most evident when a meal consists of fish amounts in the 4- to 6-ounce range.
TERRIBLY TROUBLED TOG: As last minute efforts are being made to salvage the state’s blackfishing season (to begin in July with a one-a-day bag), it remains clear that something is seriously amiss in tog territory.
It’s pretty easy to see that tog have been knocked for a loop via heavy recreational fishing pressure. There is also an indeterminable part being played by a fierce poaching element of fishing society. This rapid dip in the blackfish population surely indicates this seemingly bulldoggish species is very vulnerable to outside pressures. What’s more, the tog population as a whole seems to be a slow healer. The species simply isn’t bouncing back, despite what is now becoming an acute conservation effort.
Even taking into account that nebulous poaching pressure, there doesn’t seem to be a quick explain as to why the species is so sluggish in its recuperation.
As I’m obsessively prone to do, I want to offer a couple possible pieces to this puzzle.
I start, appropriately enough, at the start of a tog’s life. Most are born in the bay, overwintering there as juvenile fish.
A very interesting peculiarity of overwintering juvenile tog is the lethargic, near torpid state they fall into when water temperatures drop below 40 degrees. They literally lie motionless on the bottom, lightly swaying within the currents, by all appearances, dead.
Ideally, they overwinter amid subaquatic vegetation, which offers some badly needed cover.
Significantly, the young overwintering tautog are very vulnerable to thermal shock during colder winters. Studies indicate that tog lying on exposed bottom are more susceptible to thermal shock die-offs than those in vegetation.
This is mind, one then sees the heightening concern over the disappearing bottom vegetation in the bay. Subaquatic grasses are disappearing fast, brought on by mankind’s influences, not the least of which is turbidity caused by algal bloom created by too much nitrogen in the water, compliments of polluted runoff. Less vegetation, less coverage for future tog populations.
Interestingly (and alarmingly), that pollution might be hurting young-of-year tog in another way.
I have forwarded a theory that our bays (Barnegat, Manahawkin Little Egg, Tuckerton and Great Bay) are getting shallower at an alarming clip. Many baymen and boaters attest to this shallowing. The bottom is literally rising up due to those excessive algae blooms that contribute to an accelerated accumulation of bottom material, especially during seasonal die-offs. Combined with an overall slowdown in the flushing action of the inlets (also due to shallowing and shoaling),along with a geological tendency for bays inside barriers islands to fill in, the average depth of the bays is declining.
Now, factor in that increasing shallowness to the vulnerability of juvenile blackfish to thermal shock. A shallower bay allows a greater and swifter swing in water temps, threatening the young fish.
In response, some y-o-y tog are now forced into the bottom area of deeper water (channels and such), which afford no cover, no vegetation, whatsoever. They must lay fully exposed on the bottom, unable to respond to any predators.
And there are some predators, the striper most notably.
I have no doubt that overwintering stripers will voraciously suck stagnant blackies off the bottom. It’s a known fact the bass are already nosing the bottom looking for winter flounder. And, no, the dorsal fins on a tog of that size are not a problem to the leather-throated stripers. Hell, the dorsals on a mullet put tog fins to shame.
This theory is not meant to deflect attention or blame from those illegally fishing for tog. That still looms large. I simply find the best way to save any fishery is to first maximize the survival rate of the young-of-year. Save the kiddie fish and you save the fishery.

HERRING AND PERCH PREDICAMENT: I might as well get a big chunk of fishery doom and gloom out in this column, readying future reads for the coming of the 2008 bass.
A recent report has cast a dim light on future or river herring, a.k.a. blueback or blackbelly herring, once a vital bait component of our bass fishing live-line arsenal.
As a swimming bait, the river herring has diminished somewhat in popularity due to both the rising status of other live-lineable species (eels, bunker, spot) and the declining stocks of the species. This decline is most obvious at the historic river herring spawning grounds.
Since herring are anadromous – along with stripers and white perch (see below) -- they live in the ocean but head into freshwater streams to reproduce. In recent years, virtually every herring spawning site – river, creek or impound -- has seen a decline if not a collapse of the fishery.
How far the herring decline has gone can be reflected, albeit microcosmically, by my annual herring watches. Last fall, I sat on a fallen tree over a very hard to reach creek (also, much of it on private property). Where I used to see a veritable traffic jam of spawn-bound herring, I saw exactly one for an entire day’s sitting – at the height of the season, no less. Although I did have a slightly better trip a couple weeks later, when I saw maybe a dozen, I didn’t write much on the seeming decline, having been told by some salts that herring populations are hugely cyclical. However, after reading about the dire measures being considered by the management folks – including a moratorium on harvesting during the spawn -- I got a sense that my simple log-based observations might indicate something gone horrifically awry.
The cause for the herring slump is up for debate but there sure seems to be problems with other adronomous species (excluding striped bass), related to the same riverine environment of river herring
I have both heard about and personally watched white perch disappearing at a beyond-alarming rate. Again, I admit that my observational circles are very localized, however, I used to have a dozen local creeks that allowed full-blown white perch fishing in spring, during that species spawn. For the past few years there hasn’t been a single perch showing up to the dance.
Obviously, many of our spring perch come out of the Mullica after overwintering there. That waterway has also been disturbingly lacking in perch. I’ve heard blame leveled at the fyke netters working the Mullica. That doesn’t seem like enough pressure to annihilate the stocks, though fyking spawn-ready fish by cutting off their exits from creeks is the exact way the bass population all but dies. Still, it sure seems that something else is whacking the perch into the Promised Land. We’ll know a lot more in the coming months as many fishing folks seek out the when they pull into our waters.

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Comment by theking on March 18, 2008 at 11:52pm
I think those fyke netters do more damage than you might relize. The netters notoriously set there nets in strategic positions where the majority of small fish are exiting the rivers. Netters are famous for wiping out perch, flounder and herring. Why is netting like that legal? I hate greedy-ass people and the exploitation of nature. (greedy Asians have a large share of the pie for this tog problem)
Comment by theking on March 18, 2008 at 11:59pm
* realize


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