Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Weekly column for June 6, 2007 -- A long and leisurely read

Big Bolts and Subway Cars Resurface

UNMELLOW YELLOW: I’ve seen yellow skies, yellow rain, yellow snow but early Tuesday morning I saw deep yellow lightning, the hue of lemon peel.

While doing my dawn patrol wave report for the National Weather Service, I took in a very vivid lighting show over the ocean immediately south. A storm cell was making a fuss maybe five miles out, likely off Beach Haven. From my Ship Bottom vantage, I had an unobstructed view of kickin’ lighting bolts going cloud to water, one strike after another.

The heated action was remarkable in its own right but the Crayola #11 “School Bus Yellow” color of the bolts was downright odd.

I guess the air between me and the bolts was just loaded with suspended particulates, though I’m not sure what turns white into yellow, short of not-good air stuff, namely ozone. But, with all that rain to clear the air one wouldn’t expect pollution associated with long-term stagnant air.

I stood there watching the high-voltage production until some decent rolls of thunder also added their two cents. Time to head out.

As I oft note in my writings, I’m not a huge fan of being struck by lightning.

I realize that might offend fringe groups like PETL – People for the Ethical Treatment of Lighting – but my hair is Brillo-ed enough already.

Speaking of being singed by sky voltage, it was significantly stupid for me to stand atop the dunes watching that seemingly far-off light show. I reflect back not that many years when a group of folks were beaching it in bright sunlight on Island Beach State Park only to be hit by lighting from a storm cell well off Barnegat Inlet – many miles away.

The rule is now: If you can hear thunder, you’re in a hot zone – bolt.

While on the subject off-color appearances, I don’t like the hue I’m seeing in Manahawkin Bay.

I hate to be an alarmist but there sure seems to be an overabundance of algae-based yellowish brown tinting, especially for this early in the yet-to-be summer. Algae blooms have become the bane of the bay. More on that below.

That off-color bay look might just be me so give it a look yourself as you go over the Big Bridge.

(On a segue roll) Speaking of which, the famed Big Bridge is on its leg -- or last pylon or last whatever the hell holds bridges up.

As you might know, there has been a load of bridge replacement and repair chatter bandied about in recent years. I’ve attended a couple meetings where the state DOT discussed – and warned -- of the rising need for a whole new Causeway.

The “warn” part is in reference to the huge headaches that will surely accompany such a multiyear building project that could begin as early as 2009, though I can’t see things rolling that quickly in a state far more concerned with making sure the money-making northern corridor has perfect roadways before the slowly south part of the state is spruced up.

Truth be told, as recently as ten years back I couldn’t see a hugely pressing urgency in thinking about a new Big Bridge – though I had written about kayaking under the Big Bridge at night to have a significant chunk of concrete break loose and impact not far from me and my faithful sit-atop (kayak). Still, I thought the bridge looked sound and steady.

However, in just the past few years, I have to admit the deck and railing of the present span, as we motor over it, is looking poorly. I guess maybe it is time to turn up the talk – and planning -- regarding a revamped Dorland J. Henderson Memorial Bridge.

That’s the technical name of the current Big Bridge, named after the designer of the span, a fully fascinating African American fellow, who preferred “Don’ to Dorland.

I interviewed Don before his passing. I recall that talk perfectly. As we sat seated near a bulkhead at the south end of the span, we chatted about the building of his bridge -- and his abject terror over the bridge’s in-rail lighting, never used before, anywhere.

“I didn’t even know if it would work,” he told me.

The finish of the bridge was so close to deadline that the first testing of the electronically complex rail lighting had to take place during the switch-throwing opening ceremony, done late-day to highlight the lighting. The pressure was so severe, Don said he was physically sick for the event.

The lights worked perfectly.

He told me, “It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.” He likened it to a string of pearls.

It’s kind of a shame that so much emphasis was placed on just the lighting. For a cool view of the bridge, take a turn off westbound Route 72, Bonnet Island. Drive onto that small side road that parallels the Causeway to the north. Drive west to the dead end of that road, which places you below the Big Bridge. Check it out from that angle. Walk under and look at the south-facing side of the span. It is a work of pure architectural art, nothing less.

Possibly the coolest view of the entire Causeway expanse will be had from the new “southern–style” marina being built by Chris Vernon (of Bonnet Island Estate fame) at the old Margo’s site. The upper deck of that marina – set to be a club-like bar – will offer a down-the-line look at all the bridges. Again: Astounding artwork. That view should be pictured on a Dorland Henderson memorial.

STANDING FIRM ON SUBWAYS: It’s back to the battle for the subway cars.

You may recall that years back there was a helluva hubbub over the use of abandoned NYC subways cars as reef-building material in NJ.

A couple ocean-watch groups, Clean Ocean Action and the American Littoral Society, went psycho over the proposed subway sinkings, spewing forth trumped up accusations that the cars would exude petroleum-based pollute. After it was explained by Bill Figley (then head honcho of the state’s Artificial Reef Program) that the cars would be cleaned to the hilt, the groups then went after miniscule amounts of asbestos within the subway cars, despite the fact asbestos fibers are only dangerous as potential airborne contaminants and would be fully inert in the water.

Unconvinced, the ocean-watch groups went for the loftier – far less scientific -- concept that reef building is too much like ocean dumping. Never mind the fact that within months of placement, the subway cars would be barely discernible as manmade in origin, having been grown over by rich vegetation – and home to hundreds and ultimately thousands of fish and crustaceans.

Those ocean-watch groups managed to greatly restrict the number of subway cars that could be sunk, a boon to other states that scarfed up the cars for their own reef system.

Well, NYC is now offering a new load of abandoned subway cars, something like 600. The NJ Artificial Reef Program is again trying for some of those. And those same two groups are trying to add all sorts of stipulations to any subway car sinkings.

The Jersey Coast Anglers Association, one of the main groups fighting for the cars – and the reef program in general – has decided to draw a line in the ocean bottom sand. JCAA’s membership says it’s time to confront COA and the American Littoral Society -- and the conditions those groups are trying to place on the artificial reef program. JCAA wants the entire subway car issue to go before Trenton – and the public.

Here’s a segment from a recent JCAA bulletin:

“ … We were offered a deal to get 250 cars. The conditions that Clean Ocean Action and the American Littoral Society want imposed as part of the agreement are totally unacceptable and so is the attempt to bypass the public hearing process.

JCAA has been in communication with other organizations and they agree that we should not accept the imposition of these additional criteria on the artificial reef plan.

We have a draft artificial reef plan, ten years in the development by scientists at the Federal and State level, which was scheduled for public hearing and comment. Somehow this plan has been sidetracked and these two organizations are trying to dictate the criteria used in this program. Some of their demands are not based on science but just their feelings. The rest of their demands totally ignore existing science. If we use their criteria we will waste valuable taxpayers money on needless studies. We will also be stopped from accepting any subway cars for at least the next 10 years and prevented from receiving other material indefinitely…

All in all, we cannot and will not accept the imposition of their criteria on the artificial reef program.

We understand that sticking to our principles and insisting that the public hearing process goes forward and the rules be followed may cost us these 250 subway cars. But in the long run, accepting these demands would set a terrible precedent for the artificial reef program and for all future fisheries programs in New Jersey…”

AFTERTHOUGHT: I have to side with JCAA.

Artificial reef programs in the U.S. – and around the world – have been astoundingly successful, even in the face of declining fish stock and a general degradation of ocean quality in many areas (not NJ).

The building of manmade reefs is one of the few actions to put something back into the system instead of just taking away.

Obviously, reef programs have long been under the microscopic scrutiny of scientists. Even then, the programs have come out smelling like roses. That’s why I’m not sure where COA and the American Littoral Society are coming from with their claims of horrific dangers from not just subway cars but the entire reef-building effort. Oh, COA will swear they’re not against reef building but their incessant interference with the state’s program speaks to the contrary.

Now is the time for these naysayers to step forth to testify before lawmakers. They’ll need to prove their stances scientifically. There are more than few scientists willing (and anxious) to support the artificial reef concept.

By the by, I live and breath the ocean -- and often catch hell for looking out for the marine ecosystem, first and foremost. I would not hesitant to confront the reef program or JCAA or anyone else if there was evidence that reef building, including the use of subway cars, was harmful. It’s just not so.

Run-Down: Bassing has been hot, though tempered by cold spots, literally.

Superfine bassing last week fell to upwelled water by the weekend. Surfside water temps plummeted from the mid-60s to 50 degrees and lower. Water coming into Barnegat Inlet slid to 45 degrees. However, the arrival of east winds during the Barry passage, quickly kicked water temps upward, where they will hopefully hang for the coming week.

The top bass of the week was taken at night by Chris Rich. Using bunker in the dark, he took a hefty 46-5 cow. Here’s Rich’s recall: “This was my biggest catch in all of my 15 years of boat fishing and 9 years of surf fishing. The night started off when I spoke to my buddy Joe H. around 9 pm. ... We (began by) catching dog sharks, sand sharks, blues, bass. After the bite slowed and Joe already had two bass catches for the night, he told me to move up closer to him and cast out over the cut in the bar. I did just that with a piece of bunker that the 2- to 3-lb blues had made a mess of. It was only a few minutes later that my heifer came along and started burning line off. A half spool of line later I turned her toward the beach and began to gain my line back. I couldn't image what size fish this could be. After a few more short runs, I had her ready to ride in the next wave. Several short waves later, that is exactly what happened. Joe, who was several feet in front of me, yelled shark. I cranked several more turns and saw the stripes hit the beach as the waves rolled out. This was no shark. It was a huge bass -- one, as surf fisherman, we don't see often. Joe grabbed her off the beach and with a sore arm we exchanged high-fives. …”

Blues remain every whichaway. I know I keep repeating this but this is the best bluefishing spring since who knows when. Also worth a repeat: This does not necessarily mean we’ll see a buncha big blues come fall – and the Long Beach island Surf Fishing Classic. We can hope, though.

Black seabassing is decent but nowhere near what we had a few years back. It is very hit-or-miss even for the headboats.

Fluking was had its brightest moments of the season. A couple recent days saw kreels filled. Still massive numbers of shorts to contend with. Please contend with them carefully -- and with wet hands. Those catch-and-release flatties will play a large part in the fishery’s future.

No weakfish to speak of.

Post-moon crabbing is fair but not quite there yet. June’s moon will launch that action.

Simply Bassin’ 2007 is on the final run to the finish line. A lot of new names on the leader board. There is also an issue with a larger fish that is being worked out. Check the standings at either https://jaymanntoday.ning.com/ or http://www.fishermansheadquarters.com (near the Daily Report).

WATER TEST CHOPPER BLOG: The EPA has discontinued its visually famous helicopter pickup of beachline ocean water for quality testing.

For years we’ve regularly seen the large federal chopper flying low, right off the beach, frequently stopping to hover only 20 feet off the water. If you binoc-ed the hovering chopper, you could see the slow lowering of the tethered testing equipment to take surf samples for analysis.

The purpose of the summer-long testing was multifold. Along with offering a sense of water-quality security to beachgoers, it allowed government agencies to quickly detect trouble – and issue an alarm if the water quality went too far south.

On a larger scale, the testing was a way to home in on which areas of ocean water were hit worst by the likes of algae blooms and various water degradations. By figuring the nastiest areas, the government could, theoretically, track down the source of pollution.

The program was ended because the findings, year after year, showed the exact same thing: abnormal oxygen levels, most often due to nitrogen over proliferation. The cause of that problem is all too well known: humans – and their insatiable build-out of the coastline. Huge inflows of nutrients into the system, most often coming out of the NewYork area (particularly down the Hudson river and into the bay) are the worst thing damaging the water quality.

The recent brown tide around Sandy Hook was a manifestation of what I call the over-nutrification of the water, most often incited by fertilizer and petroleum run-off.

Yes, petroleum leads to over-nutrification.

While living in California, I was amazed at the bio-richness of oil-based materials, as they broke down. Studies are routinely done around California’s nearshore oil derricks, which always loss some raw crude as the oil is pumped off the sea bottom. While the likes of oil spills are obviously horrifically dangerous to the ecology and ocean environment, the breakdown of smaller amounts of crude oil actually create a very nutritional medium that encourages plant growth, algae and such. The long-term affects of street petroleum residue-- in the form of sewer run-off that winds up in the ocean and bay -- quite likely exacerbates the over nutrification from fertilizers (often petroleum-based themselves), the main source of potentially devastating algae blooms.

It is unlikely well get back the ocean water testing chopper this year, unless Congressmen Saxton and Pall one pull off a miracle. They’re two of the main D.C. movers in acquiring the funding each year. Both of them see the EPA’s point that the testing funds would be better spent looking for the source of the problem instead of simply identifying the same problem every year. Studies to find the starting place of problem will likely be the direction the EPA takes by next year.

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