Stripers Still in the House;
Red Snapper Crisis Hits Home
As the SandPaper winds down for 2009, this column finds itself angling-heavy and backwoods-ish.
As for the fishing of late, there are still bass and blues out there, though that frozen weather of Saturday night will lead to a very cold melt-based runoff, which could (note only “could”) clear all the bass out of the bay. And there are still a ton of stripers in there, even as far back as Manahawkin Bay. Pity any winter flounder that try to come in from the deep to overwinter in the bay. Dead meat, literally.
Relatedly, I got a wild tale from Mayor Porky H. who, just this past week, was duck hunting in the way backwaters of the bay when his decoys began moving on their own. No, this is not a ghost tale. The decoys were being rocked by a blitz. Gospel truth. It was like nothing Porky had ever seen before. Big bunker began busting all over the surface, with big bass on their tales. Swirl and splash accompanied the frenzy. Again, we’re talking just this past week and way up the cold creeks (toward West Creek) to boot. Very odd. I guess when a feed is on, the bass will essentially follow the tails of terrified bunker wherever they go. I must obligatorily mention that old-time talk had such frenzied fall feeding outbreaks as a sure sign of a wild and woolly winter to come. Say it ain’t so, Ned.
Here’s a report about boat bassing. “Jay, I went fishing today on the Reel Fantasea with Captain Steve Purul and two friends. We had a very nice day...... 36 striper (5 keepers) and a handful of bluefish and fluke. The majority of our stripers were caught live-lining spot. A few were caught on plastics. Best of all it was an absolutely gorgeous day on the water. Dave C Mt. Laurel, NJ.”
(Nailed ‘em that time, eh, Dave?” )
The 2009 Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic is pau – that’s Hawaiian for finished/over/done. It was long yet very intense. The final count of entered 30-pound-plus bass was way beyond any tourney to date. I’ll have the finals in here next week.
Our late-season bass and bluefish hyper-hooking is totally consistent with a yearlong trend of a two- to nearly three-week lateness in most every aspect of fishing the Jersey Shore.
There are many who would align this ongoing lateness (the fish arrival in spring; the late hangout of big bass into December) to that warming ocean thing. While I’m anything but sold on the global warming sea-rise fury, there is absolutely no doubt the seas are warming. In a mere few years, the planet has seen shifts in water-temperature related plankton blooms, which indubitably lead to shifts in virtually all fish species. This has not only been documented by scientists but also by commercial fishermen, who seldom if ever agree with the boys of science.
Could our lateness this year be part of such a shift? Possibly.
Is it a bad thing? Not to me.
It was surely a perfect year to extend the Classic into December.
Note: I’m getting together a story on the deceased Holgate Osprey’s Nest. If you were one of the Happy Hookers fishing club members who placed the nest – or were named on the plaque placed on the pole – please contact me by phone or email. Thanks.
WHAT SPECIES FADES NEXT?: A huge fishing-world fuss is being made over the upcoming complete shutdown of the down-south (Florida, Gulf of Mexico) red snapper fishery for 6 months, from January to June. Admittedly, the closest we’ve ever come to seeing a red snapper hereabouts is most likely the two one-inch juveniles I seined years back – from red snapper larvae miraculously blown all the way up here on south winds. They were so rare a fish for our waters, an expert noted them in a book he wrote. They were also passed on to an aquarium nut – nuts to the tune of $50,000 in saltwater tank equipment, where they were raised to hugeness.
Anyway, that out-of-area fishery crisis actually resonates up this way in one large way: an example of management being suspect – the term inept jumps to mind.
I first want to say I fully understand Recreational Fishing Alliance’s effort to fight the planned shutdown. The red snapper is a mainstay of down-south fishing, so much so that its removal can mark the end of some mom and pop bait and tackle shops. At the same time, I look in total disbelief at the beyond precipitous decline in the red snapper population. The last members of that stock are literally peaking nervously around coral heads wondering where the hell everyone has gone. The frickin’ fishery is all but dead, despite odd overtures by some fishermen that reports of its death are highly exaggerated. I’m starting to think that a sure sign of a dying fishery is when fishermen swear up and down they personally know where there are millions of the fish hiding. Well, there are no covert stocks of red snapper swarming anywhere..
The red snapper numbers are so abysmal they are almost inconceivable. The Gulf of Mexico breeding population is 6% of the target size and the South Atlantic breeding population is 3% of the target size. You don’t have to be a math scientist to realize those numbers are beyond dismal -- and inching into the blasphemous realm.
Now, here’s where the bafflement – and finger pointing begins. Get this: Snappers and groupers have been managed since 1983 by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) through its Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan (FMP). During that 25 years plus,, the stocks have gone bust. It’s as if no once has been watching the farm. It’s just a guess on my non-experienced part but had the stocks been properly managed, this radical shutdown would never have come about. This is not to say that fishermen aren’t the cause. They are. But they were essentially doing what was allowed.
There is way too much similarity between red snappers and weakfish. I still sense that poor management has lead to next year’s one weakie a day rule. For years, sensible fishermen cynically viewed the absurdly high bag limit allowed on weakfish. You could keep dozens a day. Couple that with that with entire boatloads of anglers bailing weakies when they were balled up and, via higher math, you have the stocks being brutalized. While there is much ado over fishery management groups having the wrong data, it seems they just as often lack a true commitment to rational conservation, bowing to cries and tears of fishermen while simultaneously selling the farm down the river.
TIME HAS COME TODAY: A seemingly crazed, cranky and quite cool old-timer in East Hampton ,NY, is in his 25th year of fighting for his right to fish freely – sans state and federal licenses.
Stuart Vorpahl, 69, has been repeatedly cited, even arrested, and pretty much ridiculed for doggedly defending his license-free deportment. He was pretty much the giggle-stock of other fishermen – until now.
Vorpahl has hung his star of civil disobedience on a Colonial mandate called the Dongan Patent, a legal document written some 313 years ago that declares that only town fathers get to dictate the likes of fishing licenses and such. Though this Patent has come up in a number of legal actions, it has never been acknowledged/accepted by judges, who always try their hardest to avoid being the ones who looses a decision that might lead to the power of certain towns suddenly trumping that of the state and even the federal governments.
But Vorpahl’s tireless application of the Dongan Patent has made him the energized man of the hour – or, more closely, a man undergoing his Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Anglers have suddenly flocked to his patented defense, albeit with their own ends in hands -- and seeing a slew of men with their own ends in hands is quite the sight in any fight. What the end-holders have in mind is applying the Dongan Patent to the oppose the proposed federally-backed saltwater fishing license – or census-taking, or whatever-the-hell.
Per a recent news article, the NY municipalities of Southampton, Shelter Island and East Hampton are part of a lawsuit asserting the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation cannot OK a saltwater fishing license without the consent of each town. Other towns will soon enter that legal affray.
Now, don’t go emailing all your buddies that the Dongan Patent is the perfect defense against our indubitably having to accept a saltwater fishing license. That document only applies to Suffolk County, Empire State. I bring this up as an example of how hard folks intend on fighting the saltwater license and, even more so, to show the power of persistent protest. Methinks every angler’s fishing life will soon come down to sternly taking on the man.
FLUKE STATS ‘R US: With good old Stuart Vorpahl in mind, I want to pass on this effort to get a truer and purer read on fluke stocks. This is an outstanding opportunity to have our voices heard with regard to the Summer Flounder Fishery. Personally, I feel this fishery is rebounding faster than the ecosystem can accommodate. This over population of fluke is a bona fide threat to many other struggling that fluke feast upon.
A Rutgers scientist, Steven Gray, is seeking fluke anglers to interview for a survey he’s doing. Anyone interested ion participating in this survey should contact Sharon McKenna at email@example.com immediately.
Here’s the memo from Gray:
Subject: Interviewing Recreational Summer Flounder Fishermen
I plan to do some interviews with recreational summer flounder fishermen about how the summer flounder "system" works (ecological system, management system, fishing system, etc). I am seeking contact information for rec guys who are familiar with the fishery and maybe willing to be interviewed for about 30 minutes to 1 hour about the fishery. I would like to do 5-9 interviews (and several interviews can be done at one time).
My selection criteria are:
(1) Willingness to let me take up 1 hour of their time
(2) Avid fishermen (and those that feel strongly about the SF- maybe those that fish often from personal boats?)
(3) Within 1 1/2 hours from Jersey City (the closer to me the better!)
Other than that- it is fairly open. It would also be great if you have any contact from commercial guys (or rec industry guys) b/c I will be interviewing them as part of the project as well. I have a meeting with Tony Bogan in a few weeks. Hopefully he will give me some more leads.
The overall point of this project is to have several different stakeholder groups (rec guys, commercial guys, scientists, seafood industry, managers, etc) develop simple models of how the fishery system works- then combine everyone's model to get some idea of how the summer flounder fishery functions on the whole (combining the social and ecological systems).
Steven A. Gray Rutgers University.
DEER AND COYOTE NEAR AT HAND: Winterishness shouldered in over the weekend, though we’re still officially autumnal until December 21.
I was out woodsing on Sunday and there was enough of a snow “dusting” to enhance my tracking efforts. Looking for wildlife tracks quickly became a tale of Canis latrans, a canine called coyote.
Seemingly paralleling the ongoing population shift of white tail deer from the outback into the backyards of over humanized zones is a goodly increase in the number of coyote showing in Southern Ocean and eastern Burlington counties. However, that’s not because coyote feed on deer, per se. Coyotes essentially feed on (live) small game not larger mammals, though they will frequently bring down fawns during pup-rearing periods.
My tracking indicates that far-and-away the main food source for the growing population of NJ coyote remains roadkill, including DOA deer. Just last week I found the tracks of multiple coyote feeding off a roadkill deer across from Ocean Acres. There was also a larger domesticated dog in on the carrion feast, though it’s impossible to tell if it was a dog gone wild – running or mating with a coyote – or just a pet that got a good ass-whompin’ when it returned home after running away for a short stint. “And what’s all over you face!?”
By the by, scavenging coyote are constantly being helped along by humans, including public works and road department folks who routinely chuck struck DOA deer off road shoulders and into nearby woods or brush. That simplifies life for the always road-shy coyotes. They don’t have to expose themselves to manmade macadam flats in order to drag off a huge meal.
Even hunters themselves – the harshest critics of coyote -- help nourish the wild canids. I can’t count the number of deer entrails piles I find in the woods, always from bagged deer being dressed out in the wilds by hunters – or even dressed out at home or club, with the entrails then being hauled backed to the wilds. There isn’t a pile of deer insides that isn’t put upon by coyotes within 24 hours of being discarded – most often the very night following drop-off. The oft-suggested burying of deer remains works well – for about ten seconds longer than just leaving them on the surface. A coyote can smell a live shrew burrowing a foot deep.
An interesting point being made by folks opposed to the now-allowable use of crossbows for deer hunting is the high rate of non-lethal hits by those smaller arrows. This leaves wounded deer weak and vulnerable to attack. That is the one instance that coyote won’t hesitate to attack a full-sized deer.
As I oft note in here, I am a huge fan of coyote. Note: They’re indigenous, we’re not. Basically, I’m in full support of any form of wildlife that somehow prospers in the face of mankind’s moronic indifference to most everything natural.
These people who move into recently built townhouses in once-Pinelands get no sympathy from me if deer screw up their shrubbery or free-roaming kitty becomes a ‘yote appetizer. At the same time, I’m not against coyote being hunted – since they’re way craftier than most hunters. Some of the coyote being shot by hunters are actually mixed breeds, containing domesticated dog genes. Those coyote half-breeds have their cunning diluted. Bagging one of those is more akin to shooting household pets than wildlife.
Not that hunters care, but it is illegal to shoot coyotes during a deer drive.
One final shoot-‘em-up note, we are moving into the insane shotgun season. DO NOT undertake any woods or near-woods activities without donning an orange vest or bright clothing – that includes hanging laundry on the backyard clotheslines near wooded areas. Yes, there have been a number of folks, nationwide, who were bagged in their backyards by itchy-fingered shotgunners.
A remains reminder: Make sure to take scraped and salted deer pelts over to the Elks Club on Hilliard Boulevard in Manahawkin. I told them I’d get them at least 50 extra pelts this year during their annual deer pelt drive. The skins get rendered down in Tennessee. Eventually, the treated hides are used for crafting by vets, who often also get finished deer leather gloves and such for personal use. This pelt contribution is a perfect way to use virtually all of a harvested animal.