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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Wednesday, July 21, 2010: Brisk south winds have it feeling more like a normal summer. It also adds some thermometer relief to the Island, though the mainland is getting scalded. Lots on the wires…

Wednesday, July 21, 2010:

Brisk south winds have it feeling more like a normal summer. It also adds some thermometer relief to the Island, though the mainland is getting scalded.

Lots on the wires and emails:

[Baltimore Sun] by Candus Thomson (opinion)

No striped bass for you!

OK, so there's a move afoot to increase the commercial striped bass catch in coastal waters.

And Monday night, Maryland anglers let a representative of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission know just what they thought of it. To paraphrase Republican lawmakers who didn't pay for spending programs they authorized in the Bush years and oil companies trying to weasel out of taxes, 'it's a bad time to be (fill in the blank).'

It's never a good time, is it?

That said, anglers made some good points, but they also made one stinker. More about that in a moment. First, a little background.

At its May meeting, ASMFC voted to get public comment on a plan to increase the commercial catch by an unspecified amount.

Supporting the motion by the New York representative were Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Opposing the idea were Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the NOAA outfit headed by former Maryland DNR Deputy Secretary Eric Schwaab.

Everyone in favor says increasing the commercial catch is only fair since the recreational catch has increased nearly 14 percent in the last six years while the commercial total hasn't budged.

All well and good.

But when you ask those who favor the increase about some of the unknowns--the decreasing number of juvenile striped bass, the projections that show a decline in the number of fish age eight and older, the disturbing reports that two-thirds of the stripers in the Chesapeake Bay are infected with a wasting bacteria--the conversation drifts or you get a shrugging of the shoulders.

There's no comfort in that.

And that's when recreational anglers were on their game Monday night, arguing that it's bad business to push the acclerator to the floor when you don't know how full the gas tank is.

Where they lost me was arguing that they should have greater access because recreational fishing is more valuble to government coffers than commercial interests.

I'm not sure I can support the concept that someone's hobby is more important than someone else's livelihood. And I don't know that it's always a good idea to link monetary benefits to societal importance.

If we go down that path in this economy, it won't be long until we're making the same arguments when it comes to programs for special needs children vs. the larger school population. Or building access ramps at parks vs. new trails. Or paying for senior citizen programs vs. youth services.

The resource, in this case striped bass, belongs to everyone, whether that person is driving a Grady White or a trawler.

If and when the stock is healthy--and scientists can prove it--I don't see why commercial fishermen shouldn't get a bigger slice of the pie so consumers can enjoy fresh striped bass fillets at a restaurant or at local market.

But if the stock isn't healthy, we should be talking about adjusting recreational activity, starting with protecting the big, female fish and shutting down the senseless winter slaughter of 200,000 to 800,000 striped bass off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.

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The Virginian-Pilot & The Ledger-Star. All Rights Reserved.

For four years now, the state has worked to reduce the number of shellfish-eating rays in the Chesapeake Bay by adding a new predator to the waters - humans.

The state opened the waters to ray fishing and created a market for the winged creature's blood-colored flesh, which tastes more like veal or flank steak than seafood. It even changed the name from bullfish to the more palatable-sounding Chesapeake ray.

But, so far, few are biting.

'I have folks who buy it who are vegetarians because it tastes like red meat,' said Chuck Macin, owner of Uncle Chuck's Seafood in Virginia Beach, but he says that if he had to depend on revenue from the sale of ray meat, he'd 'starve to death.'

For many fishermen, the Chesapeake ray is an odd-looking nuisance that packs a punch; a stinger near the tail is best avoided. But it's also a meaty fish, with about 7 pounds of flesh on an average- size ray.

The benefits of developing a sustainable Chesapeake ray fishery, officials say, would be many: another season of income for watermen, a new product for consumers, and revenue for the state from taxes and permits. Plus, oysters, the master filters of the bay, would have a better chance of survival.

This time of year, Chesapeake rays, also known as cownose rays, descend on local shellfish beds, suck clams and oysters from the sand, crush them with rock-hard plates that serve as teeth, spit out the shell and move on.

'We've had trouble with bullfish for the last 15 years,' said H.M. Arnold III, an Eastern Shore waterman who has seen 'acres of them' feeding at once, so many it seemed he could walk across their wavering wings.

'They're lethal,' he said. 'They eat it all.'

Scientists have not determined how many of the migratory rays dine in the Chesapeake Bay and inland waters of Virginia's Atlantic coast each May to October. Anecdotally, the population seems to have reached a high as the ranks of the rays' natural predators - sharks - have declined.

That has the state trying to lure people to the top of this food chain.

Chefs have developed recipes for dishes such as ray marsala and Korean ray soup. Cooking demonstrations at venues across the state - including the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach - extol the pleasures of eating it. Nutritional analyses tout the meat as high in protein and low in fat.

A product called Chesapeake stingers has been developed - a breaded, pre-fried strip with a bit of a kick. And L.D. Amory & Co. Inc. in Hampton now can process rays by machine, which reduces waste and increases profitability.

'It is a food source; it's not just a nuisance,' said Mike Hutt, executive director of the Virginia Marine Products Board, the state entity at the forefront of the marketing campaign.

L.D. Amory & Co. sends wholesale shipments to Asia and out w est, but Sam Rust Seafood Inc., also in Hampton, hasn't had a local order for Chesapeake ray for months.

Still, optimism persists.

'This is still in its infancy,' said Meade Amory of L.D. Amory & Co.

He pointed out that 30 years ago, Americans didn't want to eat squid. Then it was marketed as calamari, and 'now it's a staple.'

Same with the Patagonian toothfish. We 'couldn't give it away,' Amory said. But when the name was changed to Chilean sea bass, it became a highly sought species. Then it was severely overfished, so much so that watch groups discouraged consumers from eating it.

What state officials and scientists want to avoid is the fate of the Chilean sea bass and, even worse, the Chesapeake ray's sister species, the Brazilian cownose ray.

After achieving popularity, it was quickly overfished into endangered species status, said Robert Fisher, a Virginia Institute of Marine Science fisheries specialist and marine scientist who has been studying the Chesapeake ray for years.

'If the market takes off, we'll need to establish catch limits,' said John M.R. Bull, spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

The goal in managing the fishery will be to strike a balance between maximum catch limits and maintaining a ray population that can sustain itself.

That might be trickier than it seems. Although stocks appear plentiful, Chesapeake rays have a long gestation period - 11 months - and a low birth rate - on average just more than one pup a year. And when they swim into local waters in late spring, many females are pregnant. So killing one ray early in the season may mean killing two.

Fisher, the scientist, soon will release the results of his research, but he hopes that the market won't take off until the science is solid, including hard and fast population estimates and mortality rates.

Meanwhile, the state continues to hawk the Chesapeake ray at supermarkets, festivals and, in the fall, at the Virginia Aquarium.

'A turning point will be reached,' predicted Bull of the marine resources commission, 'and it will take off.'

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J.H. report:

The captains of the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association have been spending most of their time fishing for summer flounder along with some forays for black sea bass and tuna. Captain Dave Wittenborn of the “Compass Rose” reports the fluke are starting to leave the bays and make their annual migration out onto the ocean lumps. He has been putting together catches of fluke in the bay, however, knowing that with the water temps reaching close to 80 degrees, the fluke are in the deeper holes and channels. He is finding the keeper ratio at about 50 to 1. When a party cancelled its charter, he fished alone in 55-feet of water and found a small pocket of large fluke. Using short drifts he limited out in two hours on fish to 4-pounds along with releasing some 15 shorts. This was a much better ration than most other locations. Captain John Koegler of the boat “Pop’s Pride” fished the ICW between Markers 109-113 but managed only one keeper among over 20 fish. He had a trip offshore for bluefin tuna at over 50 miles and found bluefish and bluefin mixed together. Unfortunately he was looking for tuna, and the bluefish were a nuisance. Captain Fran Verdi of the “Drop Off” reports the sea bass are thick on some of the wrecks, but the bite is erratic as they are currently spawning. He plans to focus on ocean fluke until the sea bass bite becomes consistent. Captain Fran has gotten good reports on tuna at the inshore lumps and plans to fish there as the weather permits. Additional information on the association can be found at www.BHCFA.com or by calling 1-877-LBI-BHCFA (1-877-524-2423).

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Hey, maybe we should support our sharks:

[Island Packet] - July 21, 2010 - Trawl for shrimp a couple hours, then patch the shark-chomped nets for a few more.

Such is life lately for Craig Reaves, owner of C.J.'s Seafood Market in Beaufort.

It's almost every day that sharks gnaw at his shrimp nets, he said, leaving the costly task of patching them for the next day.

'It's always been an issue in the summertime,' Reaves said. 'But it's probably the worst we've ever seen it this year. The sharks are just eating our nets up on a regular basis.'

And that's trouble for shrimpers. It costs them lost time, the expense of replacing or repairing the nets and the shrimp that escape through the holes or are eaten by the sharks.

Reaves's observations were echoed by other local shrimpers, who say they've dealt with sharks more than ever in 2010.

'It's a lot more prevalent this year from what I've heard and seen on the dock,' said Tonya Desalve, owner of Benny Hudson's Seafood on Hilton Head Island. 'The hot water brings the sharks, but it seems to be even more this year.'

Mel Bell, director of fisheries management for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, has heard the complaints, too. No data exist on the net attacks, he said, but all indications show they're up this year.

Bell hypothesizes that years of tighter restrictions on shark fishing have thinned out one of their two main predators -- humans. The other shark predator is other sharks, which might have been thinned by earlier over-fishing, leaving younger sharks room to grow.

This year, in particular, there was a six-month ban on catching small coastal shark species that ended in June. A six-month ban on catching larger species, like blacktips, ended Thursday.

The most common shark in the Lowcountry is the relatively small, 3-foot-long Atlantic sharpnose. But some 39 species roam here -- sandbar sharks, blacknose sharks, finetooth sharks, bull sharks, tiger sharks.

And although93 people applied to fish South Carolina's waters for sharks in 2009, only 22 have filed applications this year, Bell said.

'There's not too many shark fishers out there,' said David Harter, president of Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club. 'We usually catch sharks because we're fishing for something else. We sometimes think of them as a nuisance, but they're a normal part of an ecosystem.'

But to shrimper Richard Baldwin, the word for sharks is nuisance.

'If you go out there, they'll bite you every day,' he said, of his nets. 'They're bad.'

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Have you ever heard of or purchased BASA fish.

You can buy this fish at WalMart or your favorite seafood restaurant and fish and chip stores now.

Just look for the Made in Vietnam label. Watch this video and you might not want to buy it.

http://www.vimeo.com/11817894

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