Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Tuesday, November 18, 2014: These coldly cruel winds wasted no time browning the ocean.

(Every now and once-in-awhile, I have to beg forgiveness for the typos that sneak in here, as I rapidly-plus try to get these blogs out and about. I assure you that 99.9 percent of my mistakes are truly grammatical overlooks. I’m actually well-taught when it comes to academic grammar, i.e. old-school learning, via ruler slaps to the head region by sharpshooting nuns. I’m also conversant with idiomatic parsing, my favorite zone to explore with new-age grammarality and out-there words of no particular or known origins. If you spot a typo so egregious it could get me hauled in, please let me know – or, if it works, pass it on.) 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014: These coldly cruel winds wasted no time browning the ocean. By late day, it was coffee and cream -- with a bit of whip cream on top. 

This darkening is not what the plugging doctor ordered. Hell, it’s not even what the bait-casting doctor wanted to see. 

We are only 12 days from the end of the 2013 LBI Surf Fishing Classic. What’s more we’re not all that far from the start of schoolie season. 

Size does matter this bassing time of year. Not that I’d weigh in anything under 30 pounds. I just like (video)taping bigger bass and then ceremoniously loosing them. I’ve had no such likes to this point. 

With the help of favorite rigs from Kirby, I turn to bait this week. I’m serious this time. 

On the signs-of-hope front, the gannet have arrived in droves. The large diving birds, that regularly live far out at sea, are prime indicator of where the bait is at. Their splashes are so big that, from a distance, many beach folks mistake the impact spray as whale blows.

If you’re fishing, make sure to pull out the binocs to watch them dive. Talk about making a splash. And some of them don’t land right. Nearly every year I find one or two of these booby-like birds on the beach, all stunned. Yes, they’re very close relatives of boobies, which is easy to tell when on the beach and their huge feet show.     


 Here’s a sick, albeit passing, thought. I was photographing the eagle-downed black duck the other day and underwent this overpowering thought process whereby I pondered tossing circle hooking a big chunk of fresh bloody duck and casting out.  

Admit it, that even gets a bit of an “Hmmmm” out of you, doesn’t it?

And you, with the same luck as I have, quickly envision finding yourself being rapidly approached by the only Fish and Wildlife officer you’ve seen in over decade.

 “Hello, officer. And isn’t it a lovely day?”

“Lovely? It’s freezing cold, the water is muck-brown and nobody has seen a fish in days. What’s more, your little duck buddy there seems to be having even a worse day. Sir, I’m gonna ask you out right: Are you using black duck bait?”

“What the f***! You mean to tell me there’s such a thing?! … And I’ll have you know that duck was killed by a bald eagle and dropped on the sand.”

“Sir, do you know how often we hear that excuse? We’ve actually dubbed it the bald eagle defense. Judges always get a good laugh out of that one.”

“Judges?! What judges?”

“Sir, you’re in violation of more state and federal regulations than I can count – but I’m gonna try. We got this contest going on back at the office. … In fact, you might wanna sit in your truck while I write ‘em all up. I’m gonna win that contest this year.”

 That dead black duck sat right the hell where it fell.


How much snow occurs in winter ... we should be honored to get any .  


Ron DonnerstagBetty and Nicks Bait and Tackle Fishing Club

Some striper seasoned with Italian dressing & butter. Tastes like poorman's lobster.
Some striper seasoned with Italian dressing & butter. Tastes like poorman's lobster.


ICCAT increases bluefin tuna quotas based on stock assessments, but some say increases are too large

SEAFOODNEWS.COM  by John Sackton  - Nov. 17, 2014

WWF said that the increases in Atlantic Tuna quotas approved by ICCAT this week are too much, too soon.
The organization which governs tuna fishing in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, agreed to increase the TAC from 13,500 tons in 2014 to 19,296 tons in 2016, a 20% increase in each of the next two years.
“It might seem a paradox, but the bluefin tuna case confirms that sometimes it’s more difficult to manage a success than a crisis,” Dr. Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries Programme at WWF Mediterranean said. “It’s hard to apply the term ‘moderate’ to an annual increase of 20% over 3 years. We are concerned that the huge conservation efforts of the last years might quickly fade away.”
The group set a 20% increase as a target for 2017 as well, but that is conditional on a future assessment.
With indicators of measurable growth in the western Atlantic bluefin tuna population, members of ICCAT raised the quota to 2,000 metric tons, an increase of 14 percent, even though the population remains severely depleted. According to scientific assessments, there is a good chance that increased catches will reverse the upward trajectory in population size. 
Next year the eastern bluefin quota will also increase, in this case by roughly 20 percent to 15,821 metric tons. Certain parties will also be allowed to catch an additional 321 metric tons. The quota will increase by roughly 20 percent again in 2016 and for a third time in 2017.
While ICCAT’s scientific committee agreed that a ‘gradual and moderate increase’ in catches would not jeopardize the stock health, some ICCAT members raised concerns that an increase of more than 70 percent is neither moderate nor gradual.
Several commission members raised objections, which could lead to fishing outside the bounds of scientific advice if these countries pursue catches over their allowable quota.
ICCAT took steps to strengthen port state compliance among members, but once again failed to implement a new system that would electronically track all catch and major sources of trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna.  This is the fourth straight year that the target date has been postponed.


We will see if they hit hard again tomorrow! 
We will see if they hit hard again tomorrow! #fallrun #bunker #maronesaxatillis #staffordpbatournament @thejettylife


Recreational Fishing Alliance  
Contact:  Jim Hutchinson, Jr. / 888-564-6732  
For Immediate Release
November 18, 2014     


Meetings Set On Proposal to Stop Anglers Groundfishing at Research Area


On November 25th, the New England Fisheries Management Council (Council) will hold a public hearing from 6-8 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel in Plymouth, Massachusetts to review a proposal to close down a 55-square-mile area of Stellwagen Bank to recreational anglers.  The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) is encouraging saltwater anglers and recreational fishing and boating industry leaders to attend the hearing and let their voices be heard. 

"If this closure goes through, we will endure a whole lot more to make trips with fewer customers," said Capt. Mike Pierdinock of the charter boat Perseverance out of Marshfield's Green Harbor.  "It will increase travel times to fishing grounds 1 to 2 hours, and cost us 20 to 40 percent more in fuel and overhead costs." 

 Capt. Pierdinock, who is also RFA's Massachusetts Chairman, added "this will devastate the charter boat fleet and all that rely of it to make a living."   Pierdinock's concerns on behalf of the recreational fishing community are also being echoed by several Massachusetts legislators concerned about the proposal and who have been urging the Council to consider the economic impacts of the proposed closure. 

"Our charter boat captains are telling us that this proposal is going to exact a heavy toll," said Rep. Vinny deMacedo, a Massachusetts State Representative from the First Plymouth District. "And decreased recreational fishing means less bait and tackle sales, fewer fishermen visiting our hotels and shopping districts, and less boats in our marinas." 

"We know our recreational and commercial fishermen are laboring under enormous ecological, regulatory, and financial pressures," said Rep. Jim Cantwell of the Fourth Plymouth district.  "Our fishermen are telling us this closure would just be another nail in the coffin." 

"Recreational fishing plays a pivotal role in the local economy," added state Senator Robert Hedlund of the Plymouth and Norfolk District of Massachusetts.  "This shutdown will be disastrous not only to the captains and crew of these boats but to the local restaurants, hotels and tackle shops. I strongly urge the council to reject any proposed closure of Stellwagen." 

Earlier this year, the Council's Recreational Advisory Panel sent a strong message to the council, unanimously opposing the proposed research area. However, a NOAA Fisheries' analysis indicating charter boat fishing activity has been low during the last decade in the proposed closure area is being used to support the closure; and New England recreational fishermen argue that data from the Vessel Trip Reports (VTRS) does not provide an accurate picture of fishing activity. 

"VTRs only capture one location per fishing trip, even though we typically fish multiple locations on a given day," said Charlie Wade, President of the Stellwagen Bank Charter Boat Association.  "The instructions ask us to report only the center point that represents all our activity on a given day. How can you possibly use that data to conclude anything about where we actually fish? Fishermen move in and out of this area on any given trip." 

"NOAA is saying this closure will not greatly impact the fishing industry, but our fishermen are saying otherwise," added Rep. Tom Calter, a State Representative for the 12th Plymouth District.  "We urge the New England Fisheries Management Council to hear their plea and consider the impact this will have not only on the boaters' livelihoods, but on the local economy as well." 

RFA executive director Jim Donofrio praised the bipartisan support from Massachusetts legislators as a key factor in the upcoming Council vote. "There should be nothing to gridlock this vote, denying access to these fishing grounds will have a devastating economic impact on the charter/party and recreational anglers and all of the businesses that rely on this historic fishery." 

Donofrio went on to charge what he calls "showroom environmentalists" for helping destroy the New England groundfishery in a few short years.  "All the criticism leveled against fishermen by folks at Environmental Defense Fund, yet they were the ones who were able to do in just 4 years what fishermen in New England couldn't do in 400 years, and that's to destroy the fishery." 

RFA has often criticized the 'catch share' and individual fishing quota (IFQ) schemes proposed by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) who helped spearhead the flawed system in New England just a few short years ago.  The sectorization and IFQ mechanisms put in place at the urging of EDF ultimately allowed large-scale trawlers to buy up enough local IFQ to strip-mine nearshore waters of cod. 

"The flawed catch share system has resulted in the poor status of the cod fishery that was at sustainable levels approximately 3 to 4 years ago," said Pierdinock who explained how the proposed Stellwagen Designated Habitat Research Area (DHRA) closure would come within one of the last areas that are accessible to the for-hire fleet that provides fruitful levels of cod and other bottom fish. 

"Until the flawed catch share system is modified there will continue to be a lack of fish at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary," Pierdinock added. 

The public hearings will be held starting November 24th in New Hampshire, and will continue through January 7th in Portland, Maine, with other meetings occurring as far south as Newport News, Virginia.  


Click here for the full schedule of meetings.



On Forage Fish… Managing the Unmanaged

Are large-scale fisheries for sandeels, silversides, bay anchovies etc. coming to a coast near you?


Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Really, if you fish, at all, this is important… for a very basic reason — If there’s no bait, there’s no fishing. If you spend more than a few days on the water every year, you know this to be the case.

Before I get to all this, you may have noticed I haven’t written a blog in a while.   And yes, we had a recent win on striped bass (Charlie covers that pretty well here: ASMFC ALMOST GETS IT RIGHT WITH STRIPED BASS). The lull is for reasons too complicated to get into here, but we hope to be back up and running full steam by early 2015.

Getting back on point, here’s the short version on where we’re at with “the bait” or what the pointy-heads call “forage”.

Yes, some bait species are currently managed by the Federal Councils or the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Most, however, are not. Absolutely, there have been and are issues with the way managed forage species like menhaden, river herring, shad, sea herring, mackerel, squid, butterfish etc, are managed, but they are indeed managed. I want to be very clear here that other forage species such as sand eels, bay anchovies, silversides, halfbeaks etc., are not. And that’s kinda scary.

Here’s why we should all be concerned… The Federal Fishery Management Councils and the states are finally getting smart about the forage species they manage. In other words they are beginning to understand that such bait species need to be managed according to ecosystem needs, or in other words the needs of the predator species that depend on them… instead of just those special interests that seek to harvest as many as possible. Yes, this development was slow in coming, and hasn’t gone far enough fast enough, but it does appear to be happening.

Bay Anchovies 3

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

So what does this mean? It means that the amount of large-scale harvest on those managed forage species is being and will likely continue to be ratcheted down, and rightly so.

We also need to keep in mind the long-in-the-making but fairly recent news of the collapse of codfish in New England. The groundfish fleet is massive. There have been huge reductions in allowable take of cod, and there likely will be even more reductions in the near future. It’s hard to believe those fishermen won’t actively be looking for new markets. In fact there’s already some scuttlebutt about directed   fisheries on forage species that have NO current management or oversight developing in New England.

And let’s also keep in mind all the fisheries in the Mid Atlantic that have been rebuilt as a result of the Magnuson Act’s mandates, and to avoid getting back into a situation where we were before rebuilding, harvest has been kept at a sustainable yet lower level. And, well, on the other side of that coin are all the fisheries the states have allowed to become depleted, and so those fish just aren’t there to catch.

What I’m getting at here is that there a lot of fishermen looking for new sources of income, and well, it makes a lotta sense that strapped fishermen are likely going to be, if they aren’t already, looking at prosecuting new fisheries.

It sure as hell isn’t unreasonable to believe the next frontier is the unmanaged forage species… For a few reasons. Globally, forage fishes are major contributors to marine fisheries, constituting more than 35% of annual landings in recent decades. Most of these landings are converted to meal and oil, and used as feeds in livestock and aquaculture industries, or used as bait (in the U.S., largely for the lobster industry).

I mean really, consider the increasing demand for Omega 3s (as a supplement among other things); the growing aquaculture (fish farming) and livestock industries; the fact that ground down/processed forage fish are used in all sorts of products ranging from fertilizer to lipstick where oily bait-fish are a traditional ingredient; and lastly there’s a hungry lobster industry that’s always looking for new, cheaper sources of bait.

So yeah, the point is there’s a lot of demand out there, and the stage is set for entrepreneurial fishermen to initiate large-scale fisheries on new low-tropic level species (and I just mentioned a few above, there are dozens and dozens of others such as grass-shrimp, krill, you name it… If it swims a market can likely be created). In fact, there are already rumors bouncing around about the development of cod-ends with super-small mesh nets to catch sandeels in New England.


Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Frankly, that really scares me. If I don’t have an abundance of sandeels in Oct and Nov, I pretty much don’t have a fall run. No stripers, no bluefish, no bluefin… Come to think of it, if I don’t have sandeels I don’t have an offshore fishery. Really, every single bluefin and yellowfin I’ve ever caught inside of 100-fathoms is loaded with sandeels. Sandeels are simply what bring these fish into striking distance for me. Without them, you could pretty much count out my entire offshore business in July and Aug. And wow… I guess I depend on them for my late-May and June flats fishery. Without that rush of sandeels there would be no reason for striped bass or bluefish to come up on the flats. This stupid charter fishing business is hard enough as it is with striped bass in the shitter and all. Taking sandeels outta the equation would probably end things pretty quickly for me, and lots of others.

I know I keep focusing on sandeels because it’s the sandeel large-scale fishery rumor that has me a little tweaked. I mean you could pretty much imagine how quickly the dynamics of the sandeel stock would change if one or two companies started removing tens of thousands, perhaps millions of metric tons outta that stock. It would be devastating… I mean, not just for my business, but probably the entire ecosystem. But of course it isn’t just sandeels. Do you really think we’d have a false albacore run if some innovative fishermen developed a way to harvest bay anchovies en-masse? You could forget about those iconic bass blitzes off of Montauk Point. You could forget about people coming to Montauk to fish at all.

And what about silversides. Probably wouldn’t be many fluke coming into the bays, right? And grass-shrimp? Or killies? What about halfbeaks? The possibilities are almost endless. Think it couldn’t happen? There are developing fisheries all over the world for things like krill (e.g theAntarctic) copepods (e.g Norway)… And guess what? There’s a substantial large-scale fishery for sand eels in the North Sea. Click on those links if you don’t believe me.

So why wouldn’t it happen here? The point is it could and likely will. And managers would get caught flat-footed in an ugly situation where we are fighting to prove that such fisheries aren’t sustainable during a time when resources (read, money for science) to study such matters are contracting, not expanding. As it stands today, and as backwards as it sounds, a fishery can open up on a species without any data, any plan, or any oversight in place—and the only way managers would likely get involved would be AFTER a problem develops and is brought to their attention.

What really needs to happen here is we need to get out in front of this thing, before it becomes a big problem and before we get into an impossible situation where large fleets are mowing down schools of sand eels, silversides, even krill, before we have any idea of what a sustainable harvest might look like. Where we’ll be struggling to figure out how to deal with it, while having no management scenario in place to curb such catches.

If we wait until those investments are made and those markets developed, \ there would be pressure on struggling Councils and NMFS to do nothing, because it would be real tough for anyone to prove such fisheries were causing damage to entire ecosystems.   And of course industry would say any reduction would cause them great economic harm etc., and they would be partly correct as industry would presumably have already invested in the gear to prosecute such fisheries. I mean Christ, you can see how this has played out with managed forage fisheries like menhaden and herring.

But enough gloom-and-doom… Let me get to the whole point of writing this blog. There is indeed a tangible opportunity to take some proactive action here.


Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Precisely because stakeholder groups had expressed strong interest in ecosystem-based approaches to fishery management and, in particular, the development of a policy for managing forage fishes, the Mid Atlantic Council, of which I am a member, is currently developing an Ecosystem Approaches to Fisheries Management Guidance Document, which, when completed, is intended to provide guidance to the Council with respect to incorporation of ecosystem considerations.

As part of the development of this guidance document, Council staff has been working on a series of white papers, including a recent Forage Fish White Paper. We saw a first draft of this document at our October Council meeting.   The paper, while still a work in progress, provides recommendations on management approaches that the Council could consider. And, guess what. There’s an entire section on unmanaged forage, including 4 different alternatives on how we might proceed in dealing with the unmanaged forage situation.

The last alternative “Declaring a Moratoria on New Forage Fisheries”, is IMO the best option.   I’m not sure “moratoria” is the right word to use, because it tends to imply it would take those unmanaged bait species completely off the table. That’s not the real meaning of moratoria, though. This option would, logically and proactively “formalize and scrutinize processes leading to development and implementation of the fishery, including need for assessments, determination of effects on existing fisheries” etc… In other words, it would require that any new large-scale fishery on such unmanaged forage be proven sustainable before it could be prosecuted. Seriously, that makes much more sense than letting fisheries develop, then getting caught behind the eight-ball.

If we were to go this way, the Council would view new fisheries on bait fish as having the potential to affect its conservation and management measures if these fisheries had an effect on any Council-managed species or marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles, or other ESA-listed species for that matter. That seems entirely reasonable given the importance of such unmanaged forage to the ecosystem.

Now, how procedurally would the Council go about doing this? That’s a tougher question than it might seem as there issues here. That said, there is precedent.

The North Pacific Management Council has taken significant precautionary action on their unmanaged forage. They brought a list of unmanaged bait species into the groundfish Fishery Management Plan and prohibited new directed fishing on them. They also created a new fishery management plan that prohibited fishing on most unmanaged forage species in the Arctic.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council brought several krill species into the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plans and prohibited all fishing for them. They are also currently working on an unmanaged forage amendment, which will bring a list of unfished, unmanaged forage species into all four of the Council’s fishery management plans as Ecosystem Component Species, with management measures to prohibit new directed fishing absent a rigorous review and a fishery management plan amendment to authorize any new long-term directed fishing.

What’s the correct path for the Mid Atlantic Council? I don’t know yet. Each course of action seems to have its own set of pitfalls. I don’t have the space to go into them here, nor do I think you wanna hear them. The bottom line is that I’m working with some people to try and figure that out.

What is damn important though is that anglers understand the issue, and the urgency, and ultimately provide support for protecting unmanaged forage, however we proceed. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that just about every seasonal run of fish we target depends on whether or not, and HOW large-scale fisheries are allowed to develop on unmanaged forage. I’ve kinda made it a personal priority. And all cards down, I kinda wanna see this happen fast.

I greatly suspect there will be some action initiated at the Mid Atlantic Council’s meeting in Baltimore which takes place Dec 9-11. A showing of anglers at that meeting would likely help the Council understand how critical this is for us. So stay tuned for details…

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