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Capt. Monty Hawkins Report
Friday, June 24, 2016

Greetings All,

Been catching sea bass in declining numbers as summer would have. Most days we have someone in double digits, but not everyday. Flounder continue their on/off showings with just one more limit & numerous dinners coming ashore. We've also had some false albacore (little tunny) on our troll-out/troll-in rods.

Fishing's not bad, so long as you don't intend on filling a freezer. Stink a pan..

I hope to come-tight on a bluefin tuna before long too..



Below is one of the letters I've sent management lately. The MRIP-based cancer infecting management's ability to use reason & logic has not gone away. It's gotten worse. I believe the "we must use this data, it's all we have" school of thinking that has taken recreational fishing down this abyss is about to come to its conclusion for sea bass -- Season Closed.

Period.

It's bad..



In the letter below I try to show how the lowest baseline for sea bass production can be deduced from pre-management landings. We had LORAN C & color depth sounders before management began - we knew where they lived: the For-Hire & Commercial sea bass fisheries were unforgiving. Every Fish We Could Catch Died. ..yet we caught lots of sea bass again each spring and fall -- every year.

That should then be an excellent guide to set as a minimum performance level. We know what we caught before regulation began. If managers cannot attain even that very low level of 'unregulated' performance, then something is very, very wrong.



Using five year averages from MRFFS as a guide, we could say pre-management For-Hire landings were about 3.6 million individual sea bass annually. Because today's catch is just .5 million pounds a year, & if we assume sea bass spawning production baseline values are unaltered, then the For-Hire industry alone should be contributing 3.1 million cbass annually into a 'bank' of uncaught and therefore conserved, or 'restored,' sea bass.

That's exactly what we saw in early management with exponential population growth while there were no bag limits & only a small size limit ..but it's not at all what we see today. If it were, the ocean would be full of sea bass.



NOAA is forever going on about how they "Have To" use the MRIP recreational catch estimates as if they were factual because it's their "best available scientific information."

To illustrate how weak their "Have To" argument is, below is the second paragraph of the MAFMC's "Black Sea Bass Fishery Information Document June 2016" (Sentence numbers mine)



********

(1) Black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning that they are all born female but most later transition to males, usually around 2-5 years of age. (2) Male black sea bass are either of the dominant or subordinate type. Dominant males are larger than subordinate males and develop a bright blue nuccal hump during the spawning season. (3) About half of black sea bass are sexually mature by 2 or 3 years of age and about 20 cm (about 8 inches) in length. (4) Most black sea bass greater than 19 cm (about 7.5 inches) are either in a transitional stage between female and male or have fully transitioned to the male stage. (5) Studies have shown that fishing pressure can decrease the age of transition from female to male. (6) Black sea bass reach a maximum size of about 60 cm (about 24 inches) and a maximum age of about 12 years.1,2

*******



Great Scott.

What a mess..

I don't even know where to begin.

The highlighted section is what we saw pre-management (with self regulation size limits) in about a quarter to a third of the total population. Transitions from female to male at age one continued during early management until 1999 or 2000. I have never seen ALL sea bass of a certain size transitioned to male..

The MAFMC's transition sizes are sourced from Reinboth, 1965; & Lavenda, 1949; (via Kendall's 1977 Sandy Hook "blue book" & here Dave Packer & John Manderson's 2007 re-edit) Biologists once thought sea bass 17 cm (6.6 inches) were age two. Sentences 1, 3, 4, & 5 all use the old age to length guides--which we know today are fabulously wrong.

Now we know 5.5 to 9 inch fish are age one.

Yup. They grow quick & can mature fast like mahi-mahi. (or we can slow that quick maturity down - & have.. That's why I am forever asking management to examine "age at maturity" as a tool for population enhancement.) (Interesting article from a Hawaiian newspaper about mahi productivity http://www.lahainanews.com/page/content.detail/id/508423/Mahi-Mahi--the-rabbits-of-the-ocean.html?nav=21 )



Sentence 2 is, I believe, a work in progress. No one has documented spawning behavior of sea bass at sea. We have no idea if subordinate males actually participate - we don't even know how fertilization takes place. Broadcast? Nesting? No one knows.. But we do see females in bowls adjacent to reefs... In my experience, nuccal humps are key to judging spawning production. (the vibrant blue 'knot head.') The younger/smaller we see these blue knot heads, the more productive our region's stock is. Spawning/breeding productivity alters everywhere in biology owing to resource availability. Management could use it as a multiplier were they to sincerely seek the "Best Available Scientific Information



In sentence 4 we see the vast difference between then (pre & early management) & now (post 12 inch regs after 2002.) Last year my crew & I saw just one under 9 inch male sea bass - the rest were female. Over the last 5 or 6 years there've been very few small males. This year, (I think because last year's spawning stock was so dismal,) we are seeing more small males - a lot more - but nowhere near what was in evidence during the early management period.

We may know today that these are solidly age one fish, but previous works before aging was refined did not. Although they incorrectly thought back-when they were age 2 or 3, those early studies certainly would have had their lengths correct and could be easily corrected for age.

The return of age one sea bass to the spawning stock because of 'vacancies' across the inshore spawning grounds is brand new this year. I anticipated it because last year was the worst spring fishing I've seen in my 36 years.

This spring was much better & I hope for great spawning success.



I theorize what early management did with small size limits was to mimic this 'habitat vacancies' spawning trigger over heavily fished inshore reefs. With no big fish about, little guys jumped into the fray.

Mahi's productivity is understood by all to source from many spawns a year beginning in the first months of life; yet the "best available scientific information" for sea bass can't even figure out how old a 7 inch fish is, let alone determine whether any shifting of age at maturity has occurred in the management era.



Sentence 5 is the only good news. It shows the key to finding management's greatest effect in a species with spawning site fidelity.. By creating an enormous spawning population of young sea bass, early management sent the population into record territory.

However, once sea bass behaved as though their habitat was at capacity (a trick of size limit & not actual population) spawning production tapered sharply as age at maturity stretched out to age 3 & 4 (or eleven to thirteen inches..) While inshore reefs had more pressure and a young spawning age prior to 2002, outside of half-day party boat fishing range more & more large fish accumulated on more distant reefs.



Sentence 6 shows Lavenda's top age. Curiously, this biologist also thought female sea bass were never larger than 13.5 inches (34 CM) - yet females larger than that are an everyday/every client occurrence today. In fact, not only were there virtually no under nine inch male sea bass over the last 15 years along DelMarVa; there's no possible way that the assertion in sentence six that all sea bass are either in transition, or have already transitioned by 7.5 inches is correct. It never would have been correct in the lower Mid-Atlantic.

What is true is that in a catch of 12.5 inch or better sea bass today, most will be female.

It is also true that there are more large females than ever before - ever. Yet production is ham-strung in small males' absence.....



This is NOAA's "Best Available Scientific Information" & woefully out of date. It is precisely management's willingness to accept this rubbish NOAA has served-up as "science" that allows MRIP & MRFSS to be considered 'science' too.



When matched with MRIP's failings, you can see how NOAA/NMFS & Council/Commision management's "Best Available Scientific Information" strikes fear in the hearts of fishers..

Promise: the recreational sea bass fishery is being lead to the guillotine..



Everyone watching fisheries issues sees the sea bass fishery's regulatory death coming. For some states it's already here.

While I will continue to fight from beyond bankruptcy, I would prefer errors & inaction were corrected for now so that fishers' regulatory-caused economic free-fall would stop & at least stabilize, if not improve.



Below is a comment I made to the black sea bass advisory panel & the management community in general.

MRIP will soon assert that small plastic boats have again taken more sea bass from one state than all trap & trawl from the whole coast. Managers will be forced to again accept MRIP's findings as gospel & find a way to stop recreational fishers from 'overfishing' - by again tightening any/all regulations on sea bass.

Real science will be out back dying of a heroin/fentanyl overdose, while managers debate tighter regulation based on wholly outdated or completely fabricated diaper-scrapings NOAA allows them.



My spring bookings were the lowest ever this year. Who will book for 5 sea bass @ 15 inches? Or less..

Yet we witnessed, and so did NOAA, exponential population growth with no closed season & much smaller size limits.



Forcing managers to use NOAA's 'best available scientific information' is creating a trail of dead fisheries.

Regulation thrives in ignorance, fish & fishers do not.

More & more & more people make a living on land controlling the water; while fewer and fewer people on the water are able to survive regulation.



Get ready to write.



Regards,

Monty


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