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Letter to send to ASFMC commisioners and the Governor

I wish I had more faith in politics and the ASMFC. Then again, many voices just like ours made a big impact on policies in 2013 regarding menhaden as well as just this year for the striped bass fishery. I want to have hope that responsible anglers like us can make a difference, but everyone knows that almighty dollar trumps all. Omega Protein and Virginia own 80 percent of the menhaden catch for the entire coast. They take those millions of pounds of fish necessary for countless other fisheries and ecosystems and make them into pellets for fertilizer, fish oil, and pet food. They want to take all they can and more, to say nothing of the bycatch, which usually ends up dead before it hits the water again. They claim their target is narrow, but the environmental impact is huge. Take five minutes out of your day to copy and paste this letter, type your name, and CC the commissioners and Governor Cuomo to let them know we don’t want those sons of bitches dictating the state of our ocean. If you give even half a shit, this is a painfree, no-brainer way to make your concerns heard. Thanks in advance.

—MKL/BKUAA

Dear ASMFC Commissioners:

We are writing to ask for your help in further protecting Atlantic menhaden, a small fish that has a big impact on the health of New York’s coastal environment, economy, and communities. On May 5th a big decision will be made and we are hoping that you will not vote to increase the quota for this year with no understanding of the impact on predators like striped bass, whales, sharks, birds and all the other animals, which consume menhaden as their primary food source. But rather to adopt interim Ecological Reference Points when making decisions about the 2015 quota and initiate an amendment to transition to long term ecological management.

The Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association comprises over 2000 members and anglers from the New York City area. Like most angler communities, we are a wide cross section of occupations, neighborhoods, families, and incomes. We worked hard to spread awareness and push grassroots efforts to make our elected representatives accountable for their actions regarding the menhaden issue in 2013 and our striped bass fishery this year. Now the state of Virginia and Omega Protein are using faulty pseudo-science based on speculation, hearsay, and random eyeball-test observation cited as empirical evidence to undo the efforts of 2013 and allow more menhaden rendering in the name of the dollar and with little regard to the huge environmental marine impact that comes with easing the restrictions we all worked so hard to attain. Relaxing the necessary restrictions based on one year’s worth of larger-than-expected adult menhaden, while ignoring the absence of any evidence of actual increased abundance, including menhaden recruitment over 1-year-old, is short sighted in its most generous assessment.

The new benchmark stock assessment shows that coastwide Atlantic menhaden biomass and egg production (fecundity) have increased since the late 1990’s. However, it also showed that menhaden abundance and recruitment remain well below historic levels. It is these latter predictors of a stock’s health that matter most to their predators, who largely rely on younger, smaller fish. These downward trends are troubling because fishing effort is highly concentrated in the Chesapeake Bay and mid-Atlantic, the nursery for menhaden and many other species, where the population may be highly sensitive to environmental factors such as hypoxia.

Additionally, the assessment shows that the population has not recovered throughout its historic range from Maine to Florida, as evidenced by the fact that a number of fishery independent surveys (particularly those in Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) were rejected from the analysis because they found an “extremely low occurrence of menhaden” (see pg. 124 of assessment).

As you know, Virginia, which houses Omega Protein’s rendering plant, is the only state that would benefit from an increase in the quota. A proportional increase to the 2015 quota (for example, even the maximum proposed 20 percent increase over the 2014 quota for each state), without reallocation, will not solve any state’s quota shortages or bait industry challenges. Without reallocation, increasing the quota would do nothing for New York. The reduction fishery (Omega Protein) has 80 percent of the coastwide quota and continued to be successful in 2014, the second year under the current catch limit. Under the current (Amendment 2) management system, quota can be traded between states.  Virginia could transfer a relatively small amount of quota and solve all other states’ current shortages without increasing the coastwide catch.

We thank the Commission for taking an historic first step but now it’s time to advance the Commission’s vision and to adopt Ecological Reference Points when managing this fish. Managers should not increase the 2015 quota for menhaden unless they leave enough in the ocean as food for predators. Current quota shortages should be addressed by reallocation or trading, not by sacrificing coastwide conservation.

Sincerely,

Send this to:

James J. Gilmore, Jr.
NYSDEC, Marine Resources
205 North Belle Mead Road
East Setauket, NY 11733
James.Gilmore@dec.ny.gov
Tel: 631.444.0433

Emerson Hasbrouck, Jr.
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Marine Program
423 Griffing Avenue, #100
Riverhead, New York 11901-3071
ech12@cornell.edu

Senator Philip Boyle
4th Senate District
69 West Main Street
Bay Shore, NY 11706
Tel: 518.455.3411 (Albany); 631.665.2311 (District office)
pboyle@nysenate.gov

On going proxy: Steve Heins
NYSDEC, Marine Resources
205 North Belle Mead Road
East Setauket, NY 11733
steve.heins@dec.ny.gov

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor, State of New York
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

(can email Cuomo at https://www.governor.ny.gov/contact)

Season starting soon, and menhaden help needed

photo from Discover magazine (http://discovermagazine.com/2001/sep/featfish)

We can all agree it’s been a long, cold winter. And though I could listen to Low’s “Last Snowstorm of the Year” over and over again, I’ve also been fiending for well over a month to get a line in the water; like seriously tying and retying leaders and sorting hooks and lures. Striped bass season starts this week! At least below the GW Bridge. The water temperatures still aren’t optimal yet, but I’m planning on hitting Jamaica Bay as soon as I can with a series of pencil poppers, Daiwa minnows, and 1/2oz. bucktails, trailers TBD. I recently moved out of Williamsburg and I haven’t updated since I still don’t have Internet at my new apartment; I need to make sure I can afford all the other necessary utilities since living at my last apartment completely skewed my idea of what a normal electricity bill looks like—our first bill was for over $2700 (did not pay that one) and averaged nearly $300/month. I’m living the total bachelor life, but this time it will look much different than when I was 24 going to graduate school in Berkeley, California. Lots of crap still in cardboard boxes, but at least all my rods and reels are taken care of, hanging neatly from the ceiling in Fort Greene, and my gear and car are primed and ready. Or maybe I’ll go up the Hudson a bit….

That being said, there’s been a lot going on around us lately, both locally and in the marine waters. First off, for us Brooklyn people, especially those who live in Greenpoint, is the development happening near Green Street pier up towards Newtown Creek. We’ve all seen the artist renderings rendering Greenpoint’s waterfront into Long Island City’s contemporary, but what we don’t always hear about is what’s going on with that land they’re planning on digging up. There was a very good article on the Greenpointers blog about exactly this, detailing the pollution under ground that’s seeping from the Nuhart Plastics building, and this is some nasty and not altogether hopeful news, but it’s something we should know about if the city’s planning to dig around and develop in our neighborhood.

From the Greenpointer blog: Note: If you live near the end of Clay/Commercial Street and are concerned about vapor intrusion speak with Jane O’Connell at the DEC (718) 482-4973. She is overseeing Nuhart’s remediation efforts and can help with air sampling questions. 

There’s also been a lot of news lately about menhaden, the fish most of the bigger fish we like to catch depend upon, and that same fish companies like Omega Protein like to scoop up by the millions and grind into pellets and fertilizer and pet food. I’ve talked about the importance of menhaden AKA bunker before in previous posts, back when the ASMFC was forced to confront the issue a couple years ago, but now they may be in trouble again. A new study, and that term is used at this point a little dubiously, found that bunker was “neither being overfished nor experiencing overfishing,” in Virginia waters. Next month, the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board will meet in Virginia, home of Omega Protein’s rendering plant, to decide if the new study is cause enough to lift the 20% reduction in the commercial bunker fishery, which happened in 2013. One can pretty easily see why this is important for the fishery in Virginia and for us anglers. Virginia/Omega takes nearly 85 percent of the total menhaden quota for the entire coast, so it’s obvious it’s in their favor when,

“The Menhaden Fisheries Coalition is touting recent media reports of multiple sightings by fishermen of vast schools of menhaden from Florida to the Gulf of Maine.

“They have been spotted coast-wide in numbers and in places that are far beyond the mid-Atlantic-based menhaden fishery,” the group said Wednesday. “This is consistent with what fishermen have been saying for years.”

—From an article in The Daily Press

Of course, evidence gathered from speculation and hearsay tells just the story the industry wants to hear with regards to opening up the fishery for exploitation again. There hasn’t been any evidence of more bunker in recent years, and this same study bases its “increase” on a higher-than-expected influx of heavier adult size bunker, the 10-inch kind we had roaming around Newtown Creek and the Harlem River last fall. The resulting higher-than-expected biomass is in no way indicative of the total health and sustainability of the species. From that same Daily Press article,

“But Ken Hinman, president of the Waterford, Va.-based advocacy group Wild Oceans, responded that the latest review only addresses the stock’s ability to sustain commercial fisheries and avoid depletion, not its role or capacity as an important forage fish for predator species from rockfish to humpback whales.

“‘Frankly,’ Hinman said, ‘recent headlines proclaiming that menhaden are ‘not overfished’ — given continued low abundance and the broader goal of providing adequate forage for the ecosystem — is like bragging that your bank account is not overdrawn, even though you still don’t have much money and you haven’t even added up your bills yet.'”

Another article that is a must-read is by John McMurray. From his post:

[The study] pretty much confirms everything I’ve just said. Lots of menhaden around, and predators and people are benefiting. But then seems to make the case that this is a reason to increase harvest. Uhm… WHAT?!

A new Atlantic menhaden stock assessment was completed in 2014 and released earlier this year. That assessment does indeed indicate an increase among fish in the oldest age classes, with more large adults than in previous estimates. Certainly not surprising, as it pretty much jives with what we’re all seeing in the water, at least in my neck of the woods. But the assessment also confirms that abundance of menhaden – the total numbers of fish – remains near historic lows, and that “recruitment” (the number of fish surviving past 1 year) isn’t great, which is bad news for the Chesapeake Bay. In fact the total numbers of menhaden actually declined from an estimated 35 billion fish in 2010, when they did the last benchmark assessment, to 13 billion in 2013, the last year we have data for.”

I received an email from Jamie Pollack at Pew asking the BKUAA to send letter and/or emails to ASMFC commissioners and Governor Cuomo regarding the importance of regulating the menhaden fishery and industry. I’ll put up a form letter you can (should) send and all the addresses in a separate post this week. We (anglers) were able to make some significant changes on this issue in the past, and more recently with striped bass regulations for 2015, and we can do it again. The label “the most important fish in the sea” isn’t just some bullshit tagline—we can’t let a company and industry that doesn’t give two shits about a marine resource except that which allows it to take all it can determine the future of countless other fisheries.

Fly Fishing Film Series Happening this Thursday

F3T_blast_01

I got an email from Alexander over at Urban Angler asking me to help spread the word on the Fly Fishing Film Tour happening this Thursday, March 26 at 7pm. The night is hosted by Urban Angler and the American Museum of Fly Fishing, and Catskill Brewery is sponsoring the event so there’s going to be free beer, beverages, and meatballs. Pick up tickets here!

1 @ 28″: New Striped Bass Regs for 2015!

striped_bass

Today was a good day if you’re on the side of striped bass conservation. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation voted on new regulations for striped bass possession for recreational anglers: in previous years the limit was 1 fish over 28″, and 1 fish over 40″ for most recs, and 2 fish over 28″ for the for-hire crowd, meaning party boats and charters (fishing above the GW Bridge in the Hudson has slightly different regulations). For 2015, the new regulation is one fish at 28″ for all recreational fishing, including the for-hires—which conservationists hail as a big step in the right direction for the shrinking population of striped bass. New York joins Connecticut and Massachusetts with 1 fish @ 28″, while Rhode Island’s Marine Fisheries Council voted last week to a split regulation of 1 fish @ 28″ for most recreational fishing, while the for-hires get 2 @ 32″. This was lobbied vociferously by the Rhode Island Party and Charter Boat association as well as its president Captain Rick Bellevance, according to Charlie Witek, an attorney and conservationist who writes the One Angler’s Voyage blog. Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management has the final say regarding limits. New Jersey, long seen as an adversary of striped bass conservation due to its unique position regarding commercial reallocation of its fishery (NJ doesn’t have a commercial fishery, but has measures to make those fish not killed in a commercial quota available to be kept by recs and for-hires, such as their bonus tag system that anglers can buy to keep more than the usual limit) has yet to finalize their decision. It’s universally expected they will go for a slot limit (from what I’ve read they’re looking at 1 fish at 28″ and a trophy slot 1 fish at 44″+) and include bonus fish tags.

All of this is still not set in stone after the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council’s decree of a 25 percent reduction in striped bass harvest last year. While states have to conform to the ASFMC reduction, each state is allowed to determine how exactly to achieve it, hence the voting and the varying limits from state to state, in a process called “conservation equivalency.” It’s expected the states will want to adopt the same measures, so while the 1 fish at 28″ was hard fought for by the environmentally-minded, and fought against by, among others, lobbies with financial interests in harvesting striped bass, it’s still one step in the direction of conservation. The fear among conservationists is that states like Rhode Island and New Jersey opening up their for-hire industry to 2 fish at 32″ (or whatever NJ decides) will force other states to adopt the same limits for fear of keeping that money in state—the theory is people seeking for-hire boats will go to out of state so they can keep more fish. It’s a questionable theory, in my opinion, but may hold some weight. I’ll have more on this and striped bass conservation in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, Dave Cole sent me a link for this. I like the comment about Wile E. Coyote.

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greenpoint + williamsburg waterfront circa 1992

this is super cool. check out the huxley envelope factory building near the Huron Street pier, which is already in pieces in the river. The Green Street pier still looks pretty nice, though! Not any more…

2014 Derby Over!

2014_alex2

It was a cold night for alligators and the hunters of fish but somehow we prevailed through the sixth Brooklyn Fishing Derby. The fishing was tough, the wind unforgiving, the bunker plentiful, and the spirits high, and in the end newcomer Alex Reh caught what might have been the only bass of the derby, a 26″ schoolie up in Greenpoint. A short, but a healthy looking fish, nonetheless. The news for the rest of the weekend went quiet, with only crabs tearing up my fresh bunker and stories of dedicated souls coming up empty. As people started to trickle in to Dream, the mood slowly began to shift while the grills started smoking and beer started flowing. A HUGE thanks to Barbara, Robert, and the rest of the crew at Dream for making this happen, by the way. I’m always impressed at how they hold it down while I’m getting drunk and forgetting to do things. Once we managed to clear Dream of all the smoke blowing in from the backyard, I started getting really hungry watching Jacques from Palo Santo pull out his bag of magic tricks.

2014_ben_jack

Shawn Hu brought his wife and daughter and a big sack of sugar cane to chew on while we waited for the masters of the grills to do their thing. A couple guys from Greenpoint Fish & Lobster brought more fresh fish and mussels. Robin and Altay sent us pictures of the tog stock cooking on their stove they’d soon be bringing to Dream. Not to be outdone, Ben started it off with spicy lobster and fish sausages, salmon filets, salmon burgers, whole shrimp skewers, and Chilean sea bass—all of which I believe was donated by The Lobster Place. I could feel people start to get stoked as the smells coming off the grills got us salivating. I, like most everyone else here, spent most of the weekend wet and freezing and stressing out with little to show for it, but now it was becoming clear again what was the true reward. We swapped fishing stories, advice, fishing spots, beers, laughs… It was all coming together.

2014_germans
These guys came from Germany to fish and ended up one snagged line short of possibly winning the derby. We had a nice mix of new faces and familiar ones, but we were missing out on some KEY members, to which I will call out Dave “It’s noon o’clock somewhere” Cole—who was not only too drunk to keep fishing Saturday, but too hungover to come to the party Sunday, Jane “I’m married now” Borock, Thomas “I got a kid now” Genoski, Maria “I haven’t fished in years” H., and James “I got an adult life now” Potter. I’m bummed you guys missed it, and you now have to listen to me give you shit for it for another year. No matter, we soldiered on through the beers and the evening. A guy named Kyle graced us with some incredible, homemade duck jerky, which reminds me that two-time champion Jan Gorz caught a Canadian goose on n5th an hour before the derby close. Jacques prepped awesome bluefish tacos, and Robin and Altay arrived with their Carribean fish “tea.” That Chilean sea bass made a quick appearance and quicker disappearance, and despite my ethical qualms with eating this fish, I swear if you could glaze a stick of butter with brown sugar and honey, that would have been this fish. The award ceremony was short and sweet, with John Ruffino handing over the cup to Alex Reh, who stood in triumph over us lesser fishermen.

alex_trophy2
Oh, and here’s his fish. Congrats the Alex for pulling this guy out on a tough weekend of fishing.
2014_alexreh

Somehow I managed to not get blackout drunk at this year’s closing party, although no one will let me forget the time I thought I got roofied at The Woods. The 2014 Derby was over, and I think we have a lot of work to do for next year, but somehow the closing party always gets people together and makes all the work, disorganization and scrambling worth it ten times over. A big Ilya Bryzgalov humongous Thank You goes to everyone who came out for this year’s derby, our sponsors—ACME Smoked Fish, Greenpoint Fish and Lobster, The Lobster Place, Brooklyn Kitchen, Jacques at Palo Santo, and, of course, everyone at Dream. We couldn’t have done it without all of you.

But the fishing’s not over yet; I’m hoping to squeeze in a few more trips before the weather goes full on winter, to Breezy, to Montauk, to wherever I can go. Robin, by the way, is gauging interest in a blackfish trip on the Ocean Eagle out of Sheepshead Bay before the season is done. Contact me if you’re interested and we can set a day for a trip.

2014_ben

—mkl

[most pictures taken by Geralyn Shukwit]

2014 Derby UNDERWAY!

Many thanks to everyone who braved the cold rain to meet us at Dream Tackle tonight in Greenpoint. One of my favorite things about the Derby is meeting new people and reconnecting with friends. We had a bunch of food thanks to ACME Smoked Fish, beer thanks to Pabst Blue Ribbon, and hospitality thanks to Robert and Basia at Dream. One side note before I get too far, Dream has A LOT of fresh bunker right now. I reached in there and tested those fish out. GET SOME NOW while the getting is good. I jokingly asked if Robert threw a casting net into Newtown Creek this morning.

Back to the opening, it was great meeting some new folks like Justin and Alex, and meeting up with friends like Jacques, Alex Marquez, Robin (who pleaded for me to open a blackfish category since she is currently crushing them at her secret locations), Geralyn, Ruffino and his crew, Dave Cole, and others who we are always happy to see. Jon Capo showed up late and didn’t get his shirt. Don’t worry, Jon. We have them in Ben’s truck. Just show up Sunday if you didn’t get yours, and if you asked me (via email) to hold one for you, I have yours.

Despite the near-freezing rain, a small, but dedicated crew decided to head out Thursday night. The weather sucked; nobody needs to elaborate on that, really. I ran home, grabbed my gear and my flask of whiskey to ward off the chill, and met up with Ben—of Derby and lobster roll fame; Jacques—of last year’s grill and Fort Reno fame; Dennis—of fishing and gyotaku print (he did the fish logo for our derby this year) fame; and Geralyn—of photography fame. Me, I’m perhaps famous for swiping all the way through to the end of Tinder. Alex Marquez decided to set up on a nearby Greenpoint Pier. There’s been a lot of whispers about the pod of bunker hanging out in Newtown Creek lately. It sounds crazy to me too that they would be schooling up around that particular waterway, but here is the photographic proof from our own hands:

ben_bunker

me_bunker

Ben got the first one. He swore up and down that his was bigger, and that was the reason he pulled a muscle, I won’t say which, hauling it in. We both snagged up on weighted trebles, which you can also find in good supply at Dream. We both decided to live line them, though I was skeptical we’d find any bass of the size that could swallow these adult bunker, and I do stress that these were adult size bunker, but then again, the East River surprises me every year and having a few thousand bunker schooling in Newtown Creek is surprising enough. If a 300# sea lion came and snatched my bunker and rod away, I couldn’t be that surprised after this. Regardless, our lines lay untouched. Ben hooked his bunker through the tail and it promptly drowned itself to death. I hooked mine through the dorsal and somehow it became so lively as to unhook itself. Ben tossed his dead bunker over the side. I surreptitiously snagged it back to put it on ice, where it lies with the other fresh bunker I bought at Dream, to wait for tomorrow night.

Not to be completely outdone, Alex Marquez submitted this photo:

a_marquez

of what is the first striped bass of the 2014 derby. He is now the leader, despite the fact that this guy is smaller than the bunker Ben and I caught. Way to go, Alex! Get out there and get some!

—mkl

2014 Derby Starts THURSDAY!

It’s time for the 2014 Derby, and despite the cold weather blowing in, I know there’s some dedicated fishing folk out there who’ve heard about the mass of bunker hanging out in Newtown Creek underneath the Pulaski Bridge. If one were industrious, you could get a nice head start on some bait for the derby!

Thursday night the derby starts at 1900 (7PM) and will run through 1500 (3PM) Sunday, November 16. The biggest fish gets the trophy and all the requisite trash talking and bragging that come with it. Come to Dream (673 Manhattan Ave.) to register, pick up your shirts, and gear up for the weekend. This is the East River, so you know you need plenty of hooks, lead, and terminal tackle. We’ll also have a bunch of delicious food donated by Rich over at ACME Smoked Fish, so come get some snacks. I’ll also pick up some beer for you adults out there.

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Here’s a brief run down of the rules:

*Registration is FREE, but you must be registered BEFORE you enter a fish in the derby

*Target species are striped bass and bluefish

*Derby boundaries run from the 69th Street Pier in Bay Ridge north to the Gantry Pier in Long Island City. Any waterfront between these two piers is fair game, legal to fish or not, but I didn’t tell you to trespass.

*All fish can be submitted via photograph to our Flickr + Twitter account by texting the photo, with a measurement clearly marked, to BKDerby.catch@pikchur.com

The closing party will also be at DREAM on Sunday, starting around 1530 (330PM). All legal sized fish are welcome to donation to our team of cooks who will be grilling out back just like last year. And like last year, the derby is about friendly competition, good friends and food, meeting new people, and the growing fishing community in Brooklyn. Kids, jetty guys, surf guys, fly fishermen—everyone is welcome. Can’t wait to see everyone Thursday night! Dress warm! Any questions, please contact me at bkuaa.info(at)gmail.com.

—mkl

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