STRIPER ACTION NEEDED DURING THESE DOG DAYS

Well it’s the dead of summer again, and as I predicted it has flown by and taken the fish with it. I fished hard during the middle of May to the end of June, with only a few short bass to show for it. I showed up a day late for that blitz at Jacob Riis to find the park empty and the ocean devoid of life. I actually did catch a tiny dogfish last weekend, which I guess is better than nothing though I think it probably shakes out about even. Summer being summer, the rest of the weekends are fully booked with non-fishing events until well after Labor Day.

In the meantime, we need some letter-writing action to the Atlantic States Marine Fishing Commission, an organization I’ve often flogged for not fulfilling the responsibilities it set out for itself. But we’re reaching a critical point where we need to take conservation measures now or pay for it long-term in the near future. I have a sample letter you can copy and paste below and the New York commissioners’ information is there as well. It’s easy and emailing takes only a couple minutes. Get them out and let them know how important this is for the future of the fishery.

 

James J. Gilmore, Jr., Chair
James.Gilmore@dec.ny.gov
NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation
Division of Marine Resources
205 North Belle Mead Road, Suite 1
East Setauket, NY 11733-3400
Tel: 631.444.0433
Ongoing Proxy: Maureen Davidson

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

Sen. Todd Kaminsky
kaminsky@nysenate.gov
55 Front Street Room 1
Rockville Centre, NY 11570-4040
Tel: 516.76.8383
Fax: 516.766.8011

Dear Commissioners,

I’m writing as a member of the Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association, a group of over 1500 likeminded fishing folk and lovers of our shared marine resources. I’m asking you to seriously consider the actions and consequences of your August 8 meeting concerning the Commission’s potential striped bass conservation measures. Specifically I’m asking the ASMFC to protect the striped bass as it once did in the 1980s, to fulfill its charter, to honestly and aggressively act on the management triggers the Commission themselves created, and honor the requirements set out by Amendment 6 to the Interstate Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass: to reduce the fishing mortality rate to a level at or below the target within one year, and to rebuild the stock in no more than 10 years. This is the responsibility of the Commission.

It’s no secret that recreational fishing makes up the majority of the surf fishing industry. The money spent on tackle, supporting small businesses, supporting guide services and charters, supporting tourism, all have a significant impact on the overall health of the industry, and all are dependent on healthy marine stocks, in particular the striped bass. Surfcasters up and down the coast have for years noted the drop-off in striped bass fishing. It’s been documented by the best-available science, and confirmed by your own studies. The Commission needs to take seriously the harsh reality those of us on the water have seen: that striped bass, along with critical baitfish species, need to be managed as an ecosystem and that time is of the essence to act. None of us will benefit from a further depleted stock.

The striped bass recovery of the 1980s was a remarkable success for the ASMFC, but it didn’t happen without making difficult decisions. We are nearing that precipice again and now is the time for Commissioners like you to decisively act to protect the species. We are dependent on you to do what’s right for the future. Please carefully and honestly evaluate your actions regarding striped bass on August 8 and the upcoming months. We are only asking the ASMFC to fulfill its duties, and it’s up to you to ensure the Commission remains a protector of our marine resources.
Sincerely,

Michael Louie
Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association

DO FISH CARE IF IT’S RAINING?

 

rain

Me: Yes, that explains why I couldn’t buy a hit on perfect glass water with a variety of pencil poppers.

Fish: LULZ wut is rain.

PUT UP OR SHUT IT DOWN

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Taken from the 1@32 FB page

The Spring season of excuses is here. Mine, typically made in groggy early morning hours, are usually: “I worked 14 hours yesterday and I think I have to do it again today,” or “The tide will be better tomorrow,” or “Traffic will be stupid.” It’s a bunch of terrible excuses, a whole lotta bullshit. Before I know it, it’s the middle of summer.

There’s a lot more excuse-making going on out there recently, especially when it comes to striped bass management. 2019 could prove to be one of the most critical seasons since the early 1980s and the moratorium years when it comes to management action or inaction. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission and fisheries managers to kick the can or move the goalposts, probably a combination of both. Watch a familiar pattern of tongue twisting and ethical gymnastics in popular culture as “No collusion” transitions to “Collusion is not a crime.” Or they could face the hard truth and start making some difficult decisions about striped bass.

Hard Truth #1: striped bass are overfished and overfishing is occurring. The ASMFC’s Technical Committee (TC) released its striped bass benchmark assessment in February and there’s not a whole lot of good for the fishery in it. It confirms the stock is overfished, meaning the biomass is below the level scientists determined would represent a healthy stock, and that overfishing (removing fish at a rate that continues the downward trend) is happening. These are factors that requires the ASMFC to act, known as triggers. In the past, the Commission hasn’t acted and instead delayed any sort of meaningful action, in particular in 2013, when the previous benchmark assessment found the fishing mortality was higher than the target and the female spawning stock had fallen below target as well for several years. In fact, the current stock of spawning striped bass (SSB in charts) is about 68,500 pounds, well below the 91,000 threshold the ASMFC is supposed to maintain and the lowest it’s been since 1992, and it’s been below the threshold for five years straight.

These are triggers the ASMFC itself established to compel management and conservation action. For an excellent overview of striped bass management check out the post “Striped Bass 101,” by the Saltwater Guide Association—which I’d consider mandatory reading if you’re concerned about the state of the fish. For even more in-depth history of striped bass, you can also read Dick Russell’s excellent Striper Wars (try to find a used copy as the new ones can be a little pricey). There is another ASMFC meeting April 30 to determine the course of action in response to the TC assessment.

Hard Truth #2: Recreational fishers are responsible for killing more fish than commercials. It’s one of the reasons I push so much for personal responsibility when it comes to handling fish. The TC’s assessment found recs take of the overall striped bass landings (fish harvested or otherwise killed) was 42 percent, with the commercial take at 8 percent. The assessment also revealed that 48 percent of the total bass killed died after release by recs, compared to 2 percent for the commercials. This number is a little bit confusing as it’s easily mistranslated to: “50 percent of the fish I catch and release will die anyway.” That’s not the case.

As Ross Squire of the 1@32 Facebook group, and author of the blog post “About Those Dead Releases”, says,

“In table B6.3 it cites a recreational harvest of 2,934,292 fish (fish caught and killed) and dead releases (fish caught and released that then die) at 3,423,544 fish. The total of the commercial harvest plus commercial discards was 701,051 fish. When you total all the striped bass removals (fish harvested or killed after release) by the comm and rec sector you get total removals of 7,058,888 fish. The recreational dead releases account for 48.5% of all removals.

The ASMFC uses a calculation of ~9% when calculating the number of fish that when released wind up dying. So to get to a dead releases total of 3,423,544 fish, it implies that a huge number of fish had to have been caught. This is supported in Table B.6.30 which indicates that there were recreational releases (fish that were caught and then released) of 38,275,223.

To get the total number of fish caught by the recreational sector you would add the number of recreational releases plus the recreational harvest to get a grand total of 41,209,515 fish.” [Bold emphasis mine]

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From the Technical Committees Benchmark Assessment

And, as Charles Witek notes in his blog, “[N]early 38,000,000 striped bass were released in 2017, and of those fish 9%–around 3,400,000—probably died shortly thereafter.

But that means that 91% of them—about 34,000,000 lived.”

The 9 percent mortality rate in releases used by the ASFMC comes from a 1996 Massachusetts study called Mortality of Striped Bass Hooked and Released in Saltwater.

It does not factor in such considerations as water depth, salinity, or air temperature that could contribute to the survival or death of a released fish, but the 9 percent number is generally considered to be accurate. I’ll try to do another post describing the methods the scientists used in that study, but briefly, they observed catch and release of 10″-22″ striped bass in a 2 hectare (about 5 acres) enclosure. They concluded: “Depth of hook penetration in the oral cavity, anatomical site of hooking, gear type (treble or single hooks), and angler experience were significantly related to mortality…. The final model included depth of hook penetration, gear type, and angler experience as predictor variables. Predicted mortality ranged from 3% under the most favorable conditions to 26% for the worst set of conditions. Predicted as well as observed mortality for the entire experimental group was 9% which is generally much lower than reported in striped bass hooking mortality studies conducted in freshwater.”

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Current female spawning stock of striped bass (SSB) and recruitment. Note the drop off in recruitment on the right side of the graph.

Hard Truth #3: The only way to help the fishery recovery is to kill less fish. There’s a couple of different options on the table for the ASMFC’s April 30 meeting: creel limits (i.e. no more 2 fish/day in Maryland), season limits (reducing or eliminating part of the season like Virginia just did to its trophy season), and size limits (i.e. 1 fish at 36″ instead of 28″).  Neither of these is a magic pill and success will likely involve a combination of the three. The overall concern is whether they will adopt an addendum, which would mean emergency action, or an amendment, a process that takes considerably longer to enact. In part II of the Striped Bass 101 post, the authors write:

“Regardless of the outcome of such an Amendment process, it would be at least two years before the Board could implement management measures…. Despite the fact that the stock is overfished, and overfishing is occurring under the current regulations, [those] regulations would largely remain in place until the Amendment was completed.

Through an amendment Commissioners could ultimately avoid taking any meaningful actions to address overfishing, first by delay, and then by setting new reference points that reduce the spawning stock biomass target and threshold. Such new reference points would increase the risk of a stock collapse by allowing fishing mortality to remain high, while reducing the size of the spawning stock.

Essentially, this is an attempt to lower the goal posts under the justification that, well, since the Chesapeake isn’t as productive as it was when such reference points were developed, we should set lower goals.”

Some fishery managers are already taking positive action. Managers in Virginia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts recently wrote to ASMFC director Jim Gilmore asking for striped bass protections. “[N]ew data show that striped bass spawning stock biomass has remained below its critical lower threshold since 2013, and the fishing mortality rate has remained above its upper threshold since 2010,” they wrote. “It is evident that status quo management will be inadequate to return the striped bass stock to target levels of biomass and fishing mortality indicative of a healthy fishery.

I’d like to see New York sign on with something like this, but I don’t hold much hope for nearby states like New Jersey, Delaware, and certainly not Maryland, who is almost certainly responsible for the decimation of the 2011 class of stripers so often cited as one of the best recruitment years in decades.

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From the Maryland Biodiversity Project

Some background on this even though it should be its own post: the limit in Maryland is 2 fish per day with a 19″ minimum. The 2011 young-of-the-year recruitment was supposed to “save the fishery,” according to some, but fish that should now be in the 28″ to 34″ are scarce. From the article “Crunch Time With Striped Bass Management” by Michael Wright in 27East:

“That year [2011], the estimates of young-of-the-year stripers were sky high, with evidence that it was one of the three best “recruitment” years from the Chesapeake Bay stock that makes up the largest demographic of the overall striper population. That year-class should have been the dominant one for the next decade and a half.

But we are now in the latter half of that run, and the 2011 year-class seems nowhere to be seen. Those fish should be in the 28- to 34-inch range now, and just reaching spawning age. But for anglers, catching fish in that size range has been relatively rare in the last couple of years—just when it should have been nearly unavoidable.”

In most states, the size limit is 28″—the idea being at that size the females will have had a chance to spawn at least once before they are presumably caught and/or harvested. This is why the 2 @ 19″ limit Maryland allows is key here. The article continues:

“The problem is that in the states where most anglers fish the waters of the Chesapeake, size limits are much, much lower, because there are few chances to catch fish of more than 28 inches except during the short spring spawning runs.

For the rest of the year, the fish that are available to Maryland and Virginia anglers are those fish that don’t wander very far from their native waters (which is typical of striped bass not yet of spawning age), and the size limits reflect that. In Maryland, for instance, the minimum keeper size is just 19 inches. What’s more, an angler is allowed to keep two fish per day of that size for much of the year.

What this means is that those fishermen are killing fish very early in their lives, before they’ve spawned, and killing a lot of them. When the 2011 Chesapeake year-class reached 19 inches, the harvest in the bay states ballooned to triple what it had been in recent years.”

Put more bluntly by Tony Friedrich in this Fissues.org article: “Did you see a dramatic rise in the number of striped bass in the 28 to 32-inch range? If you didn’t, it is because Maryland anglers slaughtered the year class as soon as it became legal to do so.” To put this in numbers, Friedrich writes: “In 2012, Maryland anglers harvested 1.26 million pounds of striped bass. As the robust 2011-year class matured, the harvest skyrocketed to 4.3 million pounds in 2016.”

The Commission’s actions (or in-actions) starting at the meeting April 30 are going to be critical step for striped bass management. We need to push hard for an addendum that can be implemented quickly, with the long term goal of rebuilding the stock as the ultimate result. There will be a lot of pressure to go the amendment route to keep delaying any real action for the short-term benefit of a few.  There’s going to be people who say it’s all cyclical and that their are more striped bass out there than we can count, that science doesn’t matter, and that the numbers don’t add up. You can bet these groups, like the New York Recreational and For-Hire Fishing Alliance and the Recreational Fishing Alliance, are going to make their voices heard.

You’re going to hear people say the ASMFC is a sackless entity that can’t (or won’t) even enforce their own charter. They’ve routinely ignored their own triggers which they established themselves to force conservation action. I’m one of those people. They have the authority to rebuild the stock; they did it in the moratorium years in a decade, and even though we are not at those levels yet, this is their chance to take control of management and do what they were supposed to do in the first place. It’s not rec vs. comm. It’s not us versus them. Like rec fisherman Paul Sheldon told The Baltimore Sun in a recent article that show even Maryland is recognizing there’s a problem with the fishery: “Everyone’s pointing fingers at each other. If it doesn’t change, there’s going to be no fish to fight over at all.”

There’s one fishery out there, one stock of striped bass that we all contribute to and share a responsibility, and it’s the responsibility of the ASMFC to own up to its charter. As Charles Witek said in a post: “[T]he question is not whether [the ASMFC] has the authority, but whether it has the moral courage and political will.” Mark Eustice, in an Op-Ed in the Baltimore Sun, writes, “NOAA’s peer-reviewed science is proof striped bass are in deep trouble. Many on the ASMFC deny this reality, and they will undoubtedly work to postpone the inevitable and advocate for more studies before acting. This is unacceptable. Maryland must work with ASMFC now to cut harvests and start rebuilding immediately — or striped bass will be fated to slide downward into another moratorium.”

The ASMFC is not accepting public comments for its April 30 meeting, but you can bet the invested parties will be there. We can start by writing our commissioners (names, emails, and addresses below). I’m sure they won’t appreciate my current assessment of the Commission, but if there was ever a time for them (and us) to cowboy up, it’s now.

NEW YORK ASMFC COMMISSIONERS

James J. Gilmore, Jr., Chair
James.Gilmore@dec.ny.gov
NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation
Division of Marine Resources
205 North Belle Mead Road, Suite 1
East Setauket, NY 11733-3400
Tel: 631.444.0433
Ongoing Proxy: Maureen Davidson

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

Sen. Todd Kaminsky
kaminsky@nysenate.gov
55 Front Street Room 1
Rockville Centre, NY 11570-4040
Tel: 516.76.8383
Fax: 516.766.8011

 

 

—mkl

 

SMOKED OUT IN JERSEY… AND LETTERS NEEDED FOR JOHN MCMURRAY

Amid the cacophony of sirens and fire trucks coming from what seemed like five or six directions, Saturday was supposed to be a pretty nice day. The Lady (now capitalized intentionally) and I arrived in Asbury Park a little before noon to sunny skies and a light wind out of the southwest. I caught my last striper of 2018 here, as I did the year before and the year before that. Hopefully I will again this year, but before that I gotta get my first. And I thought Saturday was going to be the day. High tide at 530PM. SW wind. I had a couple trusty TinMan bucktails in the bag while I scoured the beach in search of striped bass number one of many for 2019.

I didn’t factor in fire, however.

AP-FIRE3

That’s a 5-Alarm fire burning down the iconic Ocean Grove Pavilion. Thankfully it looks like nobody was hurt, but it sent dense smoke north well past Long Beach and made fishing my regular spot pretty much impossible without a mask of some sort.

AP-FIRE2

The view from the boardwalk looking south

Still, tide and time stop for no one so I headed upwind of the fire into Ocean Grove, where I must admit I have never caught a fish. Plenty of jetties to hit around here though and some good looking, clean water crashing over a sandbar, screaming bucktail me, please. Cold water splashed over the rocks as I searched for any sign of life, bait or otherwise. Birds flew in mocking circles and in the background the Pavilion burned to the ground in a patina of grays and flashes of orange.

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ap-fire7

The result? Strike two for 2019. I guess stripers hate fire and sirens also. Really getting my casting reps in though, but not a bump to show for it just yet. It’s still early, however, so I’m calling these “practice rounds” to get focused for the real push, whenever that may be. I did just hear from a BKUAA member he got into some fish this weekend up to 27″ though, so maybe it’s on already and I just suck. Lucky bastard (good luck to him on his fishing trip as well!).

AP-FIRE5

That’s me out on the jetty, but who the hell is this guy taking my picture?

AP-FIRE4

Portrait of a lousy fisherman doing an ambiguously relevant cinematic reference.

****

This week the word circulating among various social media platforms and forums is that the New York Recreational and For Hire Fishing Alliance (NYRFHA) is lobbying to remove John McMurray from his position as proxy to the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission for Senator Todd Kaminsky. Kaminsky was a co-sponsor of a bill that would ban purse seining of menhaden in NY waters (by Omega Protein, owned by Cooke Inc.) If you recall, the NYRFHA and the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) were successful in getting McMurray removed last year as New York proxy to the ASMFC. The NYRFHA is an organized group comprised mostly of fleet and for-hire industry who claim to represent the interests of the recreational fishing community. They don’t—at least not the kind of recreational responsibility this site promotes. They often have the ear of NY Representative Lee Zeldin, who in turn often pushes an industry-friendly agenda. They’re not terrible people and they’re not “the enemy,” but we do have a distinct difference of opinion on matters of the fishery and conservation.

deadbass-partyboat_edit

More is always better, right?

John McMurray, if you went to the talk we had with him last year at the Metropolitan Rod and Gun Club, is of a different sort. He also makes his living off fishing—he owns One More Cast charters—but he takes a more conservation-based tack when it comes to the marine fishery. It’s all well and good to talk sustainability and responsibility when it comes to conservation of a public marine resource, but McMurray is the real deal. He is the guy we want in our corner as the public face of recreational fishing in New York.

Guys like John Skinner, Bill Wetzel, Charles Witek (who the RFA hates by the way), LI rod builder extraordinaire Lou Caruso, Tim Surgent of the Stripersonline Forum, Craig Cantelmo of Van Staal, Zeno Hromin from Surfcasters Journal, and the ASFMC’s own benchmark striped bass assessment are all sounding the alarm about the decline of striped bass and an inevitable collapse if we don’t smarten up and enact some real conservation measures—whether that be a minimum-size limit change or something else more drastic. As recreational fishers, guys who aren’t making a living off of fishing, we have a responsibility to the resource we kill more of than commercials, and that’s the sad truth. It’s a complex, multi-state issue, but recreational fishing is a major factor and the answer is not to get it all before it’s gone or to kick the can down the road because we’ll be dead before it’s our problem. If you give a shit about the future of striped bass and other local fish in our waters, then John McMurray is the person we want representing us.

I’m going to cite a post from Ross Squire, of the 1@32 Facebook group (which I highly encourage you to join if you’re on Facebook):

Emails should be sent to Senator Todd Kaminsky at kaminsky@nysenate.gov; his aide Haile Meyers should be copied on the email; her email address is meyers@nysenate.gov.

Some points that you may want to reflect in your email – PLEASE PERSONALIZE YOUR LETTERS – they do not need to be long:

1. The email that you are writing is in response to an online posting by the NY Recreational & For-Hire Fishing Alliance (NYRHFHA) seeking John McMurray’s removal (BE SURE TO INCLUDE THIS FACT).
2. Fisheries Management must be based on the best available science – not unsubstantiated claims and anecdotal evidence.
3. The recent draft of the striped bass technical assessment reveals the striped bass fishery to be overfished with overfishing occurring. This is what the best available science has revealed and is consistent with what many in the recreational sector have been saying for years and in direct contrast to what the for-hire industry has been claiming.
4. The for-hire industry represents a minute fraction of the recreational fishing sector. Using the Vessel Trip Reports provided by the for-hire industry in 2018, there were less than 13,000 anglers on party boats where a striped bass was caught. These VTRs are required to be completed by the NY DEC. *
5. In contrast to the number of anglers on for-hire vessels, the NY Marine Fishing Registry has over 400,000 recreational anglers. *
6. There are over 8,100 recreational anglers in the NY Marine Fishing Registry that reside in Senator Kaminsky’s legislative district alone.*
7. Of the 515 for-hire permits issued in 2018 only 101 vessels submitted a Vessel Trip Report where a striped bass was caught.*
8. Only 8 of these vessels had more than 40 trips where striped bass were caught.*
9. The for-hire fleet continues to deny and discount the best available science with unsubstantiated claims about fish swimming in other parts of the ocean, effects of Hurricane Sandy, and more. None of these claims are backed by scientific research.
10. We have no interest in causing economic harm to the for-hire fleet. Our interest is in insuring a robust striped bass fishery that all segments of the recreational and commercial sectors can benefit from. We find the comments from the for-hire industry to be based primarily on their financial interests and they do not represent the great majority of conservation minded recreational anglers.
11. John McMurray has demonstrated an extraordinary grasp of fisheries management and marine science, not only for striped bass but all species he has been involved with on the ASMFC management boards.
12. We have not agreed with every comment that he has made or vote that he has cast but he has shown himself to be a fair representative of the overall recreational sector.

*This data was provided by the DEC in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Some people have complained that it’s unfair to blame a sector (the for-hire sector—that which the NYRFHFA represents) that is responsible for only “5%” of the striped bass mortality. I’m not entirely sure this figure is accurate, but assuming it is, by the same token, why is it fine for this party that’s only responsible for 5% of striped bass fishing mortality to dictate what’s good for the rest of us? The data above states that they represent a very small percentage of anglers, and that does not comprise most recreational anglers in NY state, despite their recreational-friendly title.

This is important to all of us, not just for the few who have an invested, monetary stake. Write now.

—mkl

A MISGUIDED ATTEMPT ON AN ALMOST-WASTED SATURDAY

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I was feeling the early Spring heat of a sunshine Saturday. I didn’t want to go to work and surprisingly I didn’t want to spend the daylight hours on the corner stool at the bar.  I was already aware of baitfish gathering en masse in local waters, but not much word about anything besides gannets on them. I didn’t know the water temperature and I didn’t know the tide. What the hell, though. The season doesn’t start for another week or so, but I had some new toys to mess with and I hadn’t made a cast in nearly four months. To knock off some rust, I thought it would be a good idea to check out a new park I heard some rumors about along the northern part of Jamaica Bay.

The rumors are true, but as I would later find out, only sort of. I actually first read about this park in a fantastic post by Sergey Kadinski on his blog Hidden Waters. It’s located in East New York and within the infamous 75th Precinct. Down at the end of Fountain Avenue and Old Mill Creek on the east side and bordered by Hendrix Creek on the west side is the Fountain Avenue Landfill. According to Kadinsky, the landfill was designated Federal Parkland back in 1974 but was never developed until Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of the state park in 2018. He (Kadinsky) also mentions “[t]he isolated nature of Fountain Avenue made it an ideal dumping ground for mafia victims, including those dispatched by Murder Inc., Gambino crime family, and the DeMeo Crew, which operated a car repair shop nearby.”

FOUNTAIN AVE

Once you get there it’s not hard to understand why. After a remarkable number of complete stops on the Belt Parkway, I finally couldn’t take it anymore and got off at the Marine Park Bridge exit. I stopped in Floyd Bennett Field to take a break and make a few casts. The sun was high and the tide was very low. Under the buzz of RC airplanes divebombing and taking impressively tight turns, I stomped around in the muddy sand warming in the sun. In the background, the Belt Parkway East was still a parking lot. There were a couple other guys out here, including one guy blasting classical music from the back of his truck while watching the bell at the tip of his rod 20 yards away, a one-legged man fishing a fluke rig, and this lady sitting at one of the picnic tables who had a terrible cough that should probably be looked at by a doctor.

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I tried out a couple of new, small pencil poppers. The jury is still out. The zig and the zag was ok, but the splashy-ness was a little underwhelming. I’ll let you know if I ever catch anything on them. I took in a few dozen reps with a new rod too, then packed it up and decided to try my hand at finding the new park while there was still plenty of daylight to explore it. I passed on the Belt Parkway and headed further north to Flatlands Avenue, taking me straight through East New York to Fountain Avenue. I figured there wouldn’t be much to look at here at the corner of Fountain in between the Fed Ex warehouse and the Spring Creek water treatment plant, but even this was a little disturbing.

As I drove south on Fountain all the other cars turned right at the bend, but ahead was a little side road that continued straight. It was overgrown, beaten up, desolate, a perfect dumping ground 40 years or maybe 18 hours ago. I passed a guy who looked to be spray painting his own car.  A little further up I passed under the Belt Parkway and was stopped by this:

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At least on a map it looked like you could get in this way. I figured maybe there was another entrance, so I snapped a couple quick pics without exiting the car and drove back toward the main road. After a couple turns I was suddenly on a one way trip back onto the Belt Parkway where I quickly saw a sun-weathered sign with what looked like an artist rendering of a city park and the words “OPENING SUMMER 2019…” That timeline seems a little optimistic. The sketchy driveway to the park “entrance” was probably the right one, but the park doesn’t look close to being open anytime soon. Oops.

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I had a few hours left so I got off at Howard Beach. I parked at the beginning of the Cross Bay Bridge near that crazy event space Vetro by Russo’s where someone told me they have a floating dais that rises up through the main floor. Apparently people are driving down the dirt path from the Vetro lot and parking under the bridge. That’s new to me.

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Remind me not to come down there at night. I don’t want to know what I’d stumble into, but the amount of garbage, particularly discarded condoms, probably gives you a good idea. The fishermen are just as bad, if not worse. The whole area is such a dump—it has good access to the Bay but people just trash it. A couple years ago we did a clean-up in the same spot and it probably looked like we’d never been there a few days later. I should have tried fishing in New Jersey instead. That’s probably saying something.

The season starts in a couple days and lots of stuff has been going on with striped bass and bunker so far in 2019, and it’s not all very good. More on that in another post. Let’s remember our responsibility to the resource and the future. Good luck out there.

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—mkl

SOME EXCELLENT EARLY-SEASON VIEWING

I found this video by Long Island’s Sergio Diaz while I’m currently awash in anxiety waiting for a technician to show up at my office to fix this goddamn printing press, also known colloquially as “The Height of Printing Technology That Breaks About Twice a Week.”  I haven’t had a chance to turn the sound up yet, but it looks gorgeous and is perfect for whittling away the minutes of the waiting game. The season is nearly upon us—another mild winter may mean an early run of fish. I’ve tangentially booked another trip with Captain Tyler Nonn for some Giant Hunting at a secret area in the Chesapeake Bay in early May. It might get wild. Check out this current migration map from On the Water:

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—mkl

THIS IS A LONG DRIVE FOR A COUPLE OF BUCKTAILS

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nope, didn’t even get one flake of snow this weekend. stolen from Jalopnik 2010.

 

I’ve just returned from the Striper Day surfcasting show out in East Setauket, reminiscing along the way on my 2018 season, although there wasn’t much to wax upon. The Snowpocalypse that was not did not discourage people to drive like blind apes with oversized Incredible Hulk gloves for hands and clown shoes on their feet. Or if not blind, then at least wearing glasses of the wrong prescription. But perhaps that’s how it is out on Long Island. I narrowly avoided two accidents of the almost exact same description on my way to the show. Nor did the shift in weather dissuade the state from launching DEFCON 1 with the salt trucks, which in turn released into the wild an armada, as if the Governor was best friends with the biggest salt huckster on the East Coast.

The drive to and from wasn’t pleasant, but the event, organized by Zeno Hromin and the crew at Surfcaster’s Journal, was pretty good. I’m not much one for surfcasting shows—the last one I ventured to was in a VFW hall and it was almost over and the anxiety I felt from vendors who just wanted to pack it up and call it a Sunday vibrated through the stale air like electricity. The door guy that time actually started to take my entry fee money then just waved me through after laundering my bills, figuring the faster I went in, the faster I would leave. Today’s show was at Ward Melville High School, which has an official fishing club that I wish my high school would have had. I have not stepped through the halls of a high school in over 20 years. This was not court-mandated. A good list of vendors awaited me beyond the doors of the gym.

I passed by the auditorium where Montauk guide Bill Wetzel was doing a Q&A. I really like Bill’s style, even though I once paid him $300 to guide in Montauk and we didn’t catch a single fish. He tells it like it is in plain English, but he doesn’t bullshit from his gut (aside: he looks like he’s in better shape now, too) like a dug-in, stubborn politician clinging to whatever political flavor du jour that’ll help him keep his job. A couple things I gleaned my brief time at his seminar: it’s totally ok to use darters during the day; and, the striper fishery is “F-ed,” and on the verge of another collapse. There’s lots of signs pointing in this direction, but that’s for another post. The new striper stock assessment is coming out next month, and the early word is that it is not good. One thing that stuck out in my head toward the end of Bill’s talk was he asked “Where’s the 2011 class?” It’s the same thing that’s mentioned here—2011 was one of the best recruitment years in the Chesapeake in recent times. Where are those fish that should be just about legal size to the mid 30”-range? Where did they go?

I had about an hour in between Wetzel and John Skinner’s talk. I heard some grumbling about how Skinner “was just going to talk about bucktails and shit,” but for me that’s one of the best lures out there. Surfcasting shows are maybe a different crowd though—some people lined up at 5AM, though they were told specifically not to show up that early at a high school venue. Why were they lined up 4 hours before start time? To buy $70 plugs and then presumably resell them for $300 on eBay. Like Philadelphia’s Hall and Oates, I can’t go for that since I would never use them, but those early guys are right about one thing: There are some damn gorgeous hand-made lures out there, and a lot of them were here today, though I missed all the hot items as I showed up promptly at noon thirty.

I also didn’t want to spend $35+ on one lure, especially since I stupidly spent $65 on two LPs yesterday trying to support a local business. (When the hell did vinyl get so expensive, by the way?) I walked around and met Jamie from Flatlander Surfcasting. He makes real quality stuff — custom-made-by-hand-in-the-USA-type-of-stuff. The kind of stuff that, were he in Brooklyn, the New York Times would have written an article about how artisanal, DIY, and Olde-Tymey it seems and ruined the whole damn operation. Thank Christ he isn’t. I’ve had one of his surf belts for a couple seasons, along with a bunch of accessories for it, and it’s been the best piece of gear I’ve had since I bought it.

I also met Kil Song from Black Hole USA rods. I believe it’s a Korean-based company, but Kil is the head of the U.S. operation, a hell of a fisherman up and down the East Coast, and has a good group of U.S. pro staff and testers. He catches every fish you wish you could catch. I got to check out my next rod which is coming out next month. I hope my girlfriend doesn’t read that part.

The whole miserable drive out here I was arguing with myself because I knew I wasn’t really going to buy anything ambitious. I knew I’d come home with a couple bucktails. And I fulfilled that prophecy with these from S&S. I’ve never seen a bucktail with this kind of head before, but after talking with Stanley over there I bought four of them. S&S modeled these after a sandeel profile—a prolific bait this past fall. That Wonderbread colorway is a little crazy. Would a fish hit something that looks like a rodeo clown? Maybe I’ll find out this spring, or maybe I won’t because I won’t catch anything.

newbucks

Time for Skinner. This guy gets a lot of hate for some reason because he makes a lot of informative videos and he’s always on fish. A few months ago someone on a forum posted a thread along the lines of “Skinner is always spotburning in his videos. How long can he keep fishing *[redacted]* before the crowds arrive?” Which was followed by a bunch of posts along the lines of “That’s where that is? Thanks for giving us the spot.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t mark it myself. Skinner also gets hate from the Internet for being “pretty good, but there’s better guys out there.” A guy who is giving valuable information and insight (for free) in his videos that can help countless people get better at doing something they love, gets criticized by grown men older than me on the Internet because their buddy is actually better at fishing than Skinner. This is the state of the world.

Skinner IRL is just as I imagined him from his videos. He doesn’t quite have the somnolent voice of Rich Troxler, but, like his public persona, it’s still very even and measured. His talk did indeed involve bucktails, among other day-time plugs, and he took questions throughout, which I thought was pretty gracious because there were a lot. Skinner also seemed to share Wetzel’s opinion of the state of the fishery and that last season was in general pretty bad for most people, even him. He also had some insight into fishing storms and dropping barometric pressure, which was interesting to me since last season I thought it was a good idea to fish during stuff like this:

10:19-noreast

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Sandy Hook, October. No beach here.

That was it for the show. Skinner’s talk got cut short by the raffle and people started running to the exits to see if they won free stuff. I didn’t go buy one of his special Striper-Day-Only Wonderbread bucktails, but I think that crazy yellow one is wild enough. I have a couple more posts lined up in the next two weeks before the Striper Stock Assessment is released so stay tuned.

—mkl

THE TIME IS NOW

1200px-The_fishes_of_the_east_Atlantic_coast_that_are_caught_with_hook_and_line_1884_14762008156-e1522368040490The time is now for more things than one. The Fall Run is on and blackfish season is open and I swear I’m going to get one of those white-chinned bastards from a Brooklyn shoreline this year. I’ve been out here and there so far, mostly sneaking away and coming up with rats, 20”-26” bass, lately covered in sea lice, but haven’t been able to track down any bigger bass. Still, as the old saying goes, something is supposedly better than nothing, although the value of that sentiment decreases in direct relation to the length of the season and the time one puts in.

Not that I’m planning on keeping a bass. The last bass I kept was two years ago during the Thanksgiving Blitz in New Jersey and is remarkable only for the fact that this was the first, and probably last, time that someone said, “Hey, bring a fish home for dinner,” and I actually went out and caught one. We butterflied that fish and my grandmother used the head for soup as she used to do way back when, and I appreciated the hunt a little more. One thing I would like to keep are some bluefish, as we just got a new Traeger grill for the backyard at work and the thought of catching some in the early AM and smoking them all day and hopefully pissing off the neighbors really gets the blood moving in certain places. However, I have not seen a damn bluefish all year yet. Where the hell are those guys?

Just as important as making the most of the quickly shortening days and longer nights is a proposal to open part of the EEZ to striped bass fishing. NOAA is now accepting public comments on the proposal and it’s crucial if you give a shit to make your voice heard (you have until November 19 to comment—you can use that link). There is also a Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting here in New York City at the end of the month, and on the schedule is a review of this proposal.

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is an area three miles from shore, officially Federal Waters, and is currently no man’s land for striped bass fishing, both commercial and recreational. This protection was established in 1984 by the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act with the idea that this area would provide stripers a safe haven from fishing pressure. It’s a great idea, in theory, as it draws an imaginary line in the ocean, across this line, you do not fish for striped bass as it’s in violation of Federal law. But that doesn’t stop people from trying.

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Taken from The Fisherman site. The black lines delineate the 3-mile boundary around the Montauk, Block Island, and southern Rhode Island coasts. The green area is the Block Island Transit Zone, part of the EEZ.

The proposal, pushed by New York Representative Lee Zeldin, wants to remove that restriction for an area known as the Block Island Transit Zone. This is where the three mile restriction gets a little tricky: The 3-mile radius around the porkchop-shaped Block Island is legal fishing. Within 3-miles off the coast of Montauk is fair game. The 3-mile area south of Point Judith, Rhode Island is A-OK. But tucked in that area, outside of where Long Island Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean, and bound by those three landmarks, is a pocket of Federal water, the Block Island Transit Zone (BITZ). Fishing boats from any area may only pass through this area—fishing is not allowed as per EEZ rules, and stopping for any reason, save for emergencies, while possessing striped bass is a violation. As Toby Lapinski writes on The Fisherman site: “The Federal line, which prohibits the targeting of striped bass in the EEZ, simply does not make sense as it is currently drawn when applied to the real world….[B]y strictly adhering to the line being 3 miles from the nearest point of land produces islands of legal fishing waters surround[ed] by those which are illegal.”

It’s an awkwardly-defined area, policed poorly, and well-known to the local fishing fleets to harbor lots of big striped bass. And that’s valuable real estate for the for-hire and party boat crowd, from whom Representative Zeldin receives a lot of support.

There isn’t a lot of value for the rest of us who don’t have a buck to gain from opening the BITZ to striped bass fishing. In fact, if this law passes the rest of us stand to suffer greatly for the benefit of very few, and a short-term gain for them as well because many anglers are already sounding the alarm about an impending collapse of the striped bass stock. [Read the post by Zeno Hromin, editor of The Surfcaster’s Journal, about the Gathering Of Anglers event this past Columbus Day out in Montauk. It’s an event that invites all the surf fishing clubs in New York to compete for the biggest bass, in the striped bass “Mecca,” over 48 hours. “These are not your average weekend warriors, these are guys that joined surf fishing clubs to expand their knowledge, to be amongst people that share same passion. These are what I call ‘lifers’.” Not a single fish was submitted.] Sure the Cape Cod Canal had its annual summer slaughter of big breeder bass, the usual depressing menu of high-grading, dead bass floating up and down the shoreline, poor catch & release technique, blatant poaching, and outright wastefulness, but how long is that going to continue? Even the locals know their time is coming.

The other danger about opening this part of the EEZ is that it sets a terrible precedent. It’s well known that large breeding stripers winter off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina, in their part of the EEZ. In an excellent post by Charles Witek, he writes:

There is a lot of sentiment for opening the EEZ down there, so that the local charter boat fleet can get a crack at all of the big, pre-spawn females. As an article in the Carteret County [North Carolina] News-Times noted,

“In 2009 North Carolina asked President Barak Obama to address the prohibition of fishing for striped bass in federal waters, emphasizing that striped bass do not know where the three-mile boundary is and that warmer winters push the fish offshore beyond three miles. Large stripers migrate south during fall and winter from their summer habitat in the northeast, where they often live within three miles. The main harvest opportunity for oceanic striped bass fishermen from Virginia and North Carolina is during these ‘cold months.’ Even though North Carolina helped restore the population, its fishermen were losing access to this well-managed resource.”

It’s not hard to believe that, should the Block Island Transit Zone be opened to striped bass angling, fishermen down in Virginia and North Carolina will be seeking to have access to their section of the EEZ, too.

And while I consider the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission an increasingly toothless organization, they manage striped bass and they themselves in 2014 wrote:
• Tagging data indicate larger females tend to aggregate in the EEZ
• It is impossible… to predict whether opening the EEZ will result in a shift or an increase in fishing effort, but any fishing that occurs in the EEZ will result in a source of mortality that is currently minimized by the prohibition

In update to their last stock assessment, they also wrote, as Witek notes:
—“[Spawning stock biomass] was estimated at 58,853 metric tons (129 million pounds) which is above the SSB threshold of 57,626 metric tons, but below the SSB target of 72,032 metric tons…
—“Total abundance (age 1+) increased to 195 million fish by 2012 due primarily to the abundant 2011 year-class from the Chesapeake Bay. Total abundance dropped in 2013 as the small 2012 year-class recruited to the population. Abundance increased slightly in 2014 to 127 million fish, and in 2015 total abundance was estimated at 180 million fish. Abundance of age 8+ fish has declined since 2012 and is expected to drop slightly in 2016.”

“In other words,” Witek writes, “at the time of the update, the stock was a lot closer to being overfished than it was to being fully rebuilt, and the number of larger, fecund females was still dropping.”

deadbass-partyboat_editThe people who support the proposal are comprised mostly of organized lobbyists, party boat and charter owners, and “recreational” fishing groups like the New York Recreational and For Hire Fishing Alliance (NYRFHFA) and the Recreational Fishing Alliance, who claim to represent the best interests of recreational anglers like me, and yet we are almost always diametrically opposed. They are certainly no friend of Witek’s, and they had a lot of influence in removing John McMurray (who spoke with us earlier this spring at the Metropolitan Rod and Gun Club and is a charter captain himself) as the NY proxy to the ASMFC. This is not good for conservation-minded rec anglers like us. An email response to a Stripers Online poster asking the RFA’s Jim Donofrio if the RFA was involved in McMurray’s removal apparently went like this: We sure did and proud of it!! He is not a rec he is a greenie. you guys are the disgrace whats the average rec fishermen ?some JO [jag off? jerk off?] in an Orvis outfit who hates the real average guy like your buddy Witek does. He is another another wack job internet bully. [bolded notes mine, everything else sic]

[McMurray, for his part, countered with a post: I’m talking about all of those anglers with foresight. The surfcasters, the light-tackle folks, the flyfishers, the hundreds of thousands of striped bass guys who, well, get it.

These are the folks who actually believe in and understand the value of keeping a few fish in the water; who intuitively understand that ocean resources are finite, and need to be managed sustainably, with precaution; who understand clearly that the more fish industry takes out, the less they are available to the rest of us; and lastly, who understand that abundance equals opportunity, and that such opportunity is quite a bit more important than low size limits and high bags.

The industry version of such anglers? “Light tackle” guides. Those conservation-minded small business owners, both full and part-time, who understand, probably better than anyone, that if there isn’t a good amount of fish in the water, the fishing ain’t good, and people stop opening up their wallets.

Of course, I’m damn proud to be part of that industry. And there are a lot of us! Undoubtedly, we make a significant contribution to economy. We burn A LOT of fuel, and we (and our clients) buy a lot of gear, stay in hotels, eat at local restaurants, and so on.

Yet to managers, and politicians? We appear to mean little. And that’s because they just don’t hear from us.]

So “recreational” groups like the NYRFHFA and people like me, and hopefully you, too, probably don’t get along, at least on conservation issues. But here’s the thing: these groups are organized, they write letters to their representatives like their good buddy Lee Zeldin*, they show up to meetings, they make their voices and concerns heard, and they send in comments during the open-comment period and right now is our time to do the same. During the course of reading and researching, one thing is clear to me regarding the ASMFC: they will only listen to the voices that speak up. It’s easy to gloss over a lot of these statistics and legal-sounding provisions of a proposed bill that may or may not pass, but if one side is speaking up and the other side is opposed but silent, there’s little question, little choice, even, with whom the Commission will favor.

McMurray said as much in his post: Take it from somebody who just spent 9 years on the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and a little over two years as a proxy on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. It is the, we-need-to-kill-more folks on the recreational side (generally, the party-boat crowd) who tend to dominate the discussion.

Managers are left with the perception that anglers just want to kill more. Same could be said for both state and national legislators. Because generally, that’s who they hear from. And that sucks. Because it’s NOT who or what the larger angling community is, and it certainly isn’t who we are.

If you don’t like the end results but didn’t vote, there is no room for complaints. One only needs to look at the last presidential election to see if it matters if people choose not to vote. (Screw the Clintons, too, by the way.) Recreational anglers, real recreational anglers, are not organized. There’s no leadership. We’ll argue over bait versus plugs and hold blood grudges over the value of boat fish versus surf fish, but we are the majority of fishing community (and part of a billion dollar industry) and most of us want the fish to be around for generations and not be lost so that a few companies can profit at our expense and the expense of our future.

Right now there’s about 500 comments on the NOAA site, and that’s not enough. Read through the comments to gauge how the majority of recreational fisherfolk feel about Zeldin’s proposal. You’ll see old timers like Vito Orlando, rod-builder extraordinaire Lou Caruso, Van Staal’s Craig Cantelmo among others against the proposal. You’ll see Tim Surgent, admin of the Stripers Online forum, there as well with an excellent comment, from which I pulled those 2014 ASMFC statements. (Stripersonline.com’s forums are a great resource for people who love to fish and argue and I’ve used the site for many years. It is not a haven for conservationists, and the majority of users and I probably would never agree on anything politically.) You’ll also see boat captains both in favor of and against the proposal.

For the record, here is the NYRFHFA comment: The New York Recreational and For-Hire Fishing Alliance fully supports the opening of the Block Island Transit Zone to Striped Bass fishing. Doing so will eliminate confusing, and unnecessary regulations that are currently in place. It will free up the coast guard and other law enforcement for more pressing issues.

Joe Tangel
Executive Director
NYRFHFA

This is my comment, lacking in important details, the likes of which you’ve read about if you got this far. It’s time to be heard and now is your chance. Time to make it count.

—mkl

[*This is what Charles Witek had to say about Zeldin: His war has been waged with a series of bills that ranged from an inane attempt to redraw the bounds of the Exclusive Economic Zone for fisheries purposes, an effort that would have actually drawn the boundary between state and federal waters through the southeast corner of Block Island, to a stealth effort to deny funding for law enforcement of the ban on fishing for striped bass in federal waters off Block Island, so that his district’s population of poachers could fish without fear of apprehension.]