“If we do not put the heat on the ASMFC to do the right thing, Omega Protein will prevent any meaningful protection, the menhaden population will continue to crash, and species after species of the valued fish dependent on menhaden will crash with them.”
— H. Bruce Franklin, author of The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America
The October New Moon is here and while I’ve pretended like I was waiting for it to start the fall run, in truth I’ve been adjusting to domesticated life and all of the now-doubled family obligations that come with it. September was a complete wash of out of town weddings and birthdays, but it was 90 degrees for almost the entire month so perhaps I didn’t miss much. I moved at the end of August and the apartment is still a mess and full of boxes and I can’t find anything when I look for it, but there are more important fishing matters now with a window opening of an unknown, but always shrinking, length.
More immediately though, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission held its meetings regarding Atlantic menhaden (aka bunker) management over the past six weeks and today is the last day to send in public comments to the ASMFC. The Commission is considering what’s called Amendment 3, which will lay out a management plan for menhaden based on their role in an ecosystem—meaning it will be managed as a prey species and will consider factors such its role as a food source for predatory species like striped bass, birds, and mammals like whales and dolphins. It will not continue to be managed like a single species independent of environmental impacts, factors, but rather by its importance in the food chain. The bottom line of how many millions of pounds Omega Protein is allowed to take from the Chesapeake Bay is ostensibly no longer the primary factor in menhaden management, but more on that later because Omega’s take in the Chesapeake is also an important consideration.
We should support Amendment 3 and push for a “75% Target; 40% Threshold” interim rule while the Commission figures out the final details of implementing Amendment 3. This interim rule refers to maintaining a 75 percent unfished stock, and the Commission would be forced to take action if the stock falls below 40 percent. We should also push to revamp the allowable catch in the Chesapeake Bay—the headquarters of Omega and the reduction industry. The available option in Amendment 3 caps the Bay catch at 51,000 metric tons, reduced from over 85,000 metric tons. The argument here is that Omega never comes close to the 85K cap and can in turn take as much as it wants—there is no real regulation on how much they can take. I’ll have a sample letter that you can copy and paste at the bottom of this post.
So far, at least in the New York meetings, it looks like most people are on board with better menhaden management. That includes recreational fishermen (and women), commercial fishing captains, scientists, tackle shop owners, conservationists, bay watchers, and whale watchers. [Speaking of which, during a time of particularly high abundance of peanut bunker out in the Rockaways last Spring, I casted fruitlessly in the dawn hours into a gorgeous morning. Out in the distance I watched birds making great wide circles, as if they were slowly looping an oval race track. More birds appeared, seemingly out of the air, moving in the same direction, making those great circles. It was not the kind of bird action I’m accustomed to seeing—I’m more interested in the chaotic diving into the water variety. But this looked almost ritualistic, a conjuring even. And it was—seconds later a humpback blasted out of the water like something crashing out from the surface of a mirror. I didn’t catch any fish that day, but it was one of the most awesome things I’ve seen in NYC waters.] But while consensus among citizens may be near universal—according to John McMurray, the ASMFC received over 25,000 comments in 2016 in favor of ecosystem-based management, and only 11 comments favoring the current, single-species management—agreement among states is far from certain.
Obviously Virginia, home to Omega Protein who still controls 85 percent of the total allowable catch, and New Jersey, which has a smaller stake in the bait industry (11 percent), probably won’t support an ecosystem approach. The problem with the current single-species management these industries favor is there isn’t any consideration for predator/prey relationships. The increased number of whale sightings, the healthier birds, the more bunker we’ve seen pooled up in places like the Harlem River and even Newtown Creek (ugh!)—a lot of this is likely due to the 20 percent harvest reduction back in 2012. The menhaden industry believes it was solely environmental factors and not the reduction that impacted the increased numbers of bunker. However, they also believe their harvest has no impact on the population, which is just intellectually dishonest at best—the fishing industry once thought they could never out fish the cod population either and you know how that story ends.
So here’s the letter you can send to the ASMFC (should be sent to Megan Ware, firstname.lastname@example.org, Subject line: Draft Amendment 3). It’s short and to the point and takes less than five minutes.
Hello ASMFC Commissioners!
I am writing on behalf of the Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association. You have a unique opportunity on November 13 to make a huge impact on the quality of marine life in the Atlantic Ocean. The importance of menhaden in our ocean ecosystems is well documented and cannot be overstated. This is not a resource that should be managed based on the short-term desires of a single industry. More menhaden in the water has more potential to have positive results across the spectrum of marine life resulting in benefits for both the recreational and commercial communities. We believe we are just seeing the beginnings of potential long-term benefits of menhaden management.
In the interim, we support ISSUE 2.6 REFERENCE POINTS – OPTION E: “BERP Workgroup Continues to Develop Menhaden-Specific ERPs with Interim use of 75% Target, 40% Threshold.” Menhaden from this point forward should not be managed as a single-species, even before full implementation of Amendment 3.
We also support a cap on the Chesapeake Bay allotment. We support Option B which sets the cap at 51,000 metric tons, an approximation of the five-year average of reduction harvest from the Chesapeake Bay between 2012 and 2016. It’s important to close the loophole which allows Omega a virtually unlimited take of an essential resource in a critical area.
The Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association is a group of dedicated citizens who fish all of New York City’s waters, from Prospect Park and the East River, to the Rockaways and the upper Hudson. We were established in 2009 with the vision of expanding awareness of New York City’s fishing history, the life found in its waterways, and the benefits of responsible conservation and clean rivers. Please consider the impacts of your decisions regarding Amendment 3.
Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association
For some of us anyway. I got into some rats this weekend; I took a couple pics to prove I actually caught a fish, but it was nothing worth writing much about. Still it was a start, and just look at this water!
You guys have probably heard of Elias Vaisberg by now. He’s a kayak guide who lives in Brooklyn and fishes all over the NY area. The guy gets into fish for sure. They do pretty well drifting eels out by the Statue of Liberty and I’d say he’s really in the New York Harbor, but I guess he could make an argument he’s in the “East River.” And Zombie fish? Not really sure how he managed to catch fish that were so badly damaged in that video. I’ve caught a lot of fish out of the East River and haven’t seen a fish with its gill plate torn off like that, or anything like he has in the video, but I guess he has. Weird.
We need some action on menhaden tomorrow. Post on that coming up tonight / tomorrow!
Technically it was already Sunday by the time I got back to Brooklyn. 3AM to be exact. I had just driven back from my parents’ house in Delaware after being humiliated after my grandmother’s 90th birthday at a 1987 version of Trivial Pursuit, a victim of such vexing quandaries as “What sound does a hiccup make?” and “How many cylinders does a V8 fire?”. I could hardly believe I was reading these questions off to my all-female team of opponents. I have to admit I missed an easy one on Shakespeare, but, I mean, come on.
The boat was leaving in four hours. I still had to gear up, make some food, toss a bunch of crap in a bag and wake up in two and a half. I left the light on and set two alarms. At 545AM I woke up to the second one, having no memory of the first ever going off. I managed to drag my ass out of bed and put my contact lenses in the wrong eyes, right before my friend Heather showed up at my door. We loaded up my car and headed for Sheepshead Bay for the Ocean Eagle V.
About 20 minutes later I pulled off the Belt Parkway to see Scott Behr’s truck plowing through a giant puddle. He pulled off and in front of him was Alex A.’s Subaru Outback, newly lifted and very much jealousy-inducing (for me—really gotta get those CELs figured out to move on to bigger and better things with my Forester). We stopped at the bodega across from the Ocean Eagle to buy some beer, but Important to Note: They will not sell you beer on a Sunday before 0800. What kind of savages did they think we were?
Aboard the boat we had a good crew already cooking. Altay and Robin came in from the city, Alex M. from Bay Ridge, Scott and his son Chase, Alex A., a new fishing buddy I met this winter talking fishing and Subarus at the ranger station at Floyd Bennett Field, my friend Heather—a newbie to fishing; and myself, a terrible fisherman. For some reason there was a guy backstroking through Sheepshead Bay when we boarded. At 0700 we were off!
Captain Greg was prepared to put us on fish. I was severely underprepared. I had a couple rods, one I set up Skinner-fluke style, and the other for porgies, which were on the menu today. However I had no porgy rigs. I had some hooks and a couple peanut butter sandwiches. Alex hooked me up with a high-low porgy rig and I promised to try not to lose it. After some early queasiness by Chase and myself—honestly I don’t know what I was doing on a boat or any other vehicle I myself wasn’t driving since in my old age I seen to get motion sickness all the time—the fishing was on! And it was a porgy massacre! The pics (by Alex M., Scott, and me) will tell the story of 150 porgies.
Join us next time!
This Sunday we’re doing a drinkin’ and fishin’ meetup on the Ocean Eagle V out of Sheepshead Bay. We’re aiming to put some work on some porgy, fluke, and black sea bass, as well as some mahi, cobia, tarpon, snakehead, and great white shark. Everyone is welcome and you don’t need to bring your own gear (boat provides), but it’s a good idea to pack some food and drinks. Also, it’s BYOB. It’s a full-day trip from 7am-3pm. Get tickets online here (recommended) and get your ass to the boat!
Tonight I’m going to be on a panel of speakers at the Brooklyn Historical Society for an event on fishing in Brooklyn. The official title is “Gone Fishin’: Brooklyn’s Favorite, Forgotten Pastime”. It will mainly be a loose, informal discussion on fishing, water quality, some history, and mostly fish stories. Panelists include Sean Dixon, a lawyer for Hudson Riverkeeper—a group that played an important role in starting the wildlife conservation movement in the 70s with the Storm King lawsuit up river and the West Way project on the Manhattan waterfront in the 1980s. Also speaking is John Malizia of the Staten Island Tuna Club, and also, for some reason, me. It should be interesting. It’s happening at 630 tonight at the Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont St. in the gorgeous main hall. It might be worth it just to check out the building.
I’ve hit a few tides with a little luck lately. All I really have to show for it is this weakfish I got on a Stick Shad, for which I got absolutely D-E-molished by mosquitoes in the parking lot. But it was pretty cool to catch a weakie since I haven’t caught one myself in over 20 years when they were pretty common in the Indian River Inlet down in Delaware. I have barely seen them since.
I also had a chance to catch up with Ben, who is splitting his time between Greenpoint, the Rockaways, and whatever project he has going on rebuilding barns and neglected farm properties into incredible restorations at which you’d probably want to spend a weekend in some kind of romantic tryst. Maybe not with Ben, though.
Here’s where he lives, like Riggs from Lethal Weapon:
And here’s his little Whaler that’s stuffed with rods and gas cans. It’s tight but it’s a good ride for Jamaica Bay.
We headed out around dusk. Around the corner from a sandbar we sat around drinking a beer and searching the water when we heard a sound I haven’t heard before. Think of a large sheet of construction-weight plastic snapping in high winds, or more exotically, a Terminator-esque inter-dimensional break in time and space preceded by lightning. We turned around to see a huge water funnel behind us, technically a tornado, moving in our direction. We had enough time to ask, “Should we move the boat?” before it dissipated.
We fished for a couple hours around JFK and I lost my only fish because I apparently don’t know how to tie a proper knot. Still annoyed at myself for that, but that’s a lesson learned. We motored back to the marina fish-less, but Ben’s set up is prime territory to throw a fresh fish on the grill directly off the boat. We spent some time catching up and drinking a few beers on his house boat (remember the other one sank because of some bad AirBnB guests) and it was a pretty good time.
On July 3 I went down to the Greenpoint waterfront to check out the unrelenting construction and see if there was anything interesting to sneak into, but I came across this as perhaps a final epitaph to those early days of the BKUAA fishing derby.
Come out tonight if you can make it!
I found this recipe on the Stripersonline site, from a guy who claimed this was the best tasting bluefish he’d ever had, so good that he had to beg the staff for the recipe. Or maybe it was his brother that did the begging. Either way, with all the bluefish running in the area, I thought it would be a good chance to try a secret classic. Only that once I decide I’m going to do something with a fish, that’s a sure way to not catch any—or at least not catch enough. The lone exception was the Thanksgiving Massacre last year in Monmouth County, New Jersey in which my uncle asked me to bring a fish home on Black Friday, and by some damn miracle I did. I’m also allergic to walnuts anyway, but I wonder if one could substitute almonds.
About a week before I saw that post I hit up Breezy Point on a bright and sunny Memorial Day Saturday. I knew it was going to be a bad idea to head down on a holiday weekend, but I went anyway. The back lot was overfull; with lots of untagged cars among the 4WD and other permits. It didn’t matter to me, as I have the 4WD tag this year so I spun a quick U-turn and headed into the sand. I drove through a bunch of decent sized puddles; it apparently rained a few days, or even for a few days, beforehand. But you know, Subaru power! Actually, that got me into a decent amount of trouble about a month before when I got the car stuck in a water-logged ditch in the Poconos—like a two-and-a-half foot ditch full of melted snow and rainwater rushing downhill and eventually partially filling the passenger side interior of my car before the tow truck came to winch me out. I made up a bunch of lies about how I ended up in that ditch, and of course the tow truck guy had to state the customary, “I’ve never seen anyone do this before…” Yeah, right.
But back to that sunny Saturday: the further back I got the deeper the pools became. I plowed through most of them before stopping at the last one before the lot—it was about 20 feet long and stained a, for lack of a better description, water-treatment plant brown. Recalling the aforementioned dunking my car got in Pennsylvania and the $1000+ I spent on repairs and the ongoing DIY sleuthing I’m still in the process of tracking down to clear those damn CELs, I was a little reluctant to make this crossing. I couldn’t tell how deep the pool was and didn’t see any other tire tracks going in or out. I got out of the car and walked around the pond up to the lot to find an even bigger and deeper pond where the parking lot once was. I proceeded to do a kind of Austin Powers 50-point turn to return to the back lot overflowing with cars.
I geared up in the fading light and right out of the gate I see a guy with a good sized bass on a stringer. He’s pencil popping and the water seems ripe for the popper, but as I walk up all I see are bait guys. Bait guys, lots of bluefish, and sacks of fish. I passed one guy with a bluefish still choking out its last bloody breaths (this particular guy was smart enough to bleed out his blues as soon as they were off the hook). I walked about 20 feet past him and tossed a 7” Cotten Cordell pencil—probably the most effective $7 plug you can buy. First cast immediately smashed by a bluefish. Second cast smashed by a bluefish. Third cast smashed by bluefish. It was a good, fun start, but I didn’t take any pictures because it wasn’t really what I was looking for.
After five or six fish I moved on to the jetty. At this point the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in. The crowd petered out the further toward the ocean I walked, but I saw three guys out on the jetty, about halfway out. The tide was up and still coming in. I passed the first break, already flooded with water and the waves turning ugly. The three other guys were past the second break and I considered going just past them before I received a smashing myself with a faceful of ocean water. I left my jacket at home, so I decided to stay put, and it took a few more idiotic drenchings before I decided I ought to move in a little more. I figured I’d stay on the jetty as long as the other guys were out there. I stayed about an hour and a half with no hits under a black sky with an intermittent sliver of moon poking through before I saw them moving back in. As they passed me I saw one of them had rain gear on, and the other two were in jeans and sneakers. Jeans and sneakers on a soaking jetty in snotty weather! I was waiting for these guys??? The guy in rain gear had a head lamp that could have illuminated an abandoned coal mine, which would have made local guys very happy had they been there, and I watched him pour 1000 lumens ahead so the other two could see where those rocks were under water that they had to cross in those jeans and sneakers. I felt bad for them and they looked fairly miserable and wet and cold, but at least they made it back in.
[An aside: PLEASE don’t be that guy who gets knocked off the jetty because you don’t have the right gear or don’t know what you’re doing. If you have a wife, or husband, or kids, or friends and you do this anyway, it’s irresponsible and you are being an asshole. Every year people die off jetties. Don’t walk out on an unfamiliar jetty on an incoming tide. Korkers or Grip Studs are King and absolutely necessary when climbing over wet and uneven rocks. I won’t take anyone out on the jetty without them. Waders are usually frowned upon by locals, but not uncommon. Wear a belt if you wear waders. Bring a knife on that belt. Bring your own light. Even with all of this, it’s still possible to get knocked in and you should be prepared for what you’re going to do if that happens. About 10 years ago my uncle and another guy were swept off the Indian River Inlet jetty in Delaware. My uncle popped his PFD (another smart move) and got scooped up by a fishing boat. They searched for the other guy and by some miracle saw a rod tip sticking straight up out of the water. The guys on the boat pulled on the rod and found the guy, drowning, clutching his rod and he had already swallowed a bunch of water before they revived him.]
A week later I took my friend Heather out fishing. She has never caught a fish before. After some casting lessons at Floyd Bennett we went back to Breezy Point. Since she didn’t have any gear we didn’t go to the jetty but stuck to the sand. Another gorgeous Saturday evening, but this time with few fish. I saw some small blues splashing the surface but my waders were waterlogged as usual and I was slow to get to them. I stubbornly stuck to the water, convinced if I walked out a little further I could hit this drop off with a bucktail. Heather fished on her own behind me, tossing an SP Minnow, which I just remembered is no longer in my bag and have to stop writing to go look for it. Small birds dove here and there around me in about six inches of water and while I worked deeper water I heard shouting behind me. I turned around to see her dragging a little fluke, maybe twice the size of the lure, up the beach. Her first fish, all solo.
Before it got dark I got a small bluefish. Not the smallest bluefish I ever caught, but it would probably take five or six more of them to make a meal. I decided to drink the last of the beer instead.
“We’ve had a good day, François. But we must take care not to deplete the stock”
“True, we don’t want to make the same mistake that we did with the beaver.”
“Awwww, the beaver! What were we thinking???”
Today is the deadline for public comments on chub mackerel, a primarily offshore species of baitfish that’s important for pelagic fish like tuna, and others like billfish and sharks. There is currently no management of chub mackerel and yet the commercial take jumped from barely any in 2008 to over 5 million pounds in 2013. In 2014, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council adopted the Unmanaged Forage Amendment, which is designed for this kind of situation: an unmanaged fishery with a growing commercial harvest. The Amendment was written to prevent any large-scale fisheries on forage species from developing before any studies could be done to determine if it was sustainable, both from a yield perspective and an ecosystem one. As we all know with bunker, the forage species are a critical component for ocean life—not just so that the fish we target can get bigger, but for the overall health of the ecosystem.
In 2016 the Council voted to cap the chub mackerel catch to around three million pounds per year. The cap stays in place for three years, with the idea that the Council figure out a management system before the three years is up.
So here’s why this is important, even if you’ve never seen a chub mackerel: the MAFMC is currently in a scoping phase, meaning it’s taking public comments in this initial phase of management. This is the time to let the Council know you consider forage species a public resource and a vital one for the ecosystem. We are all aware of the importance of baitfish from our work with menhaden in the past couple years, and we also know that our comments matter. We’re not asking for a freeze on the fishery, but believe that it should be managed responsibly and intelligently, with considerations for predator-prey impacts as well as commercial yields.
Here’s how to contact:
Written comments are due by Thursday, May 31, 2017 and may be submitted by any of the following methods:
Mail or Fax to Dr. Chris Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 800 North State Street, Suite 201, Dover, DE, 19901; FAX: 302-674-5399
Email to Julia Beaty at email@example.com
Online at http://www.mafmc.org/comments/chub-amendment-scoping
PS. This is what I sent to the Council:
I am writing on behalf of the Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association. We established the group in 2009 to promote positive water awareness in New York City, including responsible fishing in our many waterways. We believe the chub mackerel, like all forage species, are a critical component of the marine ecosystem and should be managed responsibly and with regards to predator-prey relationships as much as commercial yield considerations. We have supported the management of other forage species, in particular menhaden, in the past and support the continued actions of the Council to protect these public resources that are so important to the health of our oceans. Thank you for your consideration.
Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association
Someone probably said that you can’t get shut out forever, but I was shooting zero percent, 0-10, before I turned to desperate measures. Everywhere on social media the fish were getting bigger, but my spots were still coming up empty. I got a call from Scott to fish the Rockaways with BAIT. Now, I’m not averse to bait fishing—I usually prefer mine with a 12-pack of beer—and on the piers in Brooklyn it’s pretty much mandatory if other people are fishing. But, as to the aforementioned .000 batting average plugging away in the bay and the beach, I was ready for anything to break the streak.
We drove to meet Scott’s friend Nabil, who’s a local guy in the Rockaways and knows his spots. Scott had basically the monster truck of beach carts that we loaded with rods, beer, ice, bait and we set out under the full moon to an empty beach. I saw a couple big bluefish in Nabil’s refrigerator when we picked him up, but I was willing to settle for a dogfish at this point. The night was cool and the surf rolled in from the left, glittering from the moon. Ever read the Peter Kaminsky book The Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass? This is not what happened here tonight. But spirits were high and the bells were ringing, and I was on the board with a small bluefish. I’ll take it.
Nabil is a crazy, energetic character who brought along some incredible smoked bluefish that he smoked himself (with bacon!). He knows his Rockaway spots and is generous with his knowledge. He showed us the spot on the bay where he sneakily built rod holders into the concrete, and took us to his local beach where the ocean forms a deep, curved bowl just down the block from his house. This is where Scott cleaned up on bluefish with the magic touch before we ran out of bunker and steel leaders.
It was a good reminder to go back and watch the somnolent sounds of Rich Trox’s Reading the Beach series of videos, which helped me out a lot last year when I finally started to put some of it to use on some Long Island and New Jersey beaches. I’m pretty sure I posted these before but they’re worth revisiting and taking notes.
Rich Troxler’s Reading the Beach: BING MAPS PART 1
READING THE BEACH VIDEO SERIES
Locally, a Con Ed station in Dumbo dumped a bunch of oil, more than 30,000 gallons worth, into the East River earlier this month. Apparently, the synthetic mineral oil is not as dangerous as the diesel fuel leak that happened in March in Gravesend, but it’s still bad for birds and fish and the overall quality of water on the river. According to this article the same station has leaked 179 times before, leaching transformer oil, hydraulic oil, and antifreeze into the river and the surrounding soil. It’s a bad scene, and one that Con Ed is said to be “evaluating.” With all the new condos the city built on the waterfront right by that station, one would think there would be some pressure on Con Ed to get their containment issues in order. We’ll wait to see if there’s any action.
I’m heading out to the jetty tonight after spending last weekend fishless in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ll report back tomorrow, but I’m hoping this new moon will bring me some bass.