Day Began Like Summer

By Scott Lenox

Day Began Like Summer

We’ve got some pretty severe weather moving our direction as I write out tonight’s report, but earlier today it was pretty nice outside.  It felt a lot like summer with warm temps, sunny skies and a stiff breeze out of the south for some of the day.  Thankfully fishing was good before it started blowing.

Yesterday, Captain James Coane and the crew of the charter boat Reel Current out of the Ocean City Fishing Center had a great day of offshore trolling.  The crew had a very nice wahoo and some yellowfin tuna for the fish cleaners.

Jeff Weeks, Dave Weller and Jim Weller headed out about 9 miles off the beach and found some good fishing for sea bass, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and a few flounder mixed in.

The Miss Ocean City has been seeing some good flounder fishing with the clean water in the back bays lately.  Hopefully those conditions stick around after this wind and storms.

Captain Marc Spagnola of Dusk to Dawn Bowfishing put his last groups on some really good shooting for rays in the south bays.

Captain Monty Hawkins of the Morning Star saw some good sea bass fishing today and did some more great work for the OC Reef Foundation.

Day began summer-like: close, muggy, sticky. Southerly breeze was light as we cleared the inlet. Wouldn’t stay that way. Gus from PA gave today’s reef blocks a shove and we pressed on. Saw a lotta throwbacks bringing hope for the future – and keepers that are going to be good for dinner! Phil from Essex MD boxed the day’s pool winner.. 

Screens slam full, (see pics of sea bass 35/40ft thick) I’m sure not one of the males we tossed back was under 9 inches. Don’t think any were under 10 inches either. 

That would have shocked biologists before 2000. 

Here from May 1977 – Art Kendall – Centropristis striata – Sandy Hook, Technical Series #7..

While much of his work remains accurate, Kendall’s claim that nearly all sea bass over 10 inches are male and therefore “catches of large fish will be all males” is preposterous today ..but I’m certain it was true when he did his research. Today a catch of 10 inch, even 11 inch, sea bass would almost positively be all female. They’d be called “shorts” and thrown back. 

I’ve scrutinized pre-management science extensively. It should SCREAM at management for examination of my thesis that we have shifted age at maturity from 7-8 months to 3 years. 

When sea bass production skied from 2016 to 2019 we saw Under 9inch Males Virtually Every Day. 

Now, as from 2002 to 2015, we no longer see small males. 

I guarantee we will not ‘produce’ as many sea bass as we ‘extract’ – a perfect recipe to shrink a population.  

Folks in my business better pray for fluke. 

Where in early management we forced our region’s sea bass to spawn early in life; now size-limit regulation tricks them into delayed maturity: “Don’t spawn yet, the habitat’s full.” 

I want to stress – Sea bass spawning behavior is not keyed to population density — at all. 

Its simply the size of the fish. A few large males on a nearshore reef will snuff the urge of smaller fish to become male. 

Used to be ALL our throwbacks were in the spawning cohort – up to an 11 inch size limit, I believe. 

Big Problem: As sea bass today grow into today’s delayed spawning population, they simultaneously grow large enough to be a “keeper.” Not only is spawning production hampered by fewer fish surviving to age 3 in the natural order, but then we hammer the blazes out of em just as they’re fixing to join the spawning party. 

Spawning age very much remains delayed, production remains minimized & our reefs will, very soon, not be full of sea bass.. 

Fishing pressure must again be increased on our most inshore reefs. We must lower the size limit – somehow – for anglers targeting inshore reefs. I think an 11 inch size limit (vs 13 inches today) should reinvigorate younger year class spawning behavior. 

Sea bass begin life as female. Some switch to male to balance the spawning population. Happens fast too. A study in CT showed chemical changes indicating male in the largest female sea bass just hours after the male was removed..

Here are other observations from papers written prior to 2000. None of these statements, these well and truly scientific observations, are true anymore. (I hold that if no sea bass of a certain size have switched to male, then that size is not participating in spawning at all.) 

From the 1996 Chesapeake Bay & Atlantic Coast Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan: Fifty percent of black sea bass are sexually mature at 7.7 inches  Available at NSCEP by searching title.

 

From NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-143, BSB EFH Source Document: 50% are mature at about 19 cm SL (7.5 inches) and 2-3 years of age (O’Brien et al. 1993).(length at age was way off then! But a ruler is a ruler.. Age one carries most of them to 9 inches..) 

 

Also from the EFH Source Document: In the South Atlantic Bight, Cupka et al. (1973) reported that both sexes mature at smaller sizes (14-18 cm SL) (5.5 to 7.1 inches).

 

Able & Fahay “The First Year in the Life of Estuarine Fishes” Pub 1998, citing Lavenda 1949, Mercer 1978 & Werner et al 1986: ..that matures first as female, then changes to a male at ages of 1 to 8 years: (old aging charts would have had this from 5inches to about 11inches.) 

If I am EVER able to persuade management WHY this matters to sea bass spawning/reproduction/population enhancement, we’ll be suddenly closer to restoring our amazing 2002/2003 sea bass fishery along DelMarVa. 

A double miracle in management foresight? Should we then couple biological spawning management with habitat restoration/creation? It’s my belief that we can take sea bass to a higher population than has ever been known. 

Yes, EVER. 

Really. 

Happy anglers and commercial fishers? Sure. 

But bottlenose dolphin, tuna, sharks and a whole host of other critters would thrive as well. Yes, sea bass, when prolific, are an important part of the food web. 

Irritating beyond belief – catch estimates no one believes are the only thing keeping management from even trying.. 

And, mark my words, with sea bass thriving even to both coasts of Florida, NOAA will blame any diminishment along DelMarVa on climate change couple with overfishing by Private Boats. 

Meanwhile, on social media it will be surveys or wind construction.. 

Would that they might at least try lowering the size limit in some defined area.

Why is it my lot in life to convince a huge governing body what they’re sure of is not true? Everyone believes larger females are positively the ticket to spawning production. 

Well, we have larger females today than scientists even thought existed before 2000. 

Yet the two gigantic spikes in population I’ve witnessed were driven, I believe, by small randy males.. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever succeed, but have been trying since 2006 or so. 

Cheers, 

Monty

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