Tautog, Striped Bass and Swordfish

By Scott Lenox

Tautog, Striped Bass and Swordfish

We didn’t have the nicest weather conditions today with fog, rain and a little wind, but it was still doable in the ocean and warmer than average temperatures made it not so bad.  We’ll take it while we can get it because few and far between fishing days are on the way.

John Hyams and his crew got out a couple of days in a row and had some good fishing in calm weather.  They got into the striped bass pretty good on Thursday and yesterday it was a trip to the canyon where they dropped on a nice swordfish.

Captain Kane Bounds and his crews on Fish Bound have enjoyed the nice weather recently and have taken advantage of it by putting some nice fish on deck.  They’ve had several terrific days with lots of tautog in double digits.

Captain Monty Hawkins of the Morning Star was out on the ocean today and if you’d like to get on board with short notice he’s got some availability tomorrow January 1, 2023.

Went from dark to not quite so dark this morning. Those additional dim lumens, which appeared suspiciously around sunrise, didn’t help much. Couldn’t see in fog anyway.

Mark dropped Reef Block #38,640 on Sue Foster’s Block Drop this last day of 2022. We soon went toggin. 

Showers, mist, rain, fog, downpours, dense fog – and periods without rain; tog  wet anyway, they bit. 

When they’d quit, we’d move. 

Definitely not a Chamber of Commerce beach day but my guys wanted to go despite the suddenly downgraded forecast. 

They had good action too. 

Morgan won the pool with a 21.25 inch female he released. He could have limited twice. Took none. Chose to enjoy catching them all again another day instead.

I’ve known since the early 1990s that fishery management was fully capable of nearly miraculous fishery restorations. By the early 2000s I knew we could take species like sea bass and tautog and make them more numerous than ever before – better than virgin populations – greater than before stern towed gears became common. 

I’m sure of it. 

I am also 100% certain we can turn the Mid-Atlantic Ocean blue again. And, yes, make fishing better than ever through wise, well informed management & habitat restoration/creation. 

I’ve witnessed it. 

How come management cannot see what I’ve witnessed at sea? What’s holding up the show? 

The dumbest data ever called science, that’s what. NOAA’s Recreational Catch Estimates from their MRIP program. 

Not one MRIP estimate can pass the “Red Face Test” to a state level manager or statistician. For a NOAA Regional Administrator however? No Problem. “That data is peer reviewed. You managers WILL use it precisely as presented.”

And we become worse off every year because Private Boats and even Shore anglers are overfishing at increadible levels – far higher than commercial & recreational party/charter – and it’s happening without any benefit to fish. 

NEW! We have proof NOAA’s MRIP recreational catch estimates are dead wrong. 

I can’t go sea bass fishing because recreational Private Boats from one state sometimes catch more in two months than all commercial fishermen and recreational party/charter catch all year. 

That’s a true statement so far as NOAA is concerned. That is what their computers say. But, of course, its not true that your buddies in 25 ft outboards in NY or MA or NJ catch vastly more than ALL commercial and party/charter. 

It’s nonsense. 

They don’t even catch more than just their own state’s professionals. W

But that doesn’t mean NOAA won’t insist their very expensive recreational catch estimates from MRIP aren’t used by management. So far as NOAA is concerned It really doesn’t make a dern if the recreational catch estimates from MRIP are correct. 

Their only truth? MRIP offers the best available scientific information. 

(Ahhh, that’s because it’s the only info and they have refused or ignored all methods of testing I’ve offered.) 

Started this fight in 1998. There were some wins back then. Now the issue of Private Boat and Shore angler effort has grown obscene. WI’ll be working on it again this winter. 

The videos of our inlet (OC MD) prove beyond any doubt that MRIP’s effort estimates are pure baloney. NOAA holds 742 boats a DAY(!) went fishing with four anglers apiece in July/August 2021. 

Ahhh… 

Not laying out all the evidence, but here’s an example of how NOAA has “improved” our estimates since a repair was mandated by Congress in 2007. 

(Party/Charter estimates were repaired in 2003. Not perfect. Usually satisfactory.) a

The way the data reads now, professional commercial and party/charter skippers take an insignificant number of tautog, sea bass & scup.

No you say? That can’t be true? 

It’s true to NOAA when they’re force feeding management next year’s regulations.. In today’s catch data small Private Boats are more of a threat to our nation’s fisheries than foreign factory trawlers before Magnuson. 

An example of just how loopy the catch data has become: 

I was watching closely when 2010’s March/April Shore Tautog estimate was published. It was from the old MRFSS estimating system. I was using that specific NJ Shore estimate to illustrate NOAA’s insanity. I used it to complain in my writings and at several meetings. As estimated by numerous experts in NJ’s shore fisheries, what in real life would be under a couple hundred tautog caught in the very end of the two month March/April period — MRFSS had ‘estimated’ at 73,000 tautog caught and killed by NJ’s chilly Shore fishermen under NOAA’s old system, MRFSS. 

The very day the new system, MRIP, came out in 2012 this was the first estimate I checked 

..and I knew we were sunk. 

Played really. 

MRIP was selling us and management a barrel of sun baked, maggot infested fish guts as “scientific data.” MRIP had changed one of the dumbest old-system Shore estimates ever (repaired it?) by adding 100,000 more tautog. Now it was 174,000 tautog where experts such as long time outdoor columnist, Al Ristori, suspected less than 200 shore-caught NJ tog in the tail end of April — if any.

Some repair. 

But Wait! 

It gets so much worse.. 

Following several ‘peer reviews’ (involving not one fisherman,) in 2018 MRIP was ‘recalibrated’. 

That hopelessly incorrect NJ tautog estimate that had grown by 100,000 computer caught fish, (along with innumerable other MRIP estimates) was now recalibrated to near-perfection as far as statisticians were concerned. Under MRIP’s 2018 ‘recalibration’ that small band of die-hard NJ tautog anglers trying to land the first blackfish of the year from shore were now estimated to have caught 341,440 fish – that’s over 800,000lbs. 

Almost a million pounds estimated for a shore catch that might not have actually filled a  bucket. 

Oh, it’s fixed alright.. 

I can show similar estimates and far worse Private Boat estimates in any coastal fishery. 

I promise – I absolutely guarantee – the videos taken at Ocean City Maryland’s Inlet will show MRIP’s Private Boat “Effort” to be ridiculously over blown. 

That’s what needs fixing in MRIP’s Recreational Catch Estimates — Effort. “How Many People Went Fishing.”

Well understood decades ago, the 2007 rewrite of Magnuson-Stevens called for a registry to solve this problem. 

Then MRIP’s statisticians decided most fishermen were liars and cheats — that they don’t register and lie about how often they go.

Numbers of fish we catch, owing the number of anglers participating, has skyrocketed ever since. 

Every state needs to cover a percentage of inlets with cameras. From there? Solid data. 

From good data? 

Science based fishery management & habitat restorations can then work their magic. 

I promise this too – when management is working, it is magic. 

Amazing. A fish population can climb so swiftly..

With MRIP? 

A dagoned mess. 

Janet Coit, Jon Hare, Evan Howell at NOAA? They seem to genuinely want repair. Your state’s top fisheries people, your state’s reps to Council & Commission do too. Management is truly sick of it. 

But it’s your congressional representatives – they need to hear about it. They have the juice to force repair. 

The guys who forced the whole 2007 effort to derail are gone. 

More importantly, we need not rely on logic and Party/Charter captains’ observations; we have proof – video proof. 

Write DC. 

I’ll be working all winter (again.) You can follow my work in the Fish Report from morningstarfishing.com 

THIS NEEDS FIXING. 

Fight this in 2023. 

Your DC Reps can make NOAA Fix It. 

Regards 

Monty 

Subscribe to our YouTube and check out how we troll up striped bass off of Ocean City, MD!!

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