The Fish Story

Finding Deep-Down Blame for Global Warming; Regulations Will Fly as Bluefish Stocks Fall on Hard Times

By JAY MANN | Dec 11, 2019
Photo by: Supplied Photo MONGO MONSTER: For Ryan Loughlin, a 14-pound tog was worthy of the nickname ‘Big Mongo.’ It was taken last week while Ryan was fishing with Capt. Paul Haertel. Blackfishing on wrecks has been running hot and cold, with trips always predicated on weather. Tog fishcakes are yet another Christmas meal attraction.

Surf City, NJ — We hold the atmosphere as sacred. Despite our admiration of and addiction to it, we have likely dealt it an overdose of wrong by spewing our highly human Industrial Revolution gases in its face. But is that abuse behind the over-warming skies above? A growing legion of dang bright scientists are now professing that the atmosphere is doing exactly what the planet – not the people – expects of it.

Rapidly emerging assumption: The very real atmospheric warm-up is one of those natural things, which come along every few eons or so, fueled by the Earth’s running hot and cold at its own will.

Attributing climate change to just one of those planetary things certainly throws a wrench into the gears of what has become a public-driven dynamo to fight greenhouse gases and such. Calling it all-natural subtly downplays everything from engine exhaust to greenhouse gases.

A fully expected kickback comes from world-class scientists holding firmly to their belief that maniacal polluting by mankind is the sky-highest impactor behind the current atmospheric hot flash. “We have met the enemy and he is us,” per the late/great Walt Kelly, who was a staunch environmentalist before it was an in thing.

As those great nature-versus-nurture global warming bodies academically duke it out, we of a coastal ilk can coyly offer a hearty “Whatever, dudes.”

In a sophomoric sense, the exact reason behind sea warmings and rising waters makes no never-mind. Natural or unnatural, it’s a pick-your-poison thing for those of us living on the edge, as on the ocean’s edge. We’ll get a rise from it, no matter what the cause.

That sardonic angle offered, by blaming mankind for atmospheric and meteorological conniption fits, we have something of an out, namely, ending those sky abuses we’ve been doling out since smokestacks were invented. And if it’s nature doing its inexorable thing? It still comes down to modifying and adapting lifestyles in the name of earthly survival.

Even if we’re at the mercy of planetary forces beyond our control, there’s no doubt a thorough atmospheric cleaning on our parts would help humanity. In fact, those of a Boomer breed have been lectured, dating back to smog times, that our polluting ways are well worth stopping ASAP, if not sooner.

By assuming an overall sky-cleansing anti-pollution attitude, we allow the two needlessly divergent climate-change attitudes to converge, mid-mindset. There’s room for all since two different overwhelming influences could be simultaneously in sky play, both natural and unnatural. Feuding scientific forces could then tag-team in a fight-back way, as both agree that something significant must be done. Working together, the sky is the limit, improvement-wise.

For us coastalites, our battle heretofore is seemingly twofold: fighting the good fight to cleanse the skies while also practicing fierce resilience in holding fast to our beachy lifestyle. That battle needs reinforcement from those only seasonally lifestyling hereabouts. We are a stalwart brotherhood of stay-putters of many a kind.

NEVER SAY DIE, DUDES: I’ll catch heat from many a morbidly inclined climate changeaphile when I assure you with absolute confidence that the planet is not dying – and will not die – from rising seas. Bank on its survival. However, I see why crusaders for a cleaner, healthier Earth need to go that drama route to garner world-class attention, reaction and do-something support.

With 90 percent of our nation living near the coast, that leaves an immense amount of American square mileage unlived upon. Should it catastrophically come down to a dramatic water-driven retreat, the available retreat acreage is off the charts. I’m as serious as sea rise. We have almost unimaginable terrain to withdraw upon in the huge-picture long run. Even tiny New Jersey has mainland miles to spare.

Keeping a possible flooded-out future in mind, it comes down to holding out for however long we damn well feel like holding out. Blub, blub. When should our holdout give out? Developing an exact timeframe for an LBI inundation is impossible. Nailing it down to the month, year or even decade is for soothsayers and drama queen researchers, many out for media glory more than academic excellence.

Less-jaded experts are now homing in on the emerging complexities in gauging rising oceans. Recently, a study found rising seas compress the oceans’ bottom topography, lessening the discernable water rise on land masses. Simply, there might not be a simple tit-for-tat ocean sea level rise based on, say, ice melts.

Very telling, studies show that even a total Arctic Ocean ice cap melt won’t cause the seas to rise one iota. While that might sound soothing for LBI’ers, the current meltdown of ice residing on land masses, like Greenland glaciers and Antarctica’s ice cover, can do a sea level rise number easily capable of swamping coastlines. There are more natural variables with sea rise than science can shake a measuring stick at. Those variables, as esoteric as they might seem, are what we should factor in when grabbing precious time to continue living our lifestyles next to the sea.

As for the resilience angle, I’ll give up my Island when they pry it from my cold, dead hand – to borrow an NRA bumper sticker notion. For the less fatalistic of you, I’m roughly estimating that having the peaks of the Causeway’s Big Bridges as the last above-water visages of once-LBI will pretty much mark end times. What then, Island amigos? I see an adroit retreat to the next best shoreline, wherever it might be, mainland-wise. Face it, time could come when there is a future fishing destination known as the Beach Haven West reef – for excited anglers and their families departing from the Routes 72/539 boat basin.

Our coastal living GPS coordinates will change, but coastal life will endure. The shore will surely survive. Amen … and pass the bait.

BLUEFISH BANTER: Can a fish species be overfished and not overfished at the same time? Yes and no … or vice versa. As we speak, bluefish appear to be simultaneously overfished and not so much.

According to the 2019 stock assessment found at “bluefish are overfished and not subject to overfishing.”

I’ll take a potshot at what this might mean. The population level of bluefish is declining, possibly dramatically, even though it being fished at what is – better make that was – thought to be sustainable levels, thus it is both overfished yet not being overfished.

Getting an iota more technical, the “not subject to overfishing” refers to the fact that the existing management plan is being followed, thus no overfishing based on things like noncompliance. Seemingly and likely, the regs meant to keep bluefish stocks in the pink are no longer working. As to why, things there heat up quickly – for virtually all of our fisheries.

I’m betting new ecological factors and natural dynamics are invalidating the existing regulations. The climatically changing world of ours must be playing a huge role in the invalidation process. Bluefish can’t be the only impacted species; we’re going to be seeing many other fisheries going through unexpected population swings due to oceanic warming and changes in water chemistry. Yes, some fisheries may decline while others upsurge.

As new regs for the 2020 fishing are being worked on as we speak, there will surely be an 800-pound climate-change gorilla in the room with the assorted fishery councils and commissions. It will be hell on wheels trying to factor in how the gorilla might roll.

There is absolutely no way to accurately predict the next moves of an apish atmosphere, much less the trickle-down effects on marine creatures great and small. Still, regulations must be written despite the marine ecology transforming into something unseen in modern times. Significant changes are now arriving on a yearly basis when, in the past, the marine ecosystem would hold steady for decades on end. It’s future shock for fisheries.

The once-sound science applied to fishery management only a decade back might be null and void. Nonetheless, fishery management folks are committed to developing immediate regulatory plans, including challenging rebuilding plans – hallmarked by restricting what anglers can keep.

By the by, the realization that bluefish are being overfished means the assigned fishery management council has two years to develop a rebuilding plan. Bluefish bag limits will be changing by 2020.

BLUEFISH PONDERINGS: Many fishing folks have long questioned the advisability of a 15-fish bluefish bag, much less with no size limits. Such a ruthless bag keeps far too many snapper blues from ever reaching sexual maturity.

The free-for-all attitude toward taking blues was buttressed by the concocted concept that the keeping of tiny snappers gets kids into fishing. That never sat right with many. A strong case can be made that merely hooking small bluefish could best be applied to teaching careful catch and release. Oft noted: Why wouldn’t that same no-limits theory apply to all gamefish being caught by “kids”?

Some of the upcoming bluefish reductions could spark a bag limit drop, bottoming out at three any-sized fish. That’s a big bit draconian. I’ve been told that creating a minimum size of 8 inches might maintain a 15-fish bag. It seems such changes are based more on mathematical compromise than understanding the logistics needed to save an ailing fishery. Getting a larger spawning biomass is vital.

Suggesting bluefish numbers are suffering because of overfishing prompts the rightful retort that bluefish are among the most cyclically occurring fish in the world. Their numbers can go from colossal to utterly missing, sometimes on a dime, even when nobody fishes for them, per historic references. The big difference this modern go-round is the increasing value of blues, when factored into the recreational fishing realm. Bluefish have saved more otherwise crappy fishing days than virtually all other popular gamefish combined. Losing them would remove a day-saving species, especially for charter and head boats.

Yes, I’m a hardcore bluefish appreciator, thusly I await the new regs with an interest above most fishing folks’. I can assure that one stock-rebuilding alternative that will not fly is a seasonal closure. The species is just too speedy a migrator. It would require a moving closed season, varying from state to state, starting in Florida and progressing up to Maine. Imagine how that would fly.

CLASSIC CONUNDRUM: I’ve waited for the smoke to clear and the final gun to sound before undertaking a full pondering of this year’s Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic. It was as dumbfounding as it gets. A pittance of striper weigh-ins, 13 in all, were entered over a nine-week span. The bluefish never showed, as in zero weigh-ins.

So where goeth the Classic from here? I can’t even remotely think in doomsday terms. Instead, it will come down to what might be needed to keep this long-lived tradition alive through the 20s – as in the 2020s. I hear ya: fish.

The mindboggling lack of surf fish on LBI needs some serious Classic committee contemplation, though such brainstorming would likely follow the same theme of Charles Dudley Warner’s famous remark “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Should the new striper regs for 2020 nix the keeping of bass over 40 (or fewer) inches, it might not immediately overly impact the Classic – until the cows come back to roost along the beach.

Anyway, it is with sincere sincerity that I thank the many anglers who joined this year’s Classic. Many an entrant knew he/she wouldn’t be able to dedicate a ton of time to fishing it but still wanted to take part. For just as many, signing up was meant to keep the “derby” alive and flapping, as a tribute to our dads and granddads who launched it. See you again next year.

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