The Fish Story

Joining Forces to Rally the Island; Eyes in Sky Soon Go Fishing

Blowfishing Still Looking Large
By JAY MANN | Aug 27, 2019
Photo by: Jay Mann CHECKIN' THINGS OUT: A fish hawk, better known as an osprey, takes a break from bringing vittles back to a nearby nest.

Surf City — It was tough going from sun to unsun, warmth to unwarmth – all in an LBI minute. Day temps went from 85 to 55 as if they had just noticed a cop up ahead. So, might this mini plunge be a sign of an early winter? We’ll know by next spring. Of course, even if we have an early winter or an over-lingering summer or a smack in-between autumn, global warmists will take full credit.

This is a lead-in to a coastally significant rant (and rally cry) I’ve saved until summer season’s end. It’s grounded in the endless angst being evoked by threats of sea rise – and warnings to abandon our coastal homelands. While this has all been written about before, I’ll make this issue hotter … in a Mannly way. And this troubling matter touches on our entire beaching future, i.e. the future of our Islandesque fun-having ways.

I’ll yawningly begin with a recent article found on ecowatch.com, titled “It’s Time to Retreat from the Coastline, Says Science.” Wow, what a novel concept. Just turn the page. No, don’t! I need your help … on this page.

The Ecowatch write-up, highlighting a recent global warming paper published in the journal Nature, editorially suggests, “The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.”

Waste! The beach fixes since Sandy have allowed for seven of the most profitable, fun-packed summers the Jersey shoreline has ever seen. Might I mention that coastal property values have soared, leading to massive tax revenues? Those purportedly wasted billions have been paid back in full, Sparky – collecting astronomical interest from commerce gains. And who can overlook the untold value of those fun and pleasure bennies, which have been dubbed … priceless? Rarely have monies like those spent to buttress the Jersey shoreline been so well and profitably spent.

This leads into my weirdness of the week choice. It comes via a very real psychological malady, something the American Psychological Association calls “eco-anxiety.”

Eco-anxiety – along with my terms of eco-angst and eco-aggravation – is the brain dulling, psychological fallout from ceaseless doomsday bombardments, compliments of global warming rhetoric. It’s gotten to the point where paranoia rains down with every weather event, as doomsayers strive to milk a single lightning strike for its catastrophic relationship to doomacious climate change. It has made many coastalites feel like the proverbial cat in a rocking chair factory, presenting as an eco-anxiety syndrome.

From what I’ve seen of such endless angst, it can lead to highly nonproductive burnout, capable of estranging the legions of coastalites and coast lovers needed to force governments to change their carbon dioxide-crazed ways. Hey, I told you this is going to be a rally segment. Read on.

Angst creates ecological indifference and, eventually, anger. Take me, for angered instance. I was pissed sick over every climate event, minor to sublime, being instantly translated into another nail in LBI’s coffin. It’s as if there was no such thing as weather events until global warming came along. History begs to dramatically differ.

Most recently, I’ve gotten to the point of Sixties-like defiance – and during a Woodstock anniversary year, no less. Surprisingly, it’s a comparatively relaxing point. I now unabashedly and wholeheartedly defend beach- and dune-saving actions, most notably (but not exclusively) replenishment. Such actions are a tangible form of resilience and time buying – preferably time spent for fishing, surfing, volleyballing, sunning, beachcombing …

So, how about joining me in backing anything that gains us more years, maybe decades. As seen above, shoring up is fiscally worth its weight in gold. To be sure, we’ll graciously translate time gains into summertimes wonderfully well spent. We’re quite good at that, you know.

If I seem heavy on the summery tourism side of timely things, I am. It’s all part of mustering adequate manpower; rallying all LBI-supportive troops for resiliency’s sake … and battle, of sorts. Truth be told, there might be too few of us year-rounders to fully repel the insidious attacks by abandonists and retreatists. We need all Island aficionados, far and wide, to conscript – with a hardy “Hell, no, we won’t go.” Or, “Damn the doomists! Full summers ahead!”

More poetically, in terms of the other Dylan, “Do not go gently into that good … ”

Fighting the good, stay-put fight is our moral obligation to an Island that has given us the best of times – maybe the best of all possible times. But the good fight also demands fighting above and beyond just the local front. To sincerely save our shores for untold fun years to come, we need to turn our combined forces toward salvaging our severely suffering atmosphere by reversing the sky-mauling madness of which the world – and America – is guilty. It’s mandatory we become the greatest proponents of saving the planet – even if it’s just to save our own sandy arse.

WE SEE YOU, EH: Big Brother might be on the side of the planet’s overburdened fish stocks. Starting soon, the most advanced eye-in-the-sky satellites will be looking down upon commercial and recreational anglers out at sea.

A three-satellite system was launched by Canada on June 12. It’s already shooting data back to the Canadian Space Agency far below. Full-blown crunching of the data will begin this fall. But this surveillance system isn’t simply for the benefit of the Great White North, already famed for its space ventures. (Just go with it.)

“This puts Canada in a position of being able to support partners around the world with the challenge of illegal fishing, and I think that’s quite a critical mission for our department and for Canada,” said Sean Wheeler, a senior program officer for international conservation and protection program.

“Our oceans are all connected, and illegal fishing and the impacts it can have in one area of the Pacific or the Atlantic could affect our own stocks, so there is a Canadian element here to protect our own stocks,” he said.

Obviously, many commercial fishermen will be looking down on being looked down upon. There’s many an acre of ocean-top that has gone thousands of years with no real oversight, at least not of a nonbiblical nature. Looking on the upside, this sky-high surveillance should finally offer a way to detect suspected egregious violations of the world sustainable fishing standards.

But what can be done when illegal fishing acts are committed in plain view of those telescopic eyes beyond the atmosphere? That’s where things get iffy … and likely political. Many nations no longer tolerate the theft of natural oceanic resources. We’ve seen remarkably serious trade restrictions aimed at nations whose fishermen foul the commercial fishing waters for all other law-abiding countries. While placing trade embargoes and similar restrictions on nations that accommodate illegal fishermen is a slow retaliatory process, non-complying nations soon suffer from being shunned, trade-wise. If nothing else, these orbiting observation posts could get ne’er-do-well fishermen to look up and think twice.

I’ll duly note that America’s fishing fleets already toe the line like no other nation’s fleets, commanded by the strictest sustainable fishing standards on the planet. What’s more, any indiscretions by American fishermen are dealt with far more severely than other places in the world. For glowing example, last month saw Carlos Rafael, the so-called Codfather – described in Mother Jones News as “the biggest fisheries frauds in American history” – sentenced to four years in prison, fined $200,000 and ordered to pay $109,000 in restitution fees to the U.S. Treasury. Rafael’s scheme included purposely misidentifying huge quantities of fish to sidestep bag limits on fish he was selling. Feds became suspicious upon hearing about the cash-only transactions he demanded for the catches of his fishing fleet.

Satellite surveillance could end Codfather-type criminality. With telescopic equipment capable of zooming in to identify the exact species being landed by fishermen, mislabeling scams would be sunk. The powerful lookdowns could also keep an unblinking eye open for invasive, out-of-country fishermen tapping into our fish fertile and well-managed EEZ. Already organizations against illegal shark fishing are begging to tie into Canada’s technology, knowing that on-board finning could be recorded so thoroughly that even the type knives being used would be distinguishable.

More on this as the eyes in the sky lead to legal actions.

FLUKE-FEST MARKS A FAILURE: Fielding a load of fluke reports, I was depressed over the insanely low keeper-to-throwback ratio in the bay. One boat angler took 85 fish with nary a keeper. But I’m not depressed for the anglers. To my eco-sensible mind, that hooking rate tells me there is a highly unhealthy overload of summer flounder out there. You heard me right. We have too many flatties not too few, as management would have us believe.

Virtually any young-of-year fish in the bay – one of the most vital birthing places anywhere – is likely being ravenously dined upon by insatiably predacious fluke. Among those doomed small fries are the likes of weakfish, tog, black sea bass, winter flounder, red drum, black drum – anything that was either born in the bay or has been blown in off the ocean. It’s a frickin’ ecosystem slaughterfest, all for the sake of a couple overprotected species. Yes, striped bass are also in the over-mothered mix.

On an up note, fishery folks of import are on the verge of becoming aware of this imbalance. They might be taking on a more ecosystem-sensible approach to fishery management.

“Detecting overfishing at an ecosystem level will help to avoid many of the impacts we have seen when managing fished species on a population-by-population basis, and holds promise for detecting major shifts in ecosystem and fisheries productivity much more quickly,” reports Jason Link, the senior scientist for ecosystem management at NOAA Fisheries.

He further states, “In simple terms, to successfully manage fisheries in an ecosystem, the rate of removal for all fishes combined must be equal to or less than the rate of renewal for all those fish.”

As noted, striped bass also loom large on the overprotected species side of things. Hell, the population baseline used by management is based on an arbitrary year – with no identifiable relationship to a healthy ecosystem. It just happened to be there – in a research-friendly way. Keeping bass pinned to this arbitrary level of population doesn’t even remotely address the possibility that the baseline timeframe might have been taken during an already unhealthy and unbalanced ecosystem period. It’s “Maintain this bass population number,” regardless of overall biosystem cost.

Yep, prized predatory fish like fluke and bass are likely killing the recovery of untold numbers of essential game and forage species. If a healthier, holistic ecosystem management regime takes over, it could lead to the keeping of smaller fluke and bass, along with ecosystem repair work, like using aquaculture to grow and release, say, tog and weakfish.

RUNDOWN: Blowfishing is remaining super stellar. Final take for one ardent angler – now heading back home for the year – was 330 puffers.

If all those Barnegat Bay blowfish successfully spawned – and have a strong migration southward – next summer could offer another fine showing of this tasty, fill-in for protected weakfish, which are not showing well at all in the bay. It’s a badly damaged – and still suffering – gamefish that once ruled the bay. Weakies of all sizes are beloved foodstuff of striped bass and fluke. Just sayin’.

Not sure what happened to the huge kingfish biomass we had last month. They might have moved to the north a bit. That should have them doing a migratory return throughout September, traditionally a hot kingfish month. I hope to load up, having missed the summer mugging.

A loan croaker was taken near Little Egg Inlet. After that hyper push of croakers we had not that many years back, their numbers have been pretty much neutralized by Atlantic shrimpers. When we had that amazing previous showing of croakers, the shrimping industry was in deep decline. That decline has since been reversed, and presto-change-o for us. At one point it was estimated that shrimpers annually took hundreds of millions of croakers as DOA bycatch. I’m not sure if excluder devices have helped.

A couple triggerfish here were taken in the surf. That’s a tad unusual, though it might now be the result of surfcasters fishing small hooks and baits seeking kingfish.

I’ve been doing some castnet throws bayside, north end, and haven’t netted a single spot, pinfish or sailor’s choice at sites where I usually get a goodly showing of them by now. At the same time, there seems to be an unusually strong showing of spotted butterflyfish, a southern stray species I once collected and sold to pet shops in Camden County.

How do tropicals get here? The eggs of these down-south fish get caught up in the Gulf Stream and, in spring, get blown into the bay by onshore winds. Sadly, butterflyfish are non-migrators, so they perish come cold weather. Other tropical strays I seined back in the day included assorted angelfish, blue tang, blue parrotfish, snowy grouper, reef butterflyfish, four-eyed butterflyfish, banded butterflyfish and even a rarity called a high-hat.

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