The Fish Story

Speak Softly When Predicting a Slow Hurricane Season; Mississippian Asian Carp to Be Deported Back to China

By JAY MANN | Apr 24, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds READY TO REEL: With the first striped bass of the season recently coming out of the LBI suds, seaside gatherings of rods and surfcasters will soon be a regular beachtop sight. For now, though, it’s all quiet on the eastern front – so grab that tackle and hit it.

Surf City — HEAR YE, HEAR YE: This year’s hurricane season will be slower than usual, fewer ’canes and such. But I can’t be shouting that to the rooftops. Hurricanes have amazing hearing. If they get wind that humanity has scheduled them to have a docile year, it’ll be Katy batten down the hatches. And if they hear the prediction was announced on LBI …

While there’s nary a jot of science behind such cosmic they’ll-hear-me thinking, it still has as much merit as prognostications bred of a good science upbringing. It’s always a ’cane crapshoot.

Long-range meteorologists are unusually aligned this year, with the main movers and groovers in the cyclonic divining realm loosing predictions of a quietish year, names-, numbers- and intensity-wise. I agree, albeit whisperingly.

The Atlantic season of named storms officially begins on June 1 and equally officially runs until Nov. 1. That makes timeframe sense since 97 percent of all tropical systems occur within that tested timeframe.

With that timeframe in tow, I’m wondering when forecasters will be forced to factor in the planetary impacts of the festering-sky times we now live beneath. Without climbing aboard the insta-change climate train, I can see where the well-documented upward inching of sea surface temps could be an adrenaline rush to developing hurricane  systems. The gathering climate crises will likely be recalibrating the starting gun for the cyclone season, bumping it back to May 1 in the Atlantic.

Such a May 1 emphasis would make sense even if skies were sparkling and unsuffering. Going back to 1771, May has seen more so-called off-season tropical systems than any other month, with 50 premature cyclones being recorded in the Atlantic Basin. At the other end of the off-season spectrum, November has seen eight tropical systems. Oddly, December has registered the second most out-of-season systems, hosting 17. Even January has stayed respectably tropicalized with four cyclonic systems under its wintry belt.

As of 2019, there have been 89 documented off-season cyclones in the modernish Atlantic hurricane database, which began in 1851. In addition, there were six well-documented preseason cyclones before 1851.

As to this year’s lower-risk forecast, the folks behind the predictions have kept a convenient exit strategy close at hand. According to AccuWeather Atlantic Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski, “If this current El Niño continues or strengthens, then the number of tropical storms and hurricanes will be near or below normal.” He then judiciously adds, “If the El Niño weakens and goes neutral, the number of tropical storms and hurricanes could actually be higher than normal.”

Uh, OK.

Whatever plays out in real time, even on the quietest of hurricane years, remember this the mantra: It only takes one.

HOLY, NO MACKEREL: It’s an unforgivable slipup by anglers and management alike regarding Boston mackerel, technically Atlantic mackerel. Once among the area’s greatest fish biomasses, this amazingly multiuse species is in death throes. I used to be an ardent springtime Boston mack-taker, heading out a few miles to jig them up, sometimes eight at a time. Per tradition, I’d load them into repurposed trashcans for later personal processing. I’d end in the wee hours, freezing up a year’s worth of exceptional frozen bait, while saving 10 pounds for immediate eats and drying. No longer.

The title of a DFO (Canada) assessment reports covers it all: “Atlantic Mackerel Stocks Down 86% Over Past 20 Years.”

The report goes on, “According to the data in a single-year class, those hatched in 2015 made up 75 percent of all mackerel landed last year. In 2017, the department sampled 20,000 fish throughout the region and found a single one-year-old mackerel.”

The stocks might even be beyond the point of healthy return, due mainly to merciless overfishing, along with pollution in prime spawning waters.

Per expert Andrew Smith, “There are fewer older larger females in the population. Fewer older adults to contribute to the next generation. Mackerel can live up to 20 years, but it’s been decades since we’ve seen mackerel over the age of seven and currently in the water there is only really one significant year class.”

Worsening the dying-mackerel matter are apparent chemical and biotic changes in the Gulf of St Lawrence, where water temps are rising, leading to less zooplankton for spawning mackerel to strengthen upon.

Mackerel winter off New Jersey and swim up the Atlantic coast arriving first off Nova Scotia; then they move around Cape Breton to spawn in the southern Gulf of St Lawrence. After spawning, they disperse.

“But the single biggest impact that’s going to determine whether the stock grows or declines or stays stable is mortality due to fishing,” said Smith. Unadvisedly, Smith goes on to single out the angling realms’ bait needs as the main factor in the decline. How can he overlook the carte blanche given to factory ships in the 1990s, allowing them to buy and process mackerel and herring inside our EEZ? Immediately after that, the species nosedived.

If macks were higher on the human fish species love list, such a deadly decline would be front-page news, but the species is generally seen as an also-swam baitfish, meaning it’s easily missed.

HANDLING THICK PINES: A cranberry farmer recently told me about a wildfire remediation effort that would involve “thinning out the pines.” While they never looked all that fat to me, firefighters know they’re just too tightly packed in for their own good.

I’m not sure how thin one would need to make large stretches of Pinelands – to render them less hot to trot. I’ll randomly guess that fully half the pitch pine population in a chosen area would need to feel the chain.

As to where that massive cutdown would go upon perishing, I’m told the disposal of such former growth is problematic nowadays. As recently as last year, commercial timber recycling companies would take vegetative matters into their own hands. Those haul-off markets have gone roots up. Now, disposal of cutdowns is akin to finding disposal points for dredge material.

An option is to leave the chainsawed trees where they fall – or, more exactly, where they were felled. Time and decay would be assigned to do their magic.

Letting them lie, in situ, sure seems to present a – paradox alert – fire hazard. What’s more, I’ve all too personally seen the tick aftereffects of dead vegetation left to fester. The “Dike” at High Bar Harbor was a local example of insane opportunistic tick infestation from piled-up vegetative matter. Untold acres of thinned Pinelands, crawling with drying onetime growth? It would match those infamous tick plagues mentioned in the Bible. Hey, I clearly remember reading about them – when I was back there in seminary school … with Jim Morrison.

Prophecies aside, I’ll divine that any wholesale thinning of the Pinelands would run into some fat resistance from tons of Pine Barrens purists. However, if thinning was done solely with a near-highway emphasis, it might pass state-level muster.

As to the ecological impact of Pinelands thinning, how can it not cause growth spikes among the surviving dwarf/pygmy pines? The sky could open for them. While it’s unlikely that remaining pygmy pines will suddenly go all Watusi, they would soon take on a far higher and heftier look than those still jammed into nutritionally challenged, unthinned areas. What thinning might mean in terms of the Pine Barrens’ famed wildlife is unpredictable. Who knows, the Pine Barrens tree frog might begin adaptively growing to the size of bullfrogs. We would hear them crashing through the trees like monkeys. I’d better stop while I’m ahead. I’ll keep you posted on this thinning the Pinelands thing.

CARP CRISIS AND CUISINE: Back in the early 1970s, a cross-section of assorted carp species from Asia was invited into America, likely on a work visa. Their sole job description was to consumptively control aquatic vegetation and algal bottom muck associated with aquaculture and sewage treatment. The muck-sucking carp mix included bighead, black, grass, and silver carp – collectively called “Asian carp.” Not overly surprisingly, floods and piss-poor stock management allowed some of the imported fish to leak out, to instantly become illegal immigrants, though I’ll timorously steer well clear of that simile.

Cut loose like a goose, the carp scarfed up everything in such new and highly tasty territory. Down the frenzy-feed hatch went snails, plankton, grasses, worms, amphibians, fish larvae – it was like a Chinese buffet.

The newbie carp easily out-chowed the quasi-indigenous naturalized common carp, which arrived from Europe way back in the 1880s. The invaders are also eating many indigenous fish species out of house and home. Efforts to eradicate them – including Asian carp rodeos, where high-jumping silver carp are blasted with shotguns – have not only failed, but seem to amuse the fish. “Missed me!”

The fugitive carp are proliferating beyond measure. They’ve gone most gonzo in the Mississippi River system, flourishing their ways as far north as Minnesota. The Great Lakes are next on the food chain.

Now to the newsy part. Since we can’t beat them … why not eat them? I’m not suggesting we Americans eat them. Carp are conceptually distasteful to our refined palettes. But back in the fish’s motherlands, Asian appetites savor the meat of these bottom feeders. It now comes down to selling Asian carp back to the Asians – a balance-of-trade boon. Already China is chomping at the chopsticks to get at our/their carp, fattened on good old Mississippi River gunk. Can you imagine folks in Beijing trying to pronounce Mississippi?

Last week, an industrial park devoted to Asian carp processing was launched on 64 acres of wooded land in Ballard County, Kentucky, near the Mississippi. Its goal is to hold down the Asian carp population growth – while making many a pretty yuan in the process.

At the park launching ceremony, Todd Cooper, judge-executive of Ballard County, said the industrial park will not only help the community fight Asian carp, but also create jobs and bring population back to the neighborhood.

One of the main movers at the park is Two Rivers Fisheries, whose president, Angie Yu told NPR news, “Our mission is to reduce, reuse and redefine Asian carp.” Her company has already taken 10 million pounds of Asian carp out of the Mississippi River. That initial success has other Chinese investors chomping at the carp to invest in Kentucky.

“I think with all these investors here we can make this park very popular in the world. We can produce value added products with this Asian carp, make it popular in the world like KFC,” said Yu.

KFC!? Are you serious, Angie!? Though, come to think of it, Kentucky Fried Carp, i.e. KFC,  does kinda work, though I’m betting there won’t be much of a parking problem for that type of KFC on Route 72.

What I like about the de-carping effort is the Asian-clever fact there will be no waste whatsoever. Nary a drop. Even the guts and carpish bodily juices are rendered for fertilizer.

RUNDOWN: Fishing conditions look fairly favorable for much of this week, thinking in terms of surf, bay and inlet.

There are a modest number of stripers being taken in the bay, surf and from boat (nearshore). Unconfirmed reports of keepers in the surf, going for bunker, clams or worms. Jigging is working from boats.

Just word-of-eye reports from Graveling indicate a few keeper bass being walked off the beach. At least one was a bloodworm hookup going to a Stafford angler. The boat reports from that Mullica/Great Bay region have solid schools of smaller bass (barely beyond 20 inches) with some near-inlet schools boasting 28 inches. All mark-and-jig hookups.

Very very few black drum to date. “We’ve been into them by now in the past,” said A.S. Interestingly, over the years he has seen a correlation between arriving bluefish and arriving black drum. That could have to do with available forage to the south simultaneously lessening for both species.

Some fair structure-based blackfish were bested recently, per private and party boats reports, though nearshore weather/wind conditions have been prohibitive for small craft thinking about running out to wreck fish.

Not that it matters, but a few fluke are already nearing (or in) Barnegat Inlet. OK, that’s based purely on a single 20-inch bycatch. But where there’s one …

Crabbing is good, mainland side of the bay, per neighbor Ron. He’s like a blue claw gauge/barometer.

Saving the troubling for last, bluefish are not doing their arrival thing yet. Most folks aren’t even remotely concerned. I am. It’s the one fish I can catch.

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