Weíve begun another trip around the sun and I sure hope everyone gets it started off right.  My plans to begin 2015 begin with going fishing and then coming home for an oyster roast.  If the fishing trip is successful, Iíll bring home a nice fat puppy drum for some redfish on the half shell the next night.  I always heard you were supposed to do something on New Years Day you wanted to do all year and this should be about right.  

I wish everyone the best for the coming year.  May 2015 find you healthy, happy and prosperous.

After mixed rain, sun and cold weather for the past week, we will be warming up over the weekend, but that warmth is bringing wind and rain.  I hope all the rapid fire changes donít confuse the fish too badly.  They have been biting very well.

It was only a few years ago that fishery managers were heralding the return of Atlantic stripers as the major jewel in their crown.  This year at their fall meeting the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission reviewed the latest data on striper populations and voted to reduce the annual allocations and lower the daily limit for ocean caught stripers.  I donít think there is a spin doctor anywhere who can twist this to where it sounds like something positive. 

Effective January 1, there will be annual catch allocation reductions in the Ocean, Albemarle Sound and Roanoke River Fisheries.  The daily bag limit for ocean stripers will reduce to a single fish, but the daily limits will not change in internal waters.  The seasons will close early if the allocations are caught.  These changes are necessary for N.C. to comply with the recently approved Addendum IV to Amendment 6 to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissionís Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass.  It is always wise to check the striper regulations at the Division of Marine Fisheries website (www.ncdmf.net) before each trip as the regulations can change and the season end with a 48 hour proclamation notice.

Iíll start with the big boys to begin the first report of the New Year.  Bluefin action has been slow, but there have been a few keepers and some shorts caught just about every day.  If the water cools a few degrees with the cold weather and another group of them move in, bluefin fishing could get real good, real quick. 

I wonít mention the boat, but on Tuesday a bluefin crew was spooled twice by strikes in 50 feet of water.  I know these folks and they usually catch with the best of them.  One of the crew said these fish spun the 130 reels like 35 pounds of drag wasnít anything.  For the second one, as the spool started to become visible they bumped the drag to 45 pounds and broke the line.  That was a disheartening and expensive day.

I didnít hear any reports from anyone who went to the Gulf Stream this week.  The offshore forecast for New Years Day and the 2nd are good, so I anticipate having offshore catches to report next week.  I would expect there to be some wahoo and blackfin tuna on the first temperature break that is 72 or warmer.  They have been there all fall and so far this winter, so itís difficult to believe they could disappear in a week.

There were a few king mackerel and bottom fish reports this week and both were biting.  The kings are in approximately 100 feet of water.  They like water temps of 65 degrees or warmer and structure that is holding bait.  If you find those you should be able to catch kings by trolling frozen baits or spoons and sea witches rigged with strips.  They will often hit small live baits and frozen baits drifted back in the current while bottom fishing far enough offshore.

While it is possible to sort through enough smaller fish to find a limit of keeper black sea bass within sight of land, there are more and larger fish farther offshore.  Black sea bass will be as close as the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs and out to more than 100 feet deep.  Beeliners, triggerfish, porgys and grunts are all biting and chunks of squid on a bottom rig is all you need for them and black sea bass.  Grouper are biting pretty well too, but the season for them closed on January 1, so they must be released.

Inside the inlets, speckled trout continue to bite well.  More small trout have been in the mix the past couple of weeks, but there are still a lot of nice ones and some citation (five pound minimum) fish.  The water is cool enough the specks are back in the creeks and protected waters, especially where the temperature is a degree or so warmer.  Specks are biting in the creeks off the Intracoastal Waterway and coastal rivers along the entire state.  There are reports of a mix of specks, red drum and black drum around the Cape Lookout Jetty, the Masonboro Inlet Jetties and the Little River Inlet Jetties.

Many fishermen prefer live shrimp for trout baits when they can get them.  That time is about to end for the winter.  They have been scarce and getting scarcer.  Live minnows are the next best baits and most tackle shops have them.  Soft plastics and suspending hard lures are the top artificials for specks.  Scent is important too and some baits have it and with some you need to add scent.

Red drum action picked up some over the last couple of weeks.  Pups are happy when they have food and there appears to be enough they wonít leave for a while unless the bait leaves.  Puppy drum have been biting in the sounds and creeks, plus in the surf in several locations.  One of the easiest places to walk to puppy drum is the Beaufort Inlet Jetty at Fort Macon.  Pups have also been caught in the surf along Cape Lookout, Shackleford Banks, Bear Island, Browns Island, Lea-Hutaff Island, Masonboro Island and at the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. 

A note to the wise: Red drum typically like the same baits as speckled trout, but occasionally they will just turn off.  When this happens, they will often respond to pieces of cut mullet that is left sitting on the bottom in their favorite hangouts.  They have the best nose in the marsh and the scent coming off the mullet will usually convince them to take a bite.

NOAA Weather Buoy 41036 to be Removed
It has been brought to my attention that at some point in January 2015 the National Weather Service (NWS) and National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) will no longer support weather buoy 41036.  The buoy, which is located at 34.12.25 N and 076.56.56 W or about 40 miles east of Wilmington in Onslow Bay, is not part of the NOAA/ NWS federal backbone system even though it has a NDBC number and a link from their website.

Buoy 41036 is one of the buoys deployed by the Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Program and its maintenance was funded by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  There was talk of shutting this buoy down when UNCW ceased funding this buoy in 2013.  The buoy was threatened with immediate removal at that time, but was left in place as NOAA did not have the funding to remove it.  A news release from NOAA said they have not been able to secure another sponsor.

Current concerns are that the buoy is at risk of breaking free from its mooring and

becoming a hazard to navigation.  It is still broadcasting current weather information.  Many boaters and fishermen in Onslow Bay said the current conditions broadcast from 41036 are their go/no go information on a daily basis and not having it will create a safety hazard by requiring boaters to go through the shallow inlets in Onslow Bay to know the current sea conditions.  This will affect all boaters and fishermen who use Onslow Bay and it extends from Carolina Beach to Harkers Island. 

A link to Buoy 41036 on the NDBC website is http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=41036.  There is a link on the buoyís page to the removal notice from the NWS that was issued on December 2. 

The call for removing the buoy seems to be all about funding for its maintenance.  There are numerous groups talking among themselves about resolving the funding issue.  This is very last minute, but the NWS budget is stressed to the point I donít believe they are chomping at the bit to send a buoy tender to remove this buoy.  They have been running several months behind in servicing buoys that are funded.  Perhaps several of the groups looking for funding to keep Buoy 41036 on station could get together and adopt the buoy or find a way to cover the maintenance costs.   

NOAA Fisheries is Seeking Information on River Herring
NOAA Fisheries is conducting a voluntary survey of individuals who have harvested river herring (alewives and blueback herring) commercially, recreationally, or for personal use at any point in time over the past 20 years. The goal of this survey is to gather first-hand observations to help understand alewife and blueback population trends and help the efforts to restore these fish populations along the U.S. east coast.  Commercial, recreational, and personal use harvesters have detailed knowledge of the fish in their local areas, such as changes in fish run timing, distribution, and individual fish size and species composition and NOAA seeks to document some of this local knowledge in order to better understand river herring and their habitat.

NOAA intends to use the information obtained from this survey to cross-reference scientifically collected data to better understand trends and changes in river herring populations coast-wide. This information can help NOAA identify opportunities for additional research and restoration.  The survey is ongoing through the end of January.  To learn more about the survey or to participate, please contact Dan Kircheis (dan.kircheis@noaa.gov) or Julia Beaty (julia.beaty@maine.edu).  Information is also available at www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/stories/2014/surveykickoffonRiverHerringinaugust.html.

Pending Legislation/Regulations
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announces the final rule to implement Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP) was published in the Federal Register on December 2.  Most of the management measures in the final rule will take effect January 1, 2015, but some measures will be delayed until either June 1, 2015, or January 1, 2016. 

This action is necessary to meet domestic management objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act as well as the objectives of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA) and obligations pursuant to binding recommendations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).  NMFS takes these actions to reduce and account for bluefin dead discards in all categories; optimize fishing opportunities in all categories within the United States' quota; enhance reporting and monitoring; and adjust other management measures as necessary.

 The final rule to implement Amendment 7 will affect commercial fishermen using pelagic longline gear, handgear, or purse seine gear to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna or northern albacore, recreational fishermen using handgear to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna or northern albacore and dealers who trade Atlantic bluefin tuna or northern albacore.  The final rule may be found at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/documents/fmp/am7/index.html.

  The final measures are expected to meet the main objectives of Amendment 7 by: * Preventing overfishing and rebuilding Atlantic bluefin tuna;

* Continuing to achieve optimal yield for HMS fisheries;

* Minimizing bluefin bycatch to the extent practicable;

* Reducing and accounting for bluefin dead discards in all categories;

* Enhancing reporting and monitoring;

* Adjusting other management measures as necessary.

The proposed measure that would have allowed pelagic longline vessels to fish under General category rules in the Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area (Alternative B 1d in DEIS) is not being implemented.  The proposed  measure that would have allowed limited conditional access to the current pelagic longline closed areas (Alternative B 3b in DEIS) is not being implemented, the two proposed pelagic longline gear restricted areas were modified based on public comment and additional analyses and the proposed Individual Bluefin Quota program (Alternative C 2) was also slightly modified based on public comment and additional analyses.


After much public comment, NMFS also modified the Purse Seine start date from June 1 to a range from June 1 to August 15.  NMFS will publish a Federal Register notice with the start date.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on Amendment 29 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region.  NOAA Fisheries is also seeking public comment on the proposed rule to implement the management measures in the amendment.

Amendment 29 proposes to:

* Update the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's (Council) acceptable biological catch control rule for determining catch levels of unassessed species.

* Adjust the acceptable biological catch value for 14 unassessed snapper-grouper species.

* Revise the annual catch limits for three species complexes and four snapper-grouper species.

* Establish a minimum size limit for gray triggerfish in federal waters off North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia for both the commercial and recreational sectors.

* Revise the commercial and recreational minimum size limit for gray triggerfish off the east coast of Florida.

* Establish a commercial split season for gray triggerfish.

* Establish commercial trip limits for gray triggerfish.

The Council submitted Amendment 29 to NOAA Fisheries for review, approval, and implementation.  The comment period for Amendment 29 ends on January 23, 2015.  The proposed rule published in the Federal Register on December 8, 2014 and the comment period ends on January 7, 2015. All comments specifically directed toward the amendment or the rule will be addressed in the final rule.  For more information on Amendment 29, please visit the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office Web site at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2014/am29/index.html.  An electronic version of the amendment and proposed rule is available at that Web site or from the e-rulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov.

Comments may be submit comments by Electronic Submission via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0132 and click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.  Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.  Comments may also be submitted by mail to:  NOAA Fisheries - Southeast Regional Office - Sustainable Fisheries Division - c/o Karla Gore - 263 13th Avenue South - St. Petersburg, Florida 3370-5505.

For more information on Amendment 29, please click on the Frequently Asked Questions link found at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2014/am29/index.html.  

Fishery Meetings
January 5: Oyster and Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, 6:00 P.M., DENR Regional Office, Washington, Contact Tina Moore at 252-808-8082 or Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov or Stephen Taylor at 910-796-7289 or Stephen.Taylor@ncdenr.gov.  A copy of the agenda is available under the Public Meetings Tab at www.ncdmf.net.

January 6: Coastal Habitat Protection Plan Steering Committee, 10:00 A.M., DENR Regional Office, Washington, Contact Jimmy Johnson at 252-948-3952 or Jimmy.Johnson@ncdenr.gov or Anne Deaton at 910-796-7311 or Anne.Deaton@ncmail.net.  A copy of the agenda is available under the Public Meetings Tab at www.ncdmf.net.

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
September 1 to January 4:  Chasiní Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge, Chasiní Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.

January 9 to 11:  Raleigh Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo, NC State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, www.ncboatshows.com.  

January 16 and 17:  StriperFest, Informational weekend and striper tournament, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, www.capefearriverwatch.org.

January 17:  Fly Tying Clinic, Morehead City Recreation Center, Morehead City, www.capelookoutflyfishers.com.  

January 24:  Johnnie Mercerís Pier Annual Dogfish Tournament, Johnnie Mercerís Pier, Wrightsville Beach, www.ncfps.com.

January 24:  Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, Embassy Suites, Cary, www.nationalseminarseries.com.  

January 31:  Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department 2015 Saltwater Fishing School, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, www.oakislandnc.com/Departments/Parks-Recreation.aspx.

Happy New Year and Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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