What a difference a week makes. How many times have you said that? It appears the volatile weather that has spawned the afternoon thunderstorms and tornadoes of this week is finally mellowing Ė and none too soon. Many of our family, friends and fellow fishermen a little inland here in N.C. and in other states have had it rough. As devastating as it is, the damage can be repaired or replaced, but the people canít. The flash flooding was all too real, with serious incidents across the southeast including N.C. I send good thoughts and prayers to all the people and families who have had their lives overturned during this week of extreme weather and to the families and friends of those who lost their lives.
This week the early forecast had the weather staying warm, but with breezy conditions and thunderstorms through Saturday. That has cleaned up quite a bit now and the forecast is for warm, at least partly sunny conditions and light winds through Sunday.
I was really busy this past week and it was things that will reflect here and in fishing. Last week I attended a Fisheries Science Workshop in St. Petersburg, Fl. that is part of the Marine Resource Education Program for the Southeast. This was a joint workshop coordinated and staffed by the NOAA Fisheries, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Sport Fish Restoration Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Presenters were recruited from these organizations, plus the National Marine Fisheries Service, South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and Caribbean Fisheries Management Council.
The workshop organizers selected participants involved in fishing from each coastal state in the Southeast, Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Caribbean Territories. I was one of two people selected from N.C. and others came from coastal states around to Texas. There were also two representatives from Puerto Rico. This workshop dealt with gathering, and understanding the science involved in marine fisheries and putting the data gathered into useable forms to assist management decisions. There will be another workshop in the fall on how this data is used to make fishery management plans and other ways it affects fishery management decisions.
This was a thorough experience that had classroom and hands-on components. We spent the mornings discussing sampling techniques, procedures and putting that information into useful forms and then went to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Labs for the afternoon.
The aging lab is where biologists cut and examine the otoliths (ear bones) of fish to determine their age and I enjoyed this the most even though I need a lot of practice to become good at it. The otoliths have rings, much like the rings on a tree that tell the age of fish. The width of the rings varies and the distance between them also give insight as to whether that was a good or bad year for the fish. An oversimplification is that in good years with lots of food, the rings are close together, but when weather and other events interrupt the food supply the distance is greater between the rings. Once a fish is aged, this can be verified by matching it to weather and related events in its area.
I didnít care much for classrooms when I had to be in them in school and college and that hasnít changed much in the past 40 plus years. However I especially enjoyed a couple of the presentations highlighting the math involved in transferring the data gathered into useful information and an oceanography overview that demonstrated how global weather events affect local fisheries.
The base formula of original fish population minus caught fish, plus new fish, equals the current fish population is pretty easy to understand. However the formula can become very imposing when quantifiers and other factors must be plugged into it. What begins looking very imposing can be broken down into units easy to understand and then reassembled into a working model. I am glad they have people to gather the information and computers to do the math. I ran out of fingers and toes very quickly.
The oceanography overview showed how winds and currents work at different places on the earth and how weather and natural events many thousands of miles away can affect water quality and fishing in what appears to be an unrelated area. One example is El Nino weather events that affect the whole world and cause drought in some areas and flooding in others, plus huge shifts in weather.
Iím looking forward to returning for the management workshop in the fall and seeing how all this information is factored into the management plans.
Instead of staying and enjoying a couple of days of fishing with friends in the area, I rushed back from the Florida workshop to help set up and instruct in the Women Anglers In Training (WAIT) seminar presented by the Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department over the weekend. This is a unique program that begins with classroom instruction on Saturday and moves to on-the-water use of Saturdayís information on Sunday. One of the most unique things about the WAIT Program is that it is for ladies only. Men may instruct and assist with the fishing on Sunday, but all the participants are ladies and they come from all over the state.
This year I was joined by Capt. Mike Brazil of Affordable Charters, Capt. Marty Wright of Wright of Passage Charters and Jim White of the Cape Fear Flyfishers Club as instructors. I went with a group of ladies to Oak Island Pier for some fishing there on Sunday, while Captains Brazil and Wright took groups of the ladies offshore and Capt. John Dosher took another group for some inshore fishing.
I participate in many seminars and fishing schools throughout the year and the WAIT has been my favorite for quite a while. While they may have a variety of reasons for their interest, the ladies really want to learn and it shows. They also occasionally ask questions from points of view I hadnít considered and it puts things back in perspective for me. If youíre a lady and wanting to learn how to fish, you should check this out. This year is over, but it is usually scheduled for the last weekend in April and will be back in 2015. Put it on your calendar.
Red drum are the hot topic in nearshore and inshore fishing right now. With the water warming they are becoming more active and are feeding. Red drum are being caught from the backs of the creeks, through the coastal marshes, into the surf and on the shoals at Cape Lookout and Drum/Ophelia Inlet.
Red drum in inside waters are following whatever bait they can find and there isnít a lot right now. They will readily hit live baits, fresh cut bait and a variety of lures. Several fishermen have reported the red drum are already hitting topwater lures and that is some of the most fun fishing there is.
I was stopped several times over the weekend and asked about red drum season. There has been a lot in the news lately about a red drum season closure, but that is just for commercial fishing. The recreational red drum season is open with the existing regulations of a single fish per day in a slot between 18 and 27 inches. Commercial fishermen have already caught their entire 250,000 pound allocation of red drum for the 2013/2014 year, plus about 13,000 pounds over, so the commercial red drum season had to be closed and will not reopen until at least September.
Speckled trout are also biting along most of the N.C. Coast. However, speckled trout season is closed until June 15, so you canít keep them yet. Trout like live minnows and shrimp and will also hit lures, but not as well. There are some black drum mixed with the trout and reds and they prefer natural baits, but will occasionally hit soft plastics.
A few flounder are working their way into the catch, but most are a little short to invite home for dinner. It is still early in the season, but May began on Thursday and the water temperature is flirting with that magical 70 degree mark in the surf and a little warmer back in most creeks. The flounder are scattered from the nearshore wrecks and artificial reefs through the inlets and along the edges of channels near the inlet.
Sea mullet (Va. mullet or whiting) are biting in a lot of places. The Beaufort Inlet shipping channel from just outside the inlet to the Turning Basin and the edge of the ship channel at the mouth of the Cape Fear River are a couple of hot spots for them.
Sea mullet are willing biters and prefer small pieces of the freshest shrimp possible. Put the shrimp on a double-drop bottom rig or a speck rig and go at it. Several fishermen also reported good catches using FishBites synthetic bait. This method of fishing occasionally catches gray trout too. There isnít a limit on whiting, but the limit on gray trout is a single fish per day, with a minimum size of 12 inches.
There are also some stripers inland in the coastal rivers, but stripers are heading upstream to spawn and the action is slowing. Give the stripers a few weeks to get upstream and spawn and they will be returning downriver. The post spawn striper action can be extremely good as they are hungry, aggressive and slamming topwaters.
Stripers are still biting well in the Roanoke River at Weldon and 100 fish days are common. The keeper season ended April 30 so the crowds will decrease drastically. If you just want to go catch a bunch of stripers and donít care about keeping them, this could be a great trip.
Pier fishing has been slow, but with some pleasant surprises. Sea mullet of mixed sizes, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, sand perch, blowfish, a few (mostly short) flounder, pompano and more are being caught from the piers. The water is warming and fishing should improve as more bait moves in. The water is almost to the point to catch some king mackerel and cobia. Spanish mackerel showed earlier this week up to Topsail and should be off Atlantic Beach and Cape Lookout by the weekend. The big ďHatterasĒ bluefish put in a brief appearance along the beach from Swansboro to Cape Lookout a couple of weeks ago and then left when the weather cooled at Easter. I think they might arrive at the piers during the coming week.
Atlantic Bonito are showing in several places. Off Sunset Beach, Wrightsville Beach, New River Inlet and east of Cape Lookout are a couple of places that were mentioned often.
The schools of bonito are also holding a few false albacore. These are darker meat fish that have a stronger flavor and arenít held in as high of regard. It is wise to learn to tell the difference and know which ones to invite home for dinner.
King mackerel are showing around some of the deeper wrecks and artificial reefs. They are hungry and are hitting spoons, sea witches with strips and frozen cigar minnows.
Offshore bottom fish are also biting at many of the same places that are holding king mackerel. The good news this week is that grouper season opened on May 1, so they can now be added to the catch. Grouper regulations are species specific, so check the regulations at www.ncdmf.net. Other bottom fish that are biting well include beeliners, black sea bass, triggerfish, grunts and porgys.
There were a couple of days this week the sea conditions were calm enough to make the run to the Gulf Stream. Wahoo and blackfin tuna have been biting pretty well for a while. With the warming water, more dolphin are joining the catch and some of them are large. There are a few yellowfin tuna being caught south of Hatteras, but most are being caught north of Cape Hatteras. The current weather looks pretty good for the weekend and thatís a good thing because the trip is a long run in rough conditions. If anyone returns with too many wahoo, tuna or dolphin fillets, Iíll volunteer to help find them homes.
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on Amendment 20A to the Fishery Management Plan for the Coastal Migratory Pelagic Resources of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Region. If approved, this amendment would modify the management plan to include changes to the coastal migratory pelagics permit requirements and restrictions, including changes to the sales provisions and income requirements.
For the Atlantic region, the amendment would add a prohibition on the sale of king and Spanish mackerel caught under the bag limit unless the fish are caught as part of a state-permitted tournament and the proceeds from the sale are donated to charity. The amendment would also remove the income qualification requirement for king and Spanish mackerel commercial permits from the management plan. Comments must be received by May 5.
Electronic copies of the amendment are available at the NOAA Fisheries Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/gulf_sa/cmp/2014/am20a/index.html or the e-Rule Making Portal at www.regulation.gov.
Comments on this document, must be identified as "NOAA-NMFS-2013-0168", and may be submitted by:
ē Electronic Submission via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0168. Once there, click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. Additional Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect or Adobe PDF documents up to 10MB may be attached.
ē Mail written comments to Susan Gerhart, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on the proposed rule for Regulatory Amendment 14 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region. The proposed rule published in the Federal Register on April 25, 2014 (79 FR 22936) and the comment period ends on May 27, 2014.
The proposed rule would:
* Revise the current fishing year for both commercial and recreational sectors of greater amberjack from May 1 through April 30, to March 1 through the end of February.
* Revise the current commercial fishing year for black sea bass from June 1 through May 31, to January 1 through December 31.
* Establish a new commercial trip limit for black sea bass. Black sea bass pots are prohibited from November 1 through April 30. From May 1 to October 31, the trip limit would be 1,000 pounds gutted weight for black sea bass pots. From May 1 to December 31, the trip limit would be 1,000 pounds gutted weight for hook-and-line gear. The hook-and-line gear would be restricted to a trip limit of 300 pounds gutted weight from January 1 to April 30.
* Revise the current recreational fishing year for black sea bass from June 1 through May 31, to April 1 through March 31.
* Revise the black sea bass recreational accountability measure to have NOAA Fisheries announce the length of the recreational season for black sea bass annually in the Federal Register prior to the April 1 recreational fishing year start date. The fishing season would start on April 1 and end on the date NOAA Fisheries projects the recreational sector's annual catch limit would be met for that year.
* Revise the commercial trip limit for gag from the current 1,000 pounds gutted weight, to include a trip limit reduction to 500 pounds gutted weight, when 75 percent of the gag commercial quota is reached.
* Modify the recreational accountability measure for vermilion snapper by implementing an in-season closure and an annual catch limit overage adjustment (payback) in the event an overage of the recreational annual catch limit occurs. If recreational landings reach or are projected to reach the recreational annual catch limit, recreational harvest would be prohibited for the remainder of the fishing year. Payback of a recreational annual catch limit overage in the following fishing year would occur if vermilion snapper are determined to be overfished and the total annual catch limit (combined commercial and recreational annual catch limits) is exceeded.
Electronic or hardcopies of the proposed rule may be obtained from the NOAA Fisheries website at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2014/reg_am14/index.html or the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Web site at http://www.safmc.net.
Comments may be submitted electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to: www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0052, click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. Comments may also be mailed to Nikhil Mehta - NOAA Fisheries - Southeast Regional Office - Sustainable Fisheries Division - 263 13th Avenue South - St. Petersburg, Florida 33701.
The SAFMC is soliciting applicants for several vacancies on advisory panels and from scientists interested in serving on the Science and Statistical Committee (SSC). SAFMC has 11 advisory panels that have representation from the recreational and commercial sectors. Appointments are for three years with meeting several times each year. Applications for the advisory panels must be received by May 2 and for the SSC by May 14, 2014.
Persons interested in serving on an advisory panel should contact Kim Iverson, Public Information Officer, at Kim.Iverson@safmc.net or call the SAFMC office at 843/571-4366 (Toll Free 866/SAFMC-10). Application forms are available from the Council office and may also be downloaded from the Advisory Panel page of the Councilís website at www.safmc.net. Applications should be mailed to Kim Iverson, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC 29405.
Persons with expertise and experience in the areas of fisheries biology, population dynamics, fisheries research and monitoring, and social and economic analyses of natural resources, especially as applied to fish species in the South Atlantic, are encouraged to apply for membership on the SSC. Persons interested in applying for the SSC should contact John Carmichael, Science and Statistics Program Manager, through email at John.Carmichael@safmc.net, by phone at 843/571-4366 or Toll Free 866/SAFMC-10. Additional information about the SSC is available from the Scientific and Statistical Committee page of the Councilís website at www.safmc.net.
Upcoming Meetings, Events and Tournaments
April 19 to June 15, Third Annual Chasiní Tails Outdoors Cobia Challenge, Chasin Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com;
May 2-4: Topsail Island Surf Challenge, Flounder, bluefish, black drum, sea mullet and red drum, East Coast Sports, Surf City, www.fishermanspost.com;
May 2-3: Reeliní For Research Fishing Tournament, Offshore gamefish species, Chefís 105, Morehead City, Benefits Childrenís Promise at the N.C. Childrenís Hospital, www.reelinforresearch.org;
May 3: Third Annual Kayak Fishing School, Oak Island Recreation Department, Bill Smith Park, morning or all-day sessions, www.captjerry.com, 910-278-4747 or 5518;
May 4: The Crystal Coast Kayak Fishing Series (CCKFS), 3rd Tournament, Swansboro, CPR (catch, photograph and release) tournament for flounder, red drum and speckled trout, www.flatwaterspaddling.com/CCKFS;
May 6: Finfish Advisory Committee Meeting, Craven County Cooperative Extension, New Bern, Jason Rock 252-948-3875 or Jason.Rock@ncdenr.gov or Casey Knight 252-948-3871 or Casey.Knight@ncdenr.gov, www.ncdmf.net;
May 7: North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association (NCKFA) Cape Fear Chapter meeting, Hook Line and Paddle, Wilmington, www.nckfa.com;
May 12-15: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Spring Meeting, Crowne Plaza Old Town Alexandria, Alexandria, Va., www.asmfc.org/home/2014-spring-meeting;
May 21-23: North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) Meeting, Clam Digger Inn, Pine Knoll Shores. www.ncdmf.net;