What a week and most of it has been good. Good sea conditions prevailed for most of the week and thatís a good thing. There were a lot of smaller boats in the ocean and Iíll go into more details on that later. The extended forecast is for the upcoming week has a lot of pretty good weather too. The forecast includes a little wind to start the weekend on Friday and then another short blow beginning Sunday and falling out later Monday. The temperatures will be a little cooler, but there is a lot of sun in the forecast for next week.
Two fish have kept all the buzz going for the past week and they are the opposite ends of the size spectrum. Speckled trout were the highlight until the first bluefin tuna was caught from Morehead City on Sunday. The word spread a little and a handful of boats caught them well on Monday.
After Monday the secret was out and there was a fleet chasing them Tuesday and Wednesday. Fishermen put a hurting on bluefins Tuesday, but the water warmed a couple of degrees and the bite slowed on Wednesday. Weíve got a little cloud cover coming and some rain on Saturday, then the temps will be a littler cooler. Hopefully the action will pick back up. Those bluefins that are a little skinny now can fatten pretty quickly with all the bait between the Trawler and 14 Buoy.
Fishermen in small center consoles and several flat bottom skiffs were chasing bluefins this week. One of the largest I saw was in the cockpit of a small center console and it didnít leave much room for the crew. I know a lot of fishermen want to catch one of these big tuna, but please donít do anything stupid in that quest.
A spokesman from the Division of Marine Fisheries reminded us that a federal permit is required to land a bluefin. This is the same tuna permit that is required for yellowfins, bigeye, albacore and skipjack tuna. There is a question as to whether it might actually be illegal to intentionally fish catch and release without a permit. These fish are heavily monitored and regulations may change pretty quickly. There is no excuse for not knowing and following the regulations. I would suggest checking the regulations before fishing for them. The regulations and a permit are available on the NMFS Permits Shop website at https://hmspermits.noaa.gov/default.asp.
The permits categories include a HMS Angling Category for private recreational vessels, a HMC Charter/Headboat Category for vessels for hire that occasionally fish commercially and a General Category for commercial vessels. Permits can be purchased one of three ways from the NMFS Permit Shop. Fishermen in a hurry may apply using a credit card and print their permit after completing the transaction.
Current bluefin tuna regulations allow keeping one school bluefin (27 to less than 47 inches) and one large school/small medium bluefin (47 to less than 73 inches) for boats with Angling Category permits and two school bluefins (27 to less than 47 inches) and one large school/small medium bluefin (47 to less than 73 inches) for HMS Charter/Headboat permitted vessels fishing for hire. The recreational trophy bluefin tuna fishery (Angling permits and Charter/Headboat permits fishing for hire) for fish 73 inches and longer is closed for the southern area (south of 39.18.00 N, approximately Great Egg Inlet, NJ). The minimum size for commercially caught (General permits and Charter/Headboat permits fishing commercially) bluefin tuna is 73 inches.
Speckled trout were the other fish that had peopleís attention this week. Speck fishing just keeps improving. In addition to numbers of trout, there are also some really nice ones. The citation size is 5 pounds minimum and they are being caught surprisingly regularly. Capt Matt Lamb of Chasiní Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach said all of the top ten places in the Chasiní Tails Speckled Trout Challenge are citation size trout and there are almost 4 weeks left to go.
There are some spikes in the mix too, but they are next yearís big trout. The spikes were spawned this year and they range from about 8 to 10 inches for the ones spawned in August and September to 12 to 13 inches for the ones spawned in April and May. Specks are being caught from the creeks and marshes to the surf. One of the most popular speck spots in the state is the Cape Lookout Jetty.
Many fishermen prefer live baits for specks. Their favorite live bait is shrimp, but they are just about gone for the year. I wonít go as far as to say the tackle shops wonít have any more, but donít expect to find them. They are trying to get them, but itís tough going. Many of the large trout caught lately have eaten mud minnows. They switch to them each winter when the shrimp and larger minnows are gone and that appears to have happened pretty early this year.
Favorite artificial baits for trout cover a fairly wide range. The primary groups are soft plastics and hard lures. However, trout, especially larger ones, are adaptive and will eat a variety of baits. Some of the others that often produce are spinnerbaits and gold spoons. Trout hit a wide variety of soft plastics and fishermen like paddletails, curltails, shad tails and more. I like shrimp shapes and the more realistic they look the better. Of course I slather them up good with scent and Pro-Cure is my favorite.
Several hard lures also catch trout well. MirrOlure makes a variety of lures that stay on the surface, suspend and dive. MirrOlure now has a line of Paul Brown Lures that are shaped like hard lures, but are made of a softer material, and many fishermen are saying good things about them. I like them both.
There are lots of gray trout in the ocean along the N.C. Coast. Several hotspots are off the end of the Cape Lookout Jetty, Divers Rock, Johns Creek Rock, Sheepshead Rock, the WOFES, AR 420 and AR 425. Jig Fish, Stingsilvers and speck rigs will usually make pretty quick work of the one fish limit on gray trout.
Red drum are biting pretty well also, but few fishermen are chasing them right now until they have caught their limit of trout. Some days the pups are mixed with the trout and they are beginning to form into schools in the marshes and in the surf. At the risk of sounding too simple, anything that will catch specks will also catch pups.
Even with the cool water temps, there were a few flounder caught last week. Many larger flounder have already moved into the ocean and a lot of the flounder still being caught inside are barely short or barely legal. I havenít said this in a while, but I would suggest not keeping a flounder unless it is at least a quarter inch longer than the 15 inch minimum size. Flounder shrink when put in ice and a barely legal flounder may shrink enough to not quite be legal after a few hours on ice.
There have been some sea mullet and blowfish caught in the surf and from the piers again this week. Most of the piers have closed except for season pass holders with keys. Some are still open to the public, but I would call ahead to be sure. The better baits have been pieces of fresh shrimp, fresh cut bait, Berkley Gulp Sand Fleas and pieces of Fishbites artificial bloodworms.
There are gray trout and undersize to barely legal black sea bass on many of the nearshore artificial reefs. There are also a few flounder on them and the nearshore hard bottoms. Jigs and live baits are catching well and a few fishermen are finding some small menhaden in some of the creeks and using them for live baits.
Offshore bottom fish were biting well through the weekend and probably still are, but so many fishermen that would normally chase them and report have gotten busy chasing bluefins. A couple of the offshore bottom species are closed. I would suggest checking the limits and regulations at www.ncdmf.net before heading out.
King mackerel are holding in the same general area (structure at 100 feet deep) as the bottom fish and should be biting well. However, they have also been forsaken by fishermen wanting to go toe-to-toe with a bluefin tuna.
I know it has to sound like a broken record, but the offshore trolling action was good last weekend and has been overlooked since. There were wahoo, blackfin tuna, a few dolphin caught, plus a couple of billfish releases reported. Itís hard to run 45 to 65 miles when the bluefin action begins within 10 miles of the inlet. If the warming water pushes the bluefin away, I expect to see more fishermen chasing kings, wahoo and bottom fish.
Regulatory Amendment 14 will:
* Change 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.
* Change the current commercial fishing year for black sea bass from June 1 through May 31, to January 1 through December 31.
* Change the current recreational fishing year for black sea bass from June 1 through May 31, to April 1 through March 31.
* Specify a 300 pound gutted weight commercial trip limit for black sea bass using hook-and-line gear from January 1 to April 30. From May 1 to December 31, the trip limit is 1,000 pounds gutted weight for hook-and-line gear.
NOTE: Black sea bass pots are prohibited from November 1 through April 30. From May 1 to October 31, the trip limit for black sea bass caught with pots is 1,000 pounds gutted weight.
*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.
*Reduce the commercial trip limit for gag from the current 1,000 pounds gutted weight, to 500 pounds gutted weight, when 75 percent of the gag commercial quota is reached.
*Implement an in-season closure for vermillion snapper if the recreational catch limit is reached, and an overage adjustment (payback) in the event that the recreational catch limit is exceeded.
For more information on the final rule for Regulatory Amendment 14, please follow this link to the Frequently Asked Questions section at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2014/reg_am14/index.html.
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comments on a proposed rule to list Nassau grouper as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed rule filed in the Federal Register on September 2, 2014 (79 FR 51929). Currently, harvest and possession of Nassau grouper is prohibited in all U.S. waters, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, some countries have restrictions on harvest, including size limits and seasonal closures.
The proposed rule is based on key conclusions from a Biological Report and the Extinction Risk Analysis conducted by NOAA Fisheries. The results of the comprehensive status review are as follows:
(1) The species still occupies its historical range made up of a single population over a broad geographic area, (historical range means areas where Nassau grouper were typically found);
(2) The species possesses life history characteristics that increase vulnerability to harvest;
(3) The species forms large spawning aggregations, (spawning aggregations are areas where large numbers of fish come to reproduce); spawning aggregations are declining in size and number across the species' range;
(4) Current regulations and/or lack of law enforcement throughout the species' range are not effective in protecting Nassau grouper or their spawning aggregations;
(5) The combination of vulnerability to harvest, life history characteristics, and a lack of regulations and/or law enforcement indicate that the species is likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.
For more information on the listing process, please visit http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/listing_petitions/faqs/index.html.
Written comments on the proposed rule must be received by no later than December 31, 2014 to be considered by NOAA Fisheries. Electronic copies of the proposed rule may be obtained from the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov and NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office's website. The biological report is also available at the same webpage.
Comments may be submitted electronically by visiting the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov and entering docket number NOAA-NMFS-2012-0235 into "Search" box. Select the appropriate title, and click "Submit a Comment," which will display the comment web form. Attachments up to 10 MB will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
Comments may also be submitted by mail to: Jason Rueter Ė NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office Ė Protected Resources Division Ė 263 13th Avenue South Ė St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505.
NOAA Fisheries Announces the Final Rule for Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan
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.
December 8: NC Marine Fisheries Commission Oyster and Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, 6:00 P.M., DENR Regional Office, Washington,
December 8 to 11: Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Royal Sonesta Hotel, Baltimore, MD., Briefing materials www.mafmc.org/briefing/december-2014, On-line access http://mafmc.adobeconnect.com/december2014/.
December 19: N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Coastal Recreational Fishing License Committee, 1:00 P.M., N.C. Division of Marine Fisheriesí Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact Beth Govoni at 252-808-8004 or Beth.Govoni@ncdenr.gov.
Tournaments, Seminars, Club Meetings
January 16 and 17: StriperFest, Informational weekend and striper tournament, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, www.capefearriverwatch.org.
January 24: Johnnie Mercerís Pier Annual Dogfish Tournament, Johnnie Mercerís Pier, Wrightsville Beach, www.ncfps.com.