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12-11-14

The cold morning and cool days say winter isnít too far away.  That agrees with the calendar, which says winter begins on December 21.  The good news is we are entering a stretch of weather that is forecast to be sunny, even if it isnít quite as warm as we would like.  Daytime highs in the fifties, with lots of sunshine, arenít bad.  Itís plenty warm enough to break a sweat reeling in a large fish or a bunch of smaller ones.

The noríeaster that came in last weekend on the full moon caused a lot of flooding from down east Carteret County through the Outer Banks.  It really whacked our Friends from Hatteras up to the Virginia state line.  There was enough flooding Highway 12 was closed several times around the temporary bridge across the breach inlet at Waves/Rodanthe/Salvo.  There were pictures on the news and Internet of lots of flooding, plus pictures of the ocean slapping motels and houses from Hatteras to Duck. 

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the folks who were displaced and have rebuilding to do.  We may have escaped the hurricanes this year, but this first fairly strong noríeaster did a lot of damage.  I hope itís not indicative of the winter to follow.  

For another week the primary talk on the docks and in tackle shops is about bluefin tuna and speckled trout.  The water warmed a few degrees late last week and the bluefin bite off Cape Lookout slowed.  It hasnít stopped, but the action is far from the wide open madness of the first couple of days.

Some folks think the bluefins have moved south and the Ocean Isle Fishing Center has put their money where their mouth is.  They are offering a $500 reward for the first bluefin brought to their docks.  Check it out at www.oifc.com.   

Many of the bluefin have been caught by fishermen in small center consoles and there were even several fishermen chasing them in flat bottom skiffs.  One of the best stories from last week was Thomas Bennett III catching a 100 inch bluefin that he couldnít pull over the side to get it in his Parker center console.  Capt. Mike Webb and mate Curtis Morris of the Pelagic climbed aboard to help Bennett pull the big tuna in.  Earlier last week, Capt. Brian Harrington was fishing on his Contender center console and towed a big bluefin to the fish house rather that risk hurting himself or bruising the meat trying to pull it over the side and into the boat.

There is good news for bluefin tuna.  The International Commission on Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) reviewed landings and other data on bluefin for the past several years and believe the numbers are slowly growing.  They feel good enough about this they raised the catch allocation for 2015.  I sure hope they are right.

Last week I mentioned there are specific permit requirements for catching bluefins.  If anyone needs that again, the information on permits and size/number regulations are available at the NMFS Permit Shop at https://hmspermits.noaa.gov/default.asp.

There are also safety equipment requirements for boats that choose to sell bluefins and other federally regulated fish.  The place to start finding this information is at the local Coast Guard station.  North Carolina is in the 5th Coast Guard District and the District office is in Portsmouth, Va.  The 5th District website is http://www.uscg.mil/d5/.  From this you can find the contact information for your local Coast Guard Station.  This is important for your safety and the Coast Guard has been checking boats fishing off Cape Lookout.  Being out of compliance with safety and equipment regulations carries stiff fines, but worse than that, youíre taking chances with your life.

Speckled trout are on the lower end of the size spectrum from bluefin tuna, but dedicated trout fishermen consider them just as big a prize.  Speckled trout are biting well too and are spread from the brackish waters up the rivers to the ocean. 

Surf fishermen should find inlets and places with structure are good locations to catch specks.  Several fishermen have reported good fishing where piers were removed or destroyed.  It seems there is usually some structure left behind.  One potential hotspot is where the old Iron Steamer Pier was on Bogue Banks.  The pier may be gone, but the wreck is still there.

Lures, especially MirrOlures are favorites for surf fishermen, but on calm days some fishermen are fishing live baits under corks.  Fishing a cork in the surf works best when the wind is offshore and helps hold the cork and the bait suspended under it in position.  The idea position is often the first slough off the beach or just beyond the breakers.

Specks are still holding in inshore waters and are being caught in a variety of places.  The size ranges from sub-legal spikes to citation specks of 5 pounds plus.  With these short days, there isnít enough time after work to launch the boat and go fishing.  However, there are some places you can drive to and get in a quick trip.  Check with the tackle shops in your section of the coast and Iíll bet they can suggest somewhere.  One of the best known and consistently productive places in the state is the public fishing pier off the Harkers Island Road Causeway leading to the Harkers Island Bridge.  Live baits, soft plastics and hard diving baits like MirrOlures all have good potential to catch at these spots.

There are also some gray trout, puppy drum and whiting in the surf along parts of the coast.  Just like for specks, structure, a pronounced slough or an unusual current swirl should be checked out.     

Red drum are biting from the backwaters to the surf, plus there are some overslot fish holding on many nearshore wrecks, rocks and artificial reefs, plus moving around on Cape Lookout Shoals, especially around Shark Island.  With the cooling water temps, puppy drum are beginning to gather into schools.  Usually if you find one, there are more nearby.  Drum will hit all of the baits and lures mentioned for speckled trout, plus they also like fresh chunks of cut bait resting on the bottom.

The water has gotten cool enough most flounder catches are extra.  I wouldnít say you canít target flounder now, but most of them have moved into the ocean or mudded up for the winter.  Still, there will be some caught by fishermen slowly working baits and lures across the bottom for pups and specks.

With the bluefin frenzy, most other ocean fishing has been forsaken for a while.  This is a mistake as there are lots of fish biting in the ocean.  Offshore trollers are still catching wahoo, but not in the same numbers as earlier in the fall.  However, blackfin tuna have arrived in growing numbers and yellowfins are being caught from Hatteras to the north.  They arenít around in numbers large enough to target them, but donít be surprised to see a few dolphin in an offshore trolling catch or to see a billfish release flag flying.

Offshore bottom fishing is good, but porgy, scup and triggerfish seasons are closed right now.  Grouper season closes on January 1 for 4 months, so you better get out and get them quickly if you want to freeze some grouper fillets for the winter.  The season is open for beeliners, grunts and black sea bass and they can help fill the fish box on an offshore trip, plus they taste good when introduced to a grill, the oven baking element or some breader and hot grease. 

The best bottom action begins at about 90 feet, but black sea bass are being caught as close as the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs.  Most are shorts this close in, but fishermen with patience can usually sort through them and find enough keepers for dinner.  Donít be surprised to catch flounder while bottom fishing.

King mackerel fishing has moved offshore and is good.  The key to finding kings has been marking bait in water temperature that is at least 65 degrees and the odds improve as the water warms to 68 degrees or so.  This has been being found at around 100 feet deep, but may a little inshore or offshore so keep an eye on the temperature.  The kings are hungry and will hit live baits, frozen natural baits, spoons, sea witches rigged with strips and swimming lures.

NOAA Weather Buoy 41036 to be Removed
In the past week 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 ocean fishermen 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
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.

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
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 and Events
September 1 to Dec 31:  Chasiní Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge, Chasiní Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com

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

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.  

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver

                                      

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