It shouldn’t surprise you that many of my most memorable Chesapeake fishing trips have featured two pillars of almost all successful angling adventures, abundant bait and quality habitat. Find both in ample supply and your odds for a fun day on the water crank up exponentially.
The first Rod & Reef Slam: Angling for Oyster Restoration tournament seeks to promote this concept, while taking a slightly different tact than most fall fishing events. You won’t win just for catching the biggest fish — you’re rewarded first for how many different species you catch, then their size.
The tournament, scheduled for Oct. 7, also highlights three restored reefs: the MARI Tilghman Reef outside Knapps Narrows; the Harris Creek reefs, and; the Cook’s Point reef ball area at the mouth of the Choptank. Multiple partners have worked to rebuild and/or construct these reefs, including NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Conservation Association-MD, MSSA’s Dorchester chapter, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Says John Page Williams, the bay foundation’s longtime naturalist and arguably its chief angler, restoring reef habitat to support oysters and other Chesapeake Bay marine life is “beginning to make a difference.” Williams adds these reefs not only attract popular sport fish such as rockfish, white perch and puppy drum (both red and black varieties), but also lesser targeted gamefish like sheepshead, black sea bass, and spadefish.
“We want to celebrate this return, keep it growing, and give DNR some data on recreational fishing opportunities around these projects,” he says.
Fishing hours are 6:45 a.m.-2:30 p.m., with the prerequisite after party and awards starting at 3 p.m. at Lowes Wharf in Sherwood. The tourney is open to adults, youth, power boaters, and kayakers. Register at cbf.org/slam.
MENHADEN MEETING: If you didn’t make it to last Monday’s menhaden meeting hosted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, here are my observations. Scores of people crammed into an AACC room to hear the coastal fisheries board roll out the proposal and make their voices heard. To me the basic question remains, as it has for years: Will the ASMFC manage this important forage species primarily for its crucial role in the entire marine ecosystem, or continue to allow a single entity to haul in a hugely disproportionate amount of fish?
Currently who gets how much is in part decided by decades old landings data that is, yup, you guessed it, heavily weighted toward a single operation, the Virginia-based, industrialized purse seiners. They seem to be “grandfathered in,” if you will.
This gross inequity is clear as day to me, and presumably to most Maryland pound netters and sport anglers if last week’s back-and-forth is any indication. Yet, they split when it comes to how best to tackle the problem. Maryland recreational anglers argue for more fish in the Chesapeake Bay and ocean. A straw vote, via a show of hands, conducted by the ASMFC facilitator revealed attendees overwhelmingly support Option E, which would leave about 75 percent of the stock in the water. Watermen want a bigger slice of the bunker pie, understandably, and are therefore reluctant to support any cuts. Currently, their allocation is less than two percent of the overall catch, which gets sold and used almost exclusively as crab bait and chum. Compared that the Virginia outfit that can take as much as 76 percent annually.
Most comments were thoughtful and measured, leaning heavily on familiar themes, e.g., conserving a shared public resource and an “inherited right” to a livelihood. Of course, there was one or two prerequisite “Me too!” proclamations, which frankly I never quite get. If you’re going take the time to say something at least make it personal. A smattering of pontifications flirted with a colossal wasting of our (read, me!) collective time. Two that come to mind attempted to introduce as new theory the profit motive driving the industrial reduction fishery and health impacts on stripers from inadequate amounts of menhaden.
However well intentioned, a little homework of this issue would have spared us (again, it’s all about me!) the meandering discourse. Two of the most tenacious citizen activists for menhaden reform I’ve known — Charlie Hutchinson of the Dorchester County chapter of the MSSA, and Jim Price, founder of the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation, both now deceased — covered this ground, and covered it well. Charlie compiled reams of interesting information on Omega’s financial activities, and Jim’s studies highlighted a connection between unhealthy rockfish and too few bunker in their diet.
The tendrils of fishery management are complex and sinewy. Under that backdrop the ASMFC again brings the menhaden issue to a vote this November. Many years back, when the debate was just heating up, I casually mentioned to a friend, who’s a leader in a national fishery conservation group, that as long as NOAA Fisheries answers to the Department of Commerce, forage species such as menhaden will always be monetized first and conserved second. That gap has closed, thankfully, and in six weeks we’ll see if the time is right to swap those two concepts for good.
Sept. 30-Oct.1: CCA-Maryland Red Trout Catch-and-Release Tournament, Crisfield, Md. Register at ccamd.org.
Oct. 4: Free State Fly Fishers meeting. Capt. Chris Karwacki presents “Fishing the Flats of Tangier Sound.” 7:30 p.m. at Davidsonville Family Center, 3727 Queen Anne Bridge Road, Davidsonville.
Oct. 5-9: US Sailboat Show, Annapolis Harbor. Details on annapolisboatshows.com.
Oct. 7: Potomac River Rockfish Tournament, hosted by Aqualand Marina and Campground, Newburg, MD. To register, call (301) 259-2222.
Oct. 5-7: Mid-Atlantic Surf Fishing Tournament, Ocean City. Details on oceancitysurfanglersmd.com.
Oct. 7: Chesapeake Bay Kayak Anglers Rocktober Tourney. Camp Wright, Kent Island. Benefits Make-A-Wish® Mid-Atlantic and CCA MD.
Oct. 7: Rod & Reef Slam, Anglers for Oyster Restoration, sponsored by CBF, CCA-MD, Maryland DNR. Register at cbf.org/slam.
Oct. 12-15: U.S. Powerboat Show, Annapolis Harbor. Details on annapolisboatshows.com.
Oct. 21: Little Havana “Rocktober Cup.” Register at ccamd.org.
Nov. 1: Free State Fly Fishers meeting. Jesse L. Iliff, the South River RiverKeeper, will discuss the South River’s “Score Card.” 7:30 p.m. at Davidsonville Family Center, 3727 Queen Anne Bridge Road, Davidsonville.
Nov. 4: Fish For a Cure, Annapolis Waterfront Hotel, Annapolis. Money raised supports cancer programs at Anne Arundel Medical Center. Register at fishforacure.org.
Nov. 11: Rocksgiving Tournament, sponsored by Devils Backbone Brewing Company. Register at rocksgiving.com.
Nov. 17-19: MSSA Fall Classic rockfish tournament. Register at mssa.net.
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