Home Local News Couple Five Pound Flounders and A Visit With a White Shark

Couple Five Pound Flounders and A Visit With a White Shark



Greetings All,

Booked my boat out today to go look at, and hopefully video, black sea bass behavior when acoustic surveying is being done. Took a biologist and some volunteer anglers, plus my crew; spent the day trying to document permitted survey work currently being done off our coast causes sea bass to stop feeding.
Completely stop feeding.

At least while a survey boat is within three or four miles. With sea bass’s first spawn only days away, what could go wrong?

Here’s what we did today in a nutshell – We found 2 spots in the survey area that should be well-populated with sea bass but we’re not. We found a spot on the outside edge of the survey work that was very well populated with sea bass. Fish at that location would hardly take a bait until the survey boat was almost 5 miles away. By the time the boat was 10 miles away the bite was OK. At 12 miles distant we experienced “drop and reel” fishing and limited swiftly.

We suffered this wind survey work before in 2013, 14, & 15.. Then so much surveying was done sea bass and flounder actually evacuated a 500 square mile patch of ocean in & immediately around the Maryland Wind Energy Area.
This is the same area being surveyed again.
Government swears there is no effect, that I’m full of it. They’ve spent MILLIONS to look at how marine mammals & birds use the area; the state even paid for a hugely expensive bottom survey so it could be “open source”instead of proprietary — and companies would no longer need more survey work. (ahhh well, worked for a few years.)

NOAA, BOEM (bureau of ocean energy management) State of Maryland? No one spent one red cent to look at fisheries impacts that I know of. Dang sure not survey noise and sea bass spawning/bottlenose dolphin calving.
This is NOT the ‘air cannon’ survey work of oil & gas exploration. That equipment is known to kill fish and perhaps even mammals outright if near enough. Survey work off our coast now is more basic. It creates a near-perfect mapping of the seabed’s surface with towed sidescan gear & a deeper look 20 to 30 feet beneath the seabed‘s surface with a device called a sub-bottom profiler.
That sub-bottom profiler?That’s where the trouble lies.
Regular readers will know I’ve a lifetime of artificial reef work. In 2007 I was anchored up with clients catching the heck out of sea bass on a storm-sunk wreck called the “Cook.” MD’s top scientific research boat, skippered by my friend Rick Younger, was inbound to do the final survey before we were allowed to build “The Sue Power Reef” with 44 stainless rail cars from the NYCTA.
Reef building history was happening and I wanted to witness it.
Rick and I were on the radio as he approached the NW corner of the Jackspot Reef to begin his work. My clients were catching doubles of sea bass every drop – what we call “drop and reel” fishing.
Rick turned on his sub-bottom profiler ..that splendid sea bass bite instantly went dead “as if turned off by a switch.” And it had been turned off by a switch. A sub-bottom profiler switch.
I hailed Rick again and asked what had happened. He knew what it was and turned off the sub-bottom unit. The bite did resume, even instantly, if more tepidly.
I’d seen what I came for and soon took clients far away to finish an excellent day of fishing.

From that 2007 experience I was able to quickly put together what was happening when Wind Energy Area survey work began in earnest in 2013. What a pain in the neck. Hardly just for fishermen though: by mid-summer 2014 sea bass & summer flounder were 100% gone from the MD WEA and surrounding area. A year later the surveys were over. I booked my boat out on one of the first days in Sept 2015 and searched fabulous natural stone reef sites for sea bass. There were none. Some tog, even a few cod – no sea bass.

This video shows the exact same reefs from 2004 and 2015. The difference is staggering.

BOEM says there can be no affect from sub-bottom profilers because they’re “as quiet as a ship’s propeller.”

I suppose it must be a third rail in NOAA – touch BOEM and die.

So today, 5/20/21, my crew and I borrowed a couple go-pro cameras w/housings for deep work, gathered a few angling volunteers – I lost what could easily have been a sold out boat – and went looking for enough evidence to finally get someone’s attention in marine science to investigate what I’ve told them for years – these surveys make sea bass STOP eating.

No way around it. That’s an “impact to a fishery.”

I’m almost certain it also pushes marine mammals away and even causes sharks to avoid the noise.

Today’s work began on a wreck 14 miles east of Ocean City. In late May that wreck, an old wreck supremely grown-over with a coral-based benthic community, should be loaded with sea bass.

It was not. Visibility was too poor to do camera work. Rod and reel sampling yielded a single 14inch ‘keeper’ sea bass and one throwback.

After 41 years of sea bass fishing, I hope readers will believe I can locate sea bass on a reef. Today’s volunteer anglers were, to a man, highly skilled also.

That wreck is dead. I don’t know why.

Surveying has been going on all around it for almost a month, but who could say for sure.

So we moved to another spot I’d normally fish several times a year with a sold out rail. It too has been in survey’s path. I saw less than a dozen sea bass with my wheelhouse equipment. We saw none on camera. Fishing again yielded precious few bites with one keeper & one throwback.

This time of year that spot should be loaded with sea bass.

It was not.

My next spot was further off, on what seems to be the outside edge of surveying. Here we found a large school of sea bass that the survey boat “Brooks McCall” had passed within a couple miles of not long before. We anchored and lowered our camera equipment which confirmed an abundance of sea bass. Beautiful.

When anglers lowered their baits, however, no one got a bite for some while.

Normally May is an excellent time of year to catch sea bass and has been this year too. Fishing as far from from survey boats as I can, I’ve had many clients limit out.

Yet today, with a survey boat 3 miles away and leaving, we dropped into a nice school of sea bass and none would bite.

After the sub-bottom profiler was getting further away, at about 5 miles we saw a double keeper then a few keeper singles.

By 10 miles distant the bite had improved substantially. At 12 miles it was drop and reel fishing with sea bass now readily taking a jig.

I wanted to wait for the survey boat to come back – & it was headed back our way for a while – but eventually took a course further inshore instead of back our way which would be normal for a survey. At that point, with everyone limited on sea bass, I threw in the towel.

Those familiar with the fishery will recognize how backward this sequence of fishing was. The best bite is always when we first drop in. That’s when jigs will work, if they’re going to. Then the bite tapers to a near-stop. How long that takes depends mostly on abundance.

Today? the survey work controlled the bite.

I could have sold my boat out today. Sea bass fishing has been very good (so long as you stay away from these sounding boats.)

While I did not get what I was hoping for, we certainly saw acoustic surveying have an affect on reef fish.

Will it be enough to finally get an upper gov person to say, “Hey, we ought to have a look at this”.. I hope.

It’s work that needs done.

It may only seem to be an inconvenience to a few anglers, but I guarantee these surveys move populations of fish and marine mammals around in spawning and calving season.

NOAA needs to look at it – understand what they’re allowing when they sign off for a permit.




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Source: News Ocean City Maryland Coast Dispatch Newspaper

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