There are some fishery management things coming up soon at the next VMRC meeting on March 25. You should express any opinions you have prior to this date. Send comments to Rob O'Reilly at: email@example.com .
This is a result of the winter fish kills and a strong request by recreational anglers for action to be taken. These proposals are what came from the Finfish meeting:
The Commission, on February 25, 2014, adopted emergency amendments to 4VAC20-280-10 et seq. “Pertaining to Red Drum and Speckled Trout” to close the recreational speckled trout fishing season from March 1, 2014 through July 31, 2014. The Commission proposes to adopt these emergency amendments as part of a final regulation. The Commission further proposes to amend Chapter 4VAC20-280-10 et seq. “Pertaining to Red Drum and Speckled Trout” to establish the following provisions:
1. Establish a 5-fish per person recreational speckled trout possession limit, year-round; with only 1 of the speckled trout possession limit allowed to be 24 inches or greater;
2. Establish mandatory monthly reporting by commercial buyers of speckled trout, except as described in item 3., below;
3. Establish mandatory weekly reporting by commercial buyers of speckled trout.
4. Establish a by-catch limit for commercial harvesters of speckled trout, when 80 percent of the commercial landing limit of 51,104 pounds is projected to have been taken.
This is a result of request by commercial hook-and-line fishermen. Cobia are managed coast-wide by the South-Atlantic Council at 2-fish per person. Virginia (and Florida) have more strict regulations in state waters. Virginia has 1-fish per person recreational and 2-fish per person commercial. The rub is that VMRC Law Enforcement interprets the regulation as the commercial "person" being the commercial hook-and-line license holder. Commercial hook-and-line fishermen are allowed to have 3 "helpers". So basically, those 4 guys can keep 2 cobia for the boat while fishing commercially but could keep 4 cobia if they were fishing recreationally. There is some question if this interpretation is correct. The regulation has something like: those eligible to fish, which could read to mean those "helpers" and I do not think law enforcement's interpretation has been challenged in court. If a "helper" had a commercial card, he could have 2 cobia like any other commercial waterman so with the right 3 helpers, a commercial hook-and-line boat could keep as many as 8 cobia under current regulation and how it is being enforced (or only 2 cobia if the helpers do not have their cards). The commercial hook-and-line request is to allow 8 cobia per boat (without regard to number of anglers). The recommendation that came out of Finfish was to allow 6 cobia per boat (without regard to number of anglers). This could be in conflict with federal regs if they were outside of state waters without enough anglers on board for the 2 per person federal regs. If any proposed regulation includes a "per person" it could avoid that. While looking at boat limits for commercial watermen the question was asked about a possible boat maximum for recreational fishing:
The Commission will consider proposals to establish daily vessel cobia possession limits for recreational vessels, as well as commercial vessels operated by lawful commercial hook-and-line licensees. The Commission will consider management options, to include but not limited to the following:
1. Maintain the one-cobia recreational possession limit, per person, but establish a maximum daily recreational vessel possession limit of six cobia;
2. Maintain the two-cobia commercial possession limit, for any person who possesses a legal commercial fisherman’s registration license;
3. Establish a daily commercial possession limit of 6 cobia, for any commercial vessel operated by at least one legal commercial hook-and-line licensee, regardless of crew size;
4. Establish a daily commercial possession limit of two cobia, for any person onboard a commercial vessel operated by a legal commercial hook and line licensee, with a maximum daily vessel commercial possession limit of 6 cobia for that vessel.
5. Establish a daily commercial possession limit of two cobia, for any person onboard a commercial vessel operated by a legal commercial hook and line licensee, with a maximum daily vessel commercial possession limit of 8 cobia for that commercial vessel.
This is a request by the commercial fishing industry. Red Drum are managed by the ASMFC. All big fish are released. Some puppy drum can be kept and there is some options that states can choose from. We chose a 18 inch minimum and a 26 inch maximum with a 3-fish bag limit for both recreational and commercial fisheries. The commercial guys want to keep more. If they reduce their maximum to 25 inches, they can increase their bag limit to 5 fish. They have been catching a lot of puppy drum and want to bring more to market:
The Commission proposes to lower the commercial maximum size limit for red drum, from 26 inches to 25 inches, and to increase the commercial possession limit, from 3 fish to 5 fish.
This proposal is in response to a request by Virginia’s commercial fishing industry to reduce regulatory discards and potential waste and promote the efficient utilization of fishery resources.
Tautog are biting on the ocean wrecks, big tautog with a couple breaking the 20-pound mark already weighed in this year. It will take a bit of a warm up to get them active in the bay. That bite should turn on by the end of this month but for now, the coastal wrecks and artificial reefs are the place to be. Some big sea bass are moving into the tautog wrecks but these fish have to be released. Offshore, good catches of bottom fish are being made in the Norfolk Canyon area including blueline and golden tilefish, blackbelly rosefish, barrel fish, wreckfish, and the occasional grouper. Anglers are anxious for the start of the flounder season and there have been a few checking out early-season locations like the inlets of the Eastern Shore and up in Back River without success so far. There are some puppy drum being caught in the Elizabeth River and inside Rudee Inlet. Speckled trout are now closed but there is catch and release action to be had in the Elizabeth River. Bluefin tuna action has heated up off of the Outer Banks. There are also some yellowfin tuna being caught and some blackfin tuna being jigged up out of Hatteras.
March 11, Zach Hoffman fished for tautog on one of the ocean wrecks. They had an impressive catch of big tautog with the largest weighing in at 22.5 pounds.
March 9, we went back after tautog. No twenty-pounders this time, a bit different from out last trip. We caught a total of 15 tautog. We expected it to be rough and it was a little bumpy at times and we got rained on in the morning. Then it turned much nicer than predicted. I was told that it was blowing inshore but out at the Triangle Wrecks, it was mostly calm.
March 1-2, we went out after tautog Saturday morning. It was rough and cold. The fact that the night before was the PSWSFA Awards Banquet did not help. It was a better morning for sleeping in than for going fishing. We were out there at the crack of dawn, anchored up to a wreck, wind in our faces and a cold saltwater spray coming over the transom. While I was realizing that I was not comfortable, Wes Blow caught a couple of tautog. I asked the guys what they thought about just pretending that we had not gone fishing today and to give it another try on Sunday. Nobody thought that was a bad idea, even Wes. Sunday morning was much calmer and warmer. It did blow up during the afternoon but by that time we did not care. We had a box full of some impressive tautog. We did not do much for the tag-and-release effort this weekend. We did tag some. We did better at the collecting of DNA samples (and dinner). Everyone onboard weighed in at least one fish nine pounds or better. A total of eight fished weighed over nine pounds. The heaviest was a twenty pound tautog caught by Jody Linthicum. Hunter Southall came in second with a sixteen pound fish.
Feb. 22-23, we spent two beautifully calm days on the ocean. We fished for tautog both days. Saturday, we caught a total of 15 tautog. None of them were large with 4 being big enough to keep. 4 fish had previously been tagged. We placed tags in others and collected a fin clipping from each fish. Sunday, we did a lot more moving around and it was even slower than the day before. We had Dr. Hamish Small from VIMS with us displaying a great dedication to his job. On his day off, he was up well before dawn and did not get home until late into the night to conduct on-the-water research. The rest of us were just playing but Hamish was working hard. He should definitely get overtime pay for pulling up that wreck anchor all of those times. We did not catch our first tautog until late in the afternoon. From then until we ran out of daylight, we caught 11 tog. All were nice fish with no shorts caught. 3 fish were large enough to earn citations. Steve Martin caught our largest fish at 17 pounds. Stan Simmerman caught the second largest at 14 pounds 8 ounces. We caught some nice sea bass that were released and we had a tautog-blueline tilefish double hook-up. That was a first, the tilefish was real surprise. I had not heard of one being caught in less than 100 feet of water. It was by itself. Two season ago, we had a good catch of cod while fishing for tautog. Last season, we caught lobster. This may be the year of the tilefish. Wes Blow caught the tile and he was sure that he had a big tog on.
Feb. 16, we ran out to the Triangle Wrecks. It was cold and rough early, calming down as the day went on. It was our slowest trip yet. We only caught 7 smallish tog, all tagged and released with DNA sample taken. We had clam, hermit and Jonah crabs for bait. All of the fish were caught on clam.
Feb. 9, we ran back out after tautog. The action was slower than a couple of days earlier but the average size of the fish was better. We did not match out 14 pound 8 ounce fish of the previous trip but the ratio of keepers to throw-backs was better. We caught 18 tautog. I caught our two largest at about 8.5 pounds each. Danny Forehand and I each lost a “real” one. We know where they are living and will try to do better next time.
Feb. 9, Bill Pappas fished a couple of wrecks for tautog. They caught about 40 tautog.
Feb. 9, Capt. Rick Wineman ran out to try for tautog. On the way, they stopped and jigged on some working birds looking for a tuna bite. They caught several rockfish and moved on. They did not have any luck with the tautog, catching only sea bass and dogfish.
Feb. 7, we made a short tautog run. We had Dr. Hamish Small, from VIMS, with us for some on-the-water research. We caught nearly 30 tautog. Lee Williams caught our two largest tog with his largest weighing in at 14 pounds 8 ounces. Good quick trip. Dr. Small collected a DNA sample from each tautog we caught.
Feb. 1-2, Wes Blow fished a coastal wreck for tautog on Saturday and then he fished the Elizabeth River Sunday afternoon. On Saturday, they caught 25 tautog. He was fishing a wreck where we had tagged a lot of tautog previously and he caught a number with tags in them. He placed tags in the fish that had not been tagged and he collected a DNA sample from each fish for VIMS. Several fish had significant wounds that had healed. On Sunday, Wes caught speckled trout. Wes tags and releases almost every speckled trout he catches but he kept a 10 plus pound gator.
Feb. 1-2, Hunter Southall fished the Elizabeth River Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning having great success catching both speckled trout and puppy drum. On Sunday, he had William Goldsmith with him. Willy is one of the newer grad students at VIMS who has been fishing with us. He got his undergrad degree at Harvard and he is a passionate New England angler learning to fish Virginia. He was on the James catching blue cats the day before. Over the two days, they caught speckled trout to about 27 inches and puppy drum to 33 inches. They caught fish on both live bait and artificials.
Jan. 31, Tricia and I flew down to south Florida to attend the 30th Annual Banquet of the IGFA where I received a Conservation Award. It was held at the IGFA Hall of Fame & Museum. It was a very nice event and the museum is a place all recreational anglers should visit, especially if you find the history and development of sport fishing, fishery conservation and fishery science interesting: www.igfa.org . I got to visit with a number of people that I have not fished with in a while. Guy Harvey was there (IGFA Trustee and the featured artist of the banquet) so I was able to thank him personally for his fabulous donation to the upcoming banquet of our fishing club. The next day, I went fishing. George Poveromo told me that we were right near his home inlet and that I should fish with Capt. Skip Dana, “If there was a sailfish around, he will find it”. Skip owns a pair of “drift boats”. We would call them head boats. Skip said that was how he earns a living, sailfish are more of a passion: www.bluewatermovements.com/captain_skip_dana.php . I met Skip in the morning. He said that the sailfish bite was on fire last week but was really slow this week, it was too calm. He said they needed a stiff NE blow to turn them back on. Sounds like some cobia fishermen I know. We gave them a try and Skip made a “long” run to where he thought the bite would be better to the north. We were putting lines in after a 10 minute run. He had just got the first kite up when the first sailfish was on. It was a nice one and mean. About 30 minutes into the fight, another sailfish ate a kite bait. It was a smaller fish and close to the boat. I put the first rod in the holder and went and fought the second sail. We released that one in about 10 minutes and it was back to the first one. That fish just did not want to behave but I eventually got it to the boat for the release. We had a couple of other encounters, caught some bonito, and had some king bite offs but those were the only sailfish hook ups of the day. We were right off of the beach on a sunny, 83 degree day.