Would Citizen Science Boost Confidence in Fish Stock Assessments?
This year’s joint session of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting to review grant proposals submitted by Atlantic States partners and consisting of the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program’s operations and advisors was held in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 21 and 22. During the many proposal discussions, light was again cast on citizen science. As you may recall, citizen science, in this case dealing with fish, is a process whereby recreational fishers can submit a variety of data pertaining to their catch, such as photo, species, measurements, date, time, location, and discards. This info, in turn, would be posted in an application and then be accessible worldwide.
Since 1979, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries has collected recreational fishing data. To further improve data quality, in 2008 the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) was created to meet the increasing demand for precise, more accurate, and more timely catch estimates between state, regional, and federal partners. Once fishers are put into the system, they may be contacted to respond to catch and effort surveys, in addition to being queried dockside, on boat ramps, or other designated locations. The estimates collected are then combined with commercial data and biological research in an effort to assess and maintain sustainable fish stocks.
After working with the main management database, over time it was realized that accuracy, validation, and data gaps were issues that, in part, trickled down to create potentially questionable and, in some cases, misleading results. Citizen Science comes to the forefront as a possible answer to filling those gaps, such as discard data, that fisheries managers need in order to accurately compile stock assessments.
Needless to say, the MRIP is not going away, but in order to complement it, many believe that additional data collection obtained through recreational fishers would help improve management of stocks and provide good, validated unique data that could be incorporated into stock assessments in a cost-effective manner. This is when in-depth discussions surrounding the proposal, “Collection of Recreational Fishing Data from Citizen Science Sources,” were generated, focusing on issues such as costs, standardization, marketing, trustworthy data, and uploading remote data into an already clean database used by managers, scientists, and stakeholders.
It was felt that additional data sources would go a long way in balancing MRIP data already obtained, in addition to bringing overall stock assessments more in line, especially when getting a boost from previously unknown recreational discard data. The only dissent registered by some had to do with this particular grant proposal not being in line with fundamental grant protocols, although a majority believed it had good merit and that funding should be pursued. If funding is ultimately granted, it was also felt that many of the for-hire fleet would be, in time, more receptive to surveys since additional species data from other established sources would either offset or complement the only recreational and somewhat questionable management data currently in use today.
On the Water
A cold front moved through prior to a brief high-pressure system, followed by a strong cold frontal passage and severe thunderstorms and moderate flash flooding. Real fall temperatures surfaced as early morning air temps dropped into the 40s and daytime ones fluctuated between the 60s and 70s. Another high pressure surfaced as typical fall temps continued, while out in Long Island Sound, water temps remained in the low 70s. Seas fluctuated from calm to 3 feet as winds gusted to 25 knots, giving fishers pause to re-think plans, especially as New England seas were influenced by passing offshore storms.
Albie action has picked up in the Sound as hardtail speedsters worked the nearshore reefs and rip lines on top before disappearing and diving for bottom. Thin epoxies, realistic fast-retrieving lures leading the school, and flies imitating rainbaits drew strikes with some lightning-fast, knuckle-busting runs. Not surprisingly, word spread that more albie runs were taking place and, soon thereafter, fishers in small boats or casting from shore began showing up with fly rods and spinning gear—even throwing topwater poppers.
Excitement continued as striped bass 40 inches and better worked the inshore troughs, nearshore reefs, and inshore bays, consuming anything from silversides, peanut bunker, hickory shad, and a variety of hard and soft lures, particularly bucktails and pork rinds. The intermittent weather caused the striper schools to move in and out with the baitfish before resuming feeding in the rivers and near the shoreline. Live eels, bunker, plugs, and swim shads are the go-to baits, however, trolling spoons, diamond jigs, and swimming lures are hooking up. Check out Six Mile, inner and outer Southwest Reef, Faulkner’s, in and around the Thimbles, and the Beacon for slot limit fish or better. Good schoolie action can be found in the lower tidal rivers when the tides and weather are in synch. It was a good new moon!
Bluefish action remains status quo. Periodic bird activity and dotted top water blitzes are breaking up the otherwise serene Sound. Large schools of Atlantic menhaden are spread throughout nearshore and offshore waters, providing plenty of forage for a wide range of choppers, many of which can be seen finning the surface. Chunking, casting and jigging are catching these aggressive fish out by Hammo, The S’s, Kimberly Reef, and Faulkner’s, just to name a few productive spots. Snappers are getting larger and are hitting snapper poppers, small spoons, and shiners on most incoming tides. When drifting or trolling for blues, go deeper into the water column for a potential hookup with a potential weakfish. Fall is a great time for them.
While fluke catches have not been great, several fishers have been pleased on how their season has been going as they boated several mini-mats and a few larger fish when fishing deep water with large baits. Shorts still prevail, but keeper fluke have been taking bucktails with squid and teaser premium spearing, gulp swimming mullets, and an array of drift rigs. Try drifting 40- to 60- or 90- 110-foot depths.
Scup and black sea bass activity ramped up as the fall equinox passed. Catches of both have been yielding a mixed bag of sizes with larger specimens typically schooling on the deeper reefs and smaller fish scattered about. Squid is the No. 1 bait, although scup will rarely pass up a sea worm. Even the scented imitation ones on a plain hook or small jig will work when a little jigging action is imparted.
Water temps remain on the warm side, giving the bottom fishery more staying power. Sand shark and dogfish catches continue to be good, along with some skate, large sea robins, quality northern kingfish, gray triggerfish, and toadfish. The estuaries are loaded with blue crabs, but they have been playing dodgeball with the weather, yielding better catches in undisturbed, clearer water. They have either hunkered down or went deep when severe storms hit, only to return after a brief slowdown.
The recent rain has again added to our much-needed reserve and has benefited river levels and flows. This has put life into fall trout anglers eager to hook into some native brookies and serious browns. One should still be mindful of low waters where trout may still be stressed. Lakes and ponds have been a different story as largemouth bass have been very active taking topwaters, soft plastics, spinnerbaits, and live bait. Smallies have followed suit, feeding early mornings and end of days. Forage has moved closer to shore. The pickerel bite has been good, along with channel catfish and popular panfish species. Both live and artificial fall time baits have been productive.
Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and international fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.
For all things fishy including fly fishing, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days located 21 Boston Post Road in Madison. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.