2010 Year in Review: Atlantic And Coastal Bays

Coastal Program Year in Review

As always, 2010 was a busy year for the Coastal Fisheries Staff. We completed our two main, annual projects, the Coastal Bays Fisheries Investigation (CBFI) and the Survey of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and Billfish (White Marlin, Blue Marlin, Swordfish and Sailfish) Recreational Landings in Maryland. The CBFI has three annual components: The CBFI has four annual components: the Trawl and Beach Seine Survey, Offshore Trawl Survey, Seafood Dealer Catch Monitoring. In addition, we coordinated with Maryland Coastal Bays Program to complete the Maryland Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey, and completed additional trawling sampling for EPA's National Coastal Assessment. It was a harrowing experience, this year as we lost a trawl to a hang-up while sampling outside of our standard sampling area.

Staffing Changes

In 2010 the Coastal Fisheries Program lost one biologist, Allison Luettel, to the Permits and Quota Monitoring Program in Fisheries Service. Allison will continue to issue the coastal commercial permit cards for summer flounder, black sea bass, and horseshoe crabs, and she has taken on additional responsibilities under her new assignment.

To fill Allison's vacancy, we were able to hire an additional biologist, Karen Capossela, who came to us from VIMS, where she worked with summer flounder in Virginia's coastal bays.

Coastal Bays Fisheries Investigation (CBFI)

The annual Trawl and Beach Seine Survey is the longest running component of the CBFI. Each month, April through October, our staff samples many sites in the back bays of Maryland, from the Delaware line to the Virginia line, with a 16 foot trawl net pulled behind the boat. Twice a year, in June and September, a 100 foot beach seine is used to sample 19 sites in shallow water portions of the bays.

Everything caught is identified, counted, and measured. This way, a running inventory of the species and their abundance in the bays is documented over a long time period. These gears are excellent at sampling young of the year fishes and provide an idea about reproductive success for a given species in a year. Information from the Trawl and Beach Seine Survey is used in the management of summer flounder, black sea bass, weakfish, tautog, bluefish, and many other fish species.

Seafood Dealer Catch Monitoring

Seafood Dealer Catch Monitoring involved sampling commercial harvests of summer flounder, striped bass, and weakfish from two Ocean City seafood dealers. Length, weight and age data were collected on these species and this information is used in their management. In recent years the local commercial harvest of these species has been concentrated in November, December, and January.

Offshore Trawl Survey

Catches were sampled onboard commercial trawlers fishing out of Ocean City from late summer into the winter months. This surveying provided the MDNR Atlantic Program with data on adult finfish and invertebrate size frequencies that are not available from the inshore Trawl and Beach Seine Survey. Examples of species sampled for lengths in 2010 include summer flounder, spiny dogfish, whelks, croaker, spot, butterfish, weakfish, rays, skates, sturgeon, and horseshoe crabs. Those data will be used for fisheries management.

Survey of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (ABT) and Billfish (White Marlin, Blue Marlin, Swordfish and Sailfish) Recreational Landings in Maryland This was our 12th year collecting dockside harvest information on all bluefin tuna landed in Maryland. Similar information has been collected on billfish since 2002. These data (permit number, length, girth, etc.) are collected from angler's completing a catch card in order to receive a tag, which legally allows the fish to be removed from a vessel. In a cooperative program with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the data are used to track the bluefin tuna recreational harvest.

There were more billfish tagged this season than any other since Maryland began to track them through its Catch Card program!

There were more billfish tagged this season than any other since Maryland began to track them through its Catch Card program! For 2010 season, boats fishing under "Angling category" permits were allowed one large school or one school-sized ABT. Boats fishing under a "Charter/Headboat category" permit (while fishing recreationally) were allowed one large school and one school-sized fish. In 2010, a total of 423 fish were reported through MDNRs ABT/Billfish Catch Card and Tagging Program.

The school class, 27 to 47 in., made up the majority (69.03%) of reported landings. A total of 36 white marlin, 19 roundscale spearfish, 3 blue marlin, and 1 swordfish were reported. The white marlin bite was particularly strong this year. On August 30, 2010, 234 white marlin were landed off Ocean City with the "Billfisher" catching and releasing a staggering 57 of these fish.

Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey

The ninth annual horseshoe crab spawning survey continues the local assessment of population abundance and critical habitat availability in the Coastal Bays, a joint project of the Maryland Fisheries Service and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. Thanks to the generosity of volunteers who provided their time and efforts, 42 surveys were collected from five beach sites, and reveal a sum total of 23,438 crabs. To date this is the highest number of horseshoe crabs ever counted in the Maryland coastal horseshoe crab spawning survey.

Spawning in the Maryland Coastal Bays typically peaks in June, and often continues into July. This pattern was repeated in 2010, with the greatest spawning concentrations again found in June. In May only ten horseshoe crabs were found in all of the surveys. The southern tip of Skimmer Island held the most surprises and number of crabs this year. This photograph reveals the heavier spawning occurring along the southeastern side of Skimmer Island, just north of the Route 50 Bridge. Waves and subsequent spawning causes egg masses to wash out of the nests and collect in the wrack line. The eggs feed many species of birds and fish; including endangered royal terns that are dependent on bare sand nests.

Recreational Fishing

Recreational fishing in 2010 was full of surprises as it often is. The fishing started in May with some of the best black sea bass fishing we have had in years. The number of keeper sea bass quickly dwindled. It was followed with very good summer flounder fishing. The number of summer flounder was phenomenal, even if the number of 'keepers' wasn't that great. The fish that were kept included personal bests for many anglers. As the stock hits new heights, the number of really large fish that turn up continues to increase.

Offshore fishing included random strikes of tuna and wahoo with no real consistency. Dolphin were often the saviors on the offshore trips. The real story offshore was the phenomenal white marlin bite in September. For the third year in a row the white marlin have shown themselves in great numbers and put on a great show for those lucky enough to get out to see them. Many boats recorded double digit releases and many anglers scored their personal best days of marlin fishing.

The fall was a bit of a disappointment as far as the fishing goes. Foul weather with lots of wind and early cold ended the season early for many of us. When we were able to get out there was a decent tautog and striper bite, but again the weather didn't allow much of a chance to enjoy it.