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Weakfish population

1202 Views 25 Replies 20 Participants Last post by  MDC
Russ Allen, from the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife department, spoke at our latest RFA Pa chapter meeting on striper and weakfish stocks. Funding provided to the department allows for some very interesting and important studies to be done. Russ showed us some charts explaining the status of weakfish populations. The stock is very low, neither commercial nor recreational fishermen are catching very many. Russ showed a chart showing that the same age weakfish is alot smaller now then it used to be. Weakfish normally change from a diet of invertebrates to finfish, mainly bunker, as they get older, but due to declining stocks of bunker, they are not making that diet transition well, and still feeding alot on invertebrates like shrimp. Stripers, in contrast, are more omnivorous, and have adopted better to the poor bunker population, because they eat so many creatures. With the Omega protein company harvesting upward of 1/2 BILLION bunker last year, the chances for bunker recovery are nil till something is done to restrict that harvest. The RFA is working through political channels to try to do something about that. Some might argue that there are too many stripers and that is why the weakfish aren't recovering, and I would suspect since these are fish that compete for the same food, this is part of the problem. Many moons ago, though, both of these species were abundant, thriving well in the balance of ecosystems that nature designed over eons of time. Our governing inshore agency, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) hopefully will begin ecosystem management, and do something about the overharvest of menhaden. My own belief is that if the bait stocks were more adequate, the weakfish would come back. Some might also argue that the weakfish stocks are cyclical and this is just a downturn. My own observations and feelings are that the stock is not so much cyclical, but migration patterns and harvest patterns determine catches year to year.

[ 01-22-2005, 11:11 AM: Message edited by: Capt Harv ]
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Harv, I attended the croaker meeting, and I specifically asked a question regarding the potential management of croakers using the VPA. The VPA model used for weakfish management (estimates F and SSB) has problems as we discovered over the past few years as the weakfish population was wildly overestimated.
Did Russ mention anything regarding this? Last I heard a study was underway to determine if there was a problem with the VPA itself or with the info fed to it.
Did Russ discuss the latest stock assesment?
Twin, no Russ didn't mention that, and Mike, I think the data was up until 2003. Guys, correct me if I'm wrong.

Harv, my "15" theory doesn't sound so silly now, does it?
The bunker shortage may be a problem, but I can't believe that is why weakfish catches have been down.
Weakfish have always thrived on various kinds of shrimp and spearing. There is no shortage of either of those baitfish in our waters.
People started complaining about weakfish stocks about 2 years ago, the only difference I've noticed in that time period is we've had long cold winters. Water temps got well above normal this year but it was late in the season.
I also believe most people are targeting stripers more now than ever before and that must have some merit when counting recreational weakfish landings.
This year it was feast or famine on most of my weakfish trips, I either caught them on every cast or saw nothing. I'm leaning towards migrational pattern changes for the lack of weakfish caught over the last two years (maybe the frigid winters are to blame?).
The Cape May Point jetties were one of the best structure areas for weakfish to set up on. Now that the sand fill is taking place I'm hoping we'll see more weakfish in our South Jersey back waters and further up the DE Bay.
This winter has been pretty mild until recently, I'm hoping we see an increase in weakfish catches this year.
See less See more qoute a friend of mine who caught weaks commercially from the D-bay for many, many years..."Overfishing with out a doubt Josh, Plain and was ridiculous the amount of fish we would bring back night after night, year after year, no way they could keep up"
I don't necessarily agree with the one problem answer. I think most people look for one thing that they can fix, when in reality it?s a lot of little problems.

Over-harvesting has been a problem in the past. I hear stories of how the head boat industry got built from burlap bags full of weakfish. "They caught so many, they were rotting on the docks", as many old captains have told me.

The food supply changes greatly from year to year. It's been July before we have started catching crabs here in the bay. Not cause the crabs are over harvested, but from severe freezes over the winter.

Water quality is steadily going down hill to say the least. I know a lot of fisherman who wear gloves handling their bait. They don't want the oils from their skin touching it, and producing a odor. Well what do you think 265,000 gallons of crude oil will smell like in the bay?

There is a lot of competition for food. I haven't caught many weakies on bunker, but I have caught a heck of a lot on shedders. The only problem I have using shedder is a guaranteed croaker or small striper bite. These fish are way more aggressive then a weakfish.

What it boils down to is it's the government?s fault. They have done a poor job of regulating, and a even worse job of research. If the fish oil company is being such a problem, why not shut them down? Everyone says they can't but take a look at the past..

They have pulled hundreds of horseshoe crab licensees to protect a bird that's not even native to this county. Putting thousands of people out of business (myself being one). They have pulled commercial netting licensees from the Delaware bay to protect fish stocks. They have outlawed certain types of crab traps to save turtles. They have pulled all types of liscenses for a technacalities.

They obviously have the power to do what they want, so why don't they use it? I'll tell you, it's because it's easier to pass the blame on to someone else.

I'm sure im going to get a lot of hate mail, but I don't care. I dont need other people to tell me what the problems are when I can see them with my own two eyes. Just my own .02

[ 01-22-2005, 02:37 PM: Message edited by: Capt. Joe Haase ]
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I know blaming the comms is a typical response, but all you have to do to understand the weakfish problem is to look at the commi fleet off NC in the spring before the weakfish make their move north.
Well I would agree that reduction boats are problems. I have first handedly seen massive fish kills here on the maurice river and other places in NJ. Millions of peanut bunker floating dead. The waterways turned white from all the dead fish. Seagulls to fat to fly. I saw it happen 3 years in a row. I even have pictures. There were posts here on the barn where it happened all the way across the states of NJ and DE. Now how many millions of pounds would those wish have weighed in 3 years? I think that would have a large impact on the biomass.

I contacted newspapers and local colleges in the area to come and investigate, and yet I got no reply. The guys at fish and wildlife were to busy to come and see it for themselfs. I guess if no one sees something, then it dosen't happen.

But yet the fish factory is responsible for the decline of bunker? I'm not defenting the fish factory in any way. I'm only stating that their are more than one reason why fish stocks in general have declined, but most people only have one finger to point I guess.
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Capt. Haase, I'd have to agree with you. I don't think its one thing but a bunch of smaller things combined that are causing the problem. This combination of problems is what is making it hard to correct the situation. I think there are a lot of good ideas as to what the problem is on this thread.

Dave Isanski
Russ showed a chart showing that the same age weakfish is alot smaller now then it used to be. Weakfish normally change from a diet of invertebrates to finfish, mainly bunker, as they get older, but due to declining stocks of bunker, they are not making that diet transition well, and still feeding alot on invertebrates like shrimp.

Capt. Harv,
I found that info interesting and it is hard to debate the data he presented. No doubt weakfish of the same length and age weigh much less compare to weakfish years ago. The weakfish I caught in the Delaware bay appeared to be skinny and malnutrition to me. I agree with Russ Allen's science.

I believe the Delaware Esturay ecosystem is in serious trouble. If the ASMFC is going to begin ecosystem management they better hurry up in doing something before it is too late. I beleive the two most important factors is a healthy ecosystem and the quality of the water must be good. If we have good clean water and plenty of food in the food chain we will see more migratory fish come into the bay.

You can argue all you want about the condition of Delaware bay and river. I don't have the data or the science to prove my concerns but I spent more than 25 years out on the water and I have seen no improvement except the for the striped bass fishery and the data Russ showed on his chart with the low YOY in 2003 is alarming to me. Of course his explaination of the low number was the wet weather we had that year. It will interesting to see what the number is for the YOY in 2004.
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Capt Haase, what is the connection between dead peanut bunker and reduction boats? Did I miss the point?

As far as a "sick" ecosystem, the striped bass seem to be doing just fine.
Twin, their is no connection between the two. I was acknowledging the fact that reduction boats do exists, and they have a impact on the biomass.

The peanut bunker show that the fish factory is not solely responsible for the decline in bunker as the gov states.

As for striped bass thriving.. no surprise there. They eat anything and everything. I?ve cleaned them with snails, rocks, grass shrimp, and beer can tabs in them.

My only point was that the gov shouldn't single out one factor to be responsible. Just like I wouldn't want to be held responsible for the decline of horseshoe crabs.
They should stop the comm. guys from netting weakfish and concentrate on the bass there are to many of them. If you want to talk about a ecosystem being out of balance the bass are a prime example. I would also like to metion to all the SPORTS that the eel stocks are down, I can not wait until they ban you from using imature eels and see how you feel about that!!!!
Woah easy fred. You can't just target one species to correct another. I don't know about the stocks being down of eels. No one is eeling any more. I used to for many years, but I decided to quit when I had to pay over 2.00 a peice for female horseshoe crabs because of the govt. Hell I couldn't keep them off the hook this summer when I was trying to catch perch here im the river. I think it's less people thats resulting in a lower yeild.
Member # 160 posted 01-22-2005 09:59 AM
Did Russ discuss the latest stock assesment?
I thought I heard Russ say the report was late getting to him. He had hoped to have it with him for the meeting.
How can we get a copy or at least some information regarding this new assesment?
Perch..............shhhhhhhhhhhh there is no such fish ...

[ 01-23-2005, 09:26 AM: Message edited by: MrBassBarn ]
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Once the new stock assesment is released it should be available from the ASMFC.
You guys have all made some very good points. I would say a couple things. When the same age fish is smaller then it used to be, there is an obvious lack of forage available. The fatty forage fish, like juvenile peanut bunker, are a much better nutrient source then other fish species and invertebrate species. If weakfish are less adaptable in their foraging then stripers, it makes sense that weakfish would show the problem first, although there is much evidence that striper health may be suffering from lack of these fish as well. I personally don't blame reduction boats for harvesting so many bunker. The Virginia legislature allows them to! I think the weakfish declined to their present level from overharvest, just like overfishing was the main cause of decline of the striper population, which required a moratorium to bring them back. (I am not suggesting a moratorium on weakfish). Would a cutback on menhaden harvest help the weakfish recovery? I am sure it would help. Do we need to keep cleaning up our bays and estuaries. You bet. The concept of ecosystems management integrates all of these into a single plan. Before we got involved, all these species lived in a balance created by nature. We just need to figure out how to best restore that balance, then, the fish will multiply, and anglers and the commercial sector can harvest a fair amount.
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Weakfish have lots of problems. Forage, loss of breeding habitat. They also have no commercial limit. If they do have some good years how will we ever know? They all get caught in NC. We still seem to have a good amount of spikes around, why do they never grow up?
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