wrboz

Changing species in longtime spots

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How have your catches changed over the years in longtime spots? I’ve been lucky to have had access to some of the same spots for 35 years. The fish have always been cooperative, but the species have changed the through the years.

When I started fishing a certain south shore tidal river in the late 1980s, the catch was predominantly flounder and BIG eels. I’m talking 3 feet long and as big around as your wrist. A few schoolies and small blues were mixed in.

By the mid to late nineties the predominate catch was mostly schoolies, with an occasional bluefish, flounder, skate, or eel mixed in. No big eels to be found anymore.

The early 2000s through about 2014 or so were a good time for quality bass, occasional blues, skates, and flounder. No eels anymore at all. I was catching some nice bass there up until, let’s say 2 or 3 years ago.

Last couple years I’m getting plenty of small bass with an occasional slot fish, but the numbers are definitely down. Have not caught a bluefish or an eel there for for at least 10 years. Schoolies and skates account for 90% these days.

I realize nobody’s getting bass like they used to, but I wonder if others have noticed changes with the other species mentioned, and if so were they similar to what I’ve seen?

 

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Pretty similar here.  

I haven't caught an eel in probably 20years. 

BIG sea robins past few years.  I know most folk hate em but the biggies are fine eatin so I take em and don't mind it one bit.  

2019 we caught some nice panfish. Big scup & lots of em.  Few big clearnose skate, northern kingfish, togs, fluke etc.  Lots of Big blue crab. 

Very few blues and all small bass.  

 

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Eel populations are way down, for a number of reasons (dams play a big role).

 

I fish a pretty wide swath of ocean, so I'll expand the definition of "spot" a bit, but:

 

Black sea bass dominate the wrecks south of Long Island; far more fish in the summer than there used to be.  Cod have all but disappeared.  Whiting have disappeared.  Pollock are, for practical purposes, gone.  White hake are scarce, with none of the high-40s/low-50s fish that were fairly abundant through the mid-1970s.

 

In the bay, flounder have disappeared.  Nothing has replaced them.  Weakfish are way down from the good years, but showing signs of coming back.  Bass and bluefish are way off.  Blackfish are much less abundant than they once were (although some places still have decent fisheries).

 

Seeing fewer blue sharks, and a real drop in the size and number of makos.  Fewer tigers.  Sandbar (brown) sharks used to be common, all but disappeared for a decade or so, but are coming back strong.  Duskies are scarce, but used to be common.  Starting to see blacktips and spinners moving into the area; never saw that until a couple of years ago.  Seems to be a significant increase in common threshers.

 

Near offshore, fewer skiphack, fewer Atlantic bonito, far fewer white marlin, fewer yellowfin.  Bluefin appear to be increasing back toward the numbers I saw decades ago.  Dolphin used to be few and far between; now, they're common enough that you can intentionally target them and usually be successful.

 

In the canyons, true (longfin) albacore used to be common; now, they've all but disappeared.  Bigeye are fewer and smaller, but occasionally have a strong week or two.  Seems to be fewer marlin, both blue and white.  Yellowfin have been down, although they were abundant last year; still very few over 100.

 

Over all, the pattern has been a combination of the depletion of some once-common species (bass, bluefish, blackfish (tautog), marlin, some of the sharks and tuna) and warming waters benefitting some species and bringing others up from the South (black sea bass, dolphin, blacktip/spinner sharks).  Scup, sandbar sharks, maybe bluefin are probably benefitting from fisheries management efforts.

 

On balance, I've lost more than I've gained--by quite a bit.

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I've caught hickory shad here in New England ever since I moved up here in the late 80's....However, back then it seemed to be a few specific areas  (areas) where I caught them. In the past 5 years or so, I've started catching them in far more areas than I used to get them, from RI to ME.

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I too, have not caught eels in what seems like forever - but in my case, I chalked it up to the fact that nowadays, I've all but given up fishing with bait (Ironically the seldom number of occasions I have used bait in recent years, it's been eels used as bait)...

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Posted (edited) · Report post

As far as Dams & eels.   Do we have more dams now then when we were kids? How do they play a role? Every dam I know of has been here since alteast the 50s.  

 

I was a kid in the 80s/90s. We fished eels alot.  Broad daylight. Caught alot too.  

What happened?  Just plain ole over fishing?  

 

Edited by PSegnatelli

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I do think things are changing. Back in the 1980's / '90's we never heard of a cownose ray, targeted grey trigger fish, went croaker fishing in the surf. We'd never even heard of those fish.

 

It looks to me like things are shifting back to the way they were 100 years ago, long before this "global warming is going to kill us all" thing became the rage.

If you go into the Belmar fishing club (the pier with the building just south of Shark River Inlet) and look at the pictures on the wall you'll see 100 year old photo's of fancy guys in oilskin jackets and ties with their helpers holding mostly huge redfish, and just a few pics with stripers.

 

I could deal with a bull redfish run on the Monmouth County beaches

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Posted (edited) · Report post

Did a research paper on this matter for one of my college classes. Basically, climate change is shifting southern fish populations more northward. 

 

Usually, I'd spend my summers targeting summer flounder but more recently I've been shifting more towards Spanish Mackerel, Cobia, Triggerfish, and small jack species that have been showing up around the island. Maybe three years ago we had a week at best catching Spanish Mackerel but now it seems like they've stuck around the entire summer. Also had a few days where everyone on a certain jetty kept snagging big rays and getting spooled. Big clown fiesta watching four guys on 30 dollar spinners get spooled by 60-pound rays at any given time throughout the day.

Edited by Inception

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CWitek; thanks for giving a broader perspective. Most of my saltwater fishing is done in the estuaries of the Irish Riviera, so you have a better handle on the overall picture than I do. I’ve never caught scup or Black Sea bass in south shore estuaries. South coast of Mass and in R I they seem to be everywhere.

PSegnatelli: I too have heard that dams play a role in the decline of eels. Not that I really miss them. We always threw the big ones back, and kept the small ones for bait. I was under the impression we have removed more dams that we have built in the last 35 years, so I would suspect there are also other factors at play.

It may well be that warmer waters are playing a bigger role than many want to admit. My cousins up in the Bay of Fundy tell me they’ve been seeing a slight uptick in stripers (schoolies at least) locally. In the past, the stripers were not targeted there as heavily as they were here. Hopefully they show more respect for the resource more than we have.

 

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1 hour ago, PSegnatelli said:

As far as Dams & eels.   Do we have more dams now then when we were kids? How do they play a role? Every dam I know of has been here since alteast the 50s.  

 

I was a kid in the 80s/90s. We fished eels alot.  Broad daylight. Caught alot too.  

What happened?  Just plain ole over fishing?  

 

Dams chip away at the populations over time, just as they do with river herring, salmon, shad and, in some places, striped bass.

 

In the case of eels, the newly returning elvers try to climb up the faces of the dams and the rock faces where the dams are built.  Some make it, some are eaten by gulls, some just die along the way,  The ones that make it try to return to the ocean to spawn.  They're all females, and some have been up in the fresh water for as many as 30 years, spreading the process out over time (the males stay in the estuaries).  The ones that make it to the ocean, then out into the Sargasso Sea, spawn, and their leptocephali drift on the currents until they come close to shore--there is no such thing as returning to a home river; a female might spend her life in a Florida river, but her offspring could end up in multiple streams between Florida and Maine, depending on where the current takes them.

 

But the thing is--because of the dams, and the fewer females that survive, there won't be as many glass eels returning to the creeks as there were in the female's generation, because of the problems getting past the dams (and if dams have turbines, etc., even if they also have fish ladders, there is also threat when the eels return to the sea; while they might have had to use the ladder going up, they won't know to do so going back, and many will be killed in the turbines).  Every generation of eels is a little smaller as a result.  In the end, there are far fewer today than they were fifty years ago, when there were fewer than there were 50 years before that, etc.

 

And dams aren't the only threat,  There is the glass eels fishery, which until recently existed in most states, and a thriving illegal glass eel fishery still survives.  When you can ship live glass eels to Japan at $`1,000 or more per pound, there's a lot of temptation to break the law.  The only legal glass eel fisheries that remain are in South Carolina and Maine, with Maine dominating, but the illegal fisheries are tough to suppress.  And the glass eel fishery is very damaging; it takes a lot of tiny eels to make a pound, and those are all fish that would have developed into females had they survived.

 

Plus there has been a parasite issue.  European eels have been devastated by a species of nematode that parasitized them.  That nematode has now been detected in American eels, and is threatening an already badly stressed stock.

 

So while dams may present the biggest single problem, over all, this is just a tough time to be an eel.

 

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American Shad too! When I was a kid you couldn’t help but catch them in the Connecticut River during springtime. I remember tributaries where the shoreline was littered with so many spawned-out shad that you had to try hard not to step on them. Talk about flies! Not that way anymore.

I hadn’t considered the cumulative effect that dams have. If spawning success is effected by just a small amount over time, eventually it’s going to reach the tipping point. I guess I’m used to shorter term effects aka stripers. Bad recruitment one year = bad results for fishing in a couple years. I never considered long term erosion, but it makes perfect sense.

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59 mins ago, wrboz said:

American Shad too! When I was a kid you couldn’t help but catch them in the Connecticut River during springtime. I remember tributaries where the shoreline was littered with so many spawned-out shad that you had to try hard not to step on them. Talk about flies! Not that way anymore.

I hadn’t considered the cumulative effect that dams have. If spawning success is effected by just a small amount over time, eventually it’s going to reach the tipping point. I guess I’m used to shorter term effects aka stripers. Bad recruitment one year = bad results for fishing in a couple years. I never considered long term erosion, but it makes perfect sense.

When I was young--we're talking 1960s, early '70s--the river herring that ran in the Mianus River were legion.  They'd roll in around Good Friday (used to go there on my day off from school) and stick around into May.  So many that even at low tide, they'd turn on their sides and try to swim through inch-deep flows to get to the deeper water at the base of the dam.  

 

The run almost dried up over time, but they finally put a fish ladder in that brought it back to life.  The dam on the river doesn't generate power--it was originally built to provide a reliable source of fresh water to run the turbines at the no-longer-extant New York, New Haven and Hartford--later Metro North--power plant further down the river, so escapement for young fish and returning spawners isn't so problematic.

 

When I lived in Connecticut, I always wanted to run up to Windsor Locks for the shad run, never got around to it, and now...

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Posted (edited) · Report post

There have been more southern visitors around late summer-early fall inshore and near shore. Less bluefish, more Spanish Macks, Atlantic bonito, jacks, 

 mahi, etc. I’ve even heard rumors of shore caught Mahi, which wouldn’t surprised me since on the boat I’ve seen them in 30-40 ft. 
 

Haven’t seen a cobia up here yet, but I know they’re around. I certainly keep an eye out for them when at the nearshore reefs.

Edited by C.Robin

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