EDITORIAL

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ANECDOTALLY SPEAKING

By Karen Wall

  Spring is almost here and I know many of you will be deep in the throes of spring boat prep very soon. Before you dive too deeply into your dreams of summer runs to the edge, there are a couple of topics I urge you to keep an eye on: whales, offshore wind, and safety.
  Let’s start with safety first. I’ve written about this in the past, but it bears repeating: Please take the time to take all the precautions possible to protect yourself and those with you if problems arise when you are offshore.
  Two articles in this issue of the Big Game Fishing Journal are must-reads on that point: Capt. Tony Gatto’s article about fishing and boating in the dark, and Captain’s Plot by Ryan Taffet, who writes about prepping your safety gear for the new season.
  We love the ocean. There is something very peaceful about being on the water with only the moon and the stars offering light. In soaking up the peace it can be tempting to minimize the dangers, and doing so can prove fatal.
  Capt. Tony writes: “When incidents are publicized on social media and news threads, it’s not a time to criticize and boast about how that would never happen to you. On the contrary, it’s a time to be compassionate, and humble, pay attention, be respectful, and learn something that very well might save your life.”
  He makes reference to a pair of accidents that happened near Moriches, New York, but incidents happen all over, to boaters of all levels of experience.
  If you live and boat at the Jersey Shore, you very likely heard about the tragic accident in September 2023 where a boat returning from a late afternoon fishing trip was swamped and overturned by a rogue wave just outside Manasquan Inlet.
  What followed was a heartbreaking week of searching for the body of one of the sons of the boat’s captain and owner, and a lot of very disturbing judgmental comments across social media – comments that very much fit Capt. Tony’s description of boasting about how it would never happen to others. Reports said the father was a merchant marine and had extensive experience on the water.
  Surveillance video nearby captured the boat’s final moments. The rogue wave – as its name indicates – comes out of nowhere and swamps the boat from the stern as those on board were trying to ensure they were not headed for the jetty on the north side of the inlet. It is chilling to watch, especially knowing how close they were to home.
  Ryan Taffet’s reminders to check over your safety equipment are critical. The last thing you want is for your life raft to fail to inflate or your EPIRB to fail to alert authorities if your boat goes down. Make certain your checklist covers all of the items crucial to your survival in an offshore emergency.

  WHAT ABOUT THE WHALES?
  Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines anecdotal as “based on or consisting of reports or observations of usually unscientific observers.”
  “Anecdotal” has been the favorite term used to dismiss observations by fishermen for years when their observations challenged data that scientists were using, particularly when it came to matters of fisheries health and fishing quotas.
  In the mid-2000s, fishing groups united to gather the data that backed up their on-water observations about the status of the summer flounder biomass – data that ended up proving to NOAA that those observations of large numbers of fish were more than just fish tales.
  It appears that “anecdotal” observations may once again be more relevant than officials want to consider. This time, it’s in connection with the concerns that have been raised about the impact of offshore wind exploration on the ecosystem, particularly the effects on whales.
  From December 2022 through March 2023, there was a surge in whales, particularly young humpbacks, washing up dead or being found floating dead. The New York Bight saw more than 20 whale deaths during that span, and there were additional whales that washed up south of New Jersey.
  NOAA says it has been tracking an unusual mortality event in humpback whales dating back to 2016; through 2023, there have been 212 humpback whales that have died. In 2023, there were 37, nearly double the number of 2022, when 19 humpbacks died.
  It’s important to note that the whales that died and washed up along New Jersey and New York weren’t solely humpbacks. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, New Jersey, tracked pygmy sperm whales and minke whales, and reports farther south included other species as well.
  NOAA repeatedly insisted that the high resolution geophysical surveys that were looking at the ocean floor to choose sites for wind turbines were supposed to have a much lower potential for impact because they have much smaller impact zones.
  While congressional efforts have pushed for deeper studies into the impact, the company that was leading the charge in New Jersey pulled the plug on its plans. Orsted, which was fighting with Ocean City, New Jersey, and other entities to construct a wind farm off the southern coast of the state, dropped those plans in late 2023 while citing interest rates, supply chain issues and other delays.
  As a result, ocean bottom surveys have stopped and – anecdotally – there have been no dead whales seen inshore or offshore so far in 2024.
  Maybe, just maybe, the “anecdotal” observations had some truth to them once more.

  SPEED RESTRICTIONS
  Efforts by NOAA to expand speed restrictions to boats under 65 feet long continue to be discussed. But a report issued last fall shows the larger vessels are not fully complying with the law.
  According to a report in the National Fisherman, the studies showed more than 75 percent of the vessels of 65 feet or longer that were transiting the Chesapeake Bay area were exceeding the 10-knot restriction when Northern right whales were in the area.
  NOAA has issued fines of more than $1 million in an effort to curb the speeders and says it’s stepping up enforcement.
  It begs the question: Why does the regulation need to expand the zones and the number of boats that the restriction applies to, if they can’t convince the much larger vessels to slow down?

  FAIR WINDS AND FOLLOWING SEAS
  We wanted to send our condolences to the family of Capt. Bruce Miller, one of the founders of the Jersey Coast Shark Anglers fishing club in Brick. Capt. Bruce, who I got to know through John Geiser when I dove into fishing in the spring of 1999, died Jan. 7, 2024, at the age of 85.
  In addition to being one of the founders of the Jersey Coast Shark Anglers, Capt. Bruce was a member of the Greater Point Pleasant Charter Boat Association. I never had the fortune of fishing with Capt. Bruce, but I encountered him at a number of events and he was always gracious and kind, especially in the early years of my foray into Jersey Shore ocean fishing.
  He will be remembered by so many for his kindness, his willingness to share his knowledge and how he always tried to help others. He owned the Gypsy Shark, but I’ll always think of him as “Capt. Bruce on the Mirage,” which is how we referred to him in the fishing reports we wrote in the Asbury Park Press.
  I hope you and John are swapping fishing stories, Bruce. Tight lines.

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