The Food Chain Is in Gear

   It’s just conjecture, but an early recreational fishing season seems possible given a number of signs, including the recent discovery by commercial draggers of a sizable number of porgies in 26 fathoms of water, relatively close to shore. The question is, will the fish arrive early, or did they never leave?
    Steven Forsberg of the Viking fleet of party boats in Montauk reasoned that the scup (porgies) never went offshore. “They never went anywhere,” he said. If the porgies have stayed around in ocean water that has remained much warmer than usual, prey species have as well. 
    Ken Reney of the Seafood Shop in Wainscott said on Tuesday he expected his first shipment of shad roe the following day, a bit early.
    Unfortunately, the shop will carry the roe but not the delicious fish itself. Shad have an unusual array of side bones and are extremely difficult to cut. There is a special process requiring a complete knowledge of shad anatomy as well as the hands of a surgeon. Eric Krom, the shop’s longtime cutter, had such knowledge and hands — the one that held the fish was girded in stainless steel chain mail. He was “a masterpiece,” Mr. Reney said, but he’s moved to Wyoming. He might be filleting trout from the Snake River.
     The point is, the shad run has begun up and down the coast, as has the annual flight, from estuary to sea, of other herring species including alewives, the local favorite. Fly fishermen have begun to target them in recent years. And, there are other signs.
    In early February small gulls were seen picking tiny shrimp or the like from the surface, and large schools of dolphin were seen cruising along the south shore. No surprise that ospreys have been spotted. The sea hawks are fishing already.
    The food chain is in gear and the arrival of striped bass, bluefish, and blue­fin tuna might be close at hand because they never went very far.
    Meanwhile, codfishing, which was lean this winter as a function of warmer ocean temperatures, has improved of late.
    “It’s back to reality, the way it was for the last 25 years. The last three years was exceptionally good, overwhelmingly good. This year it’s back to normal. We had 25 guys out on Feb. 23. They had 85 cod, and about the same number of ling. They were real quality fish, a lot of gaffers,” Captain Forsberg said, using boat lingo for fish big enough to require the help of a mate wielding a gaff to bring them over the rail.
    Captain Forsberg said, “Everything is running six weeks behind for all fisheries,” by which he meant that cod seemed to have kept a late-fall, early-winter mind-set as they did three years ago. “If we go back three years, we didn’t catch anything in January and February. They showed up in March and we had another six weeks of good cod fishing.”