The Fish Story

Dredging Updates Are Coming in Hot and Heavy; Island’s Future Is Full of Special Delivery Flights

By JAY MANN | Aug 30, 2017

UPDATES GALORE: I got a new semi-upbeat update on the effort to get a Little Egg Inlet channel dredged. It seems the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has mildly capitulated, showing willingness to at least consider a “one time” dredging. It would be a good-faith effort to see what impacts, if any, a channel dredging might have on adjacent Forsythe Refuge lands on Little Beach and, mainly, Holgate.

Things get a little more nebulous regarding the placement of materials from a one-time dredging. While the materials are still likely headed for the Holgate beaches, a simultaneous consideration of the building of a terminal groin enters the picture.

While the dredging and the groin are technically – and legally – different projects, there is an obvious interplay twixt the two, i.e. a need for some coordination between the projects.

I’m also hearing that one of the stickier points of building a terminal groin has to do with its long-term maintenance. Apparently, groins can go wrong, i.e. eventually needing repairs or rock tweaks. Is the state ready for that long-term commitment? Could there be any federal interface with the state, even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is committed to steering clear of groin-building, much less marrying into one for the long run?

On to the next update. The next replenishment is coming to LBI. It’s soon to be scheduled; make that roughly scheduled.

The last day for project bids to the Army Corps is September 15. Four companies are always in the bidding/running. I’ll strongly conjecture a return of Great Lakes, which is also in line to do Brigantine, meaning a proximity benefit to lining up the LBI work.

As to when the work will take place, that’s a tough pin-down. The contract includes a rather large work window, providing it be completed by next spring (April-ish, 2018).

One would guess the winning bidder would get things underway in a speedy fashion, as opposed to taunting the deadline clock. Of course, should the contractor have to delay work on LBI, maybe for timelier fixes elsewhere, therein lie the benefits of the rather large work window.

Once the replenishment contract is awarded, it should be easier getting info on a start-up date.

For sticklers, here’s the Army Corps’ ongoing word on the upcoming work (see story elsewhere in this issue).

“USACE is moving forward with potential repair work for the three sections of the project that were constructed prior to Hurricane Sandy: Harvey Cedars, Surf City and a section of Brant Beach in Long Beach Township. This work could take place in the fall 2017 time frame.”

While that sounds a tad iffy, via that “potential repair work,” I have it on good authority that it’s a go, i.e. the aforementioned bidding process being a pretty good indicator.

One other update, though more of a non-update. The Double Creek channel dredging is still fully scheduled for this fall. I’m hearing November, give or take.

I’ve lost count of how many folks have asked me for specifics about this state dredging. Specifics are simply not specifically available. However, Barnegat Light borough remains pinned to the case. I’m assured that word will go out as soon as any specifics are known, like who has the contract.

I’ll limb it by saying next spring will finally see a new and well-marked Double Creek as Oyster Creek sings hallelujah, as do those fuel-burning mariners forced to take the long way out to the inlet.

Also, the rather badly eroded south side of the New South Jetty, Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, remains in line to have Double Creek dredge material placed flush along the jetty’s south side, beginning closest to the lighthouse. As to how far east such a fill would extend is one of those specifics yet to be determined/announced.

MANN OVERBOARD: Follow me here. Folks are sitting bayside, over on the mainland, within easy eyeshot of LBI – which, on clear days, can seem within shouting distance.

“Yo, Jay. Wazzup, dude!”

And I’m all, “Oh, who the hell is hollerin’ at me from West Creek this time?”

Despite that seeming rock-throw closeness, in road-reality there’s the non-minor thing of Barnegat Bay being wedged between here and there. It’s a version of the old-fashioned saying “You can’t get here from there” – at least not easily. Getting here-to-there entails mounting one’s trusty four-wheel steed, driving the always-tricky Route 9, ramping onto an oft insanely-tricky Route 72, crossing the bridge-laden Causeway, then, if targeting Beach Haven, negotiating miles of heavily traffic-signaled LBI, to finally seek out sparse parking … just to score some ice cream from that well-within-eyesight area you gazed upon from the mainland.

Yes, I’m driving toward something here. In fact, I’m bush piloting you into a wild and woolly, already-knocking future – when folks just across Barnegat Bay can tap into tasty LBI amenities without leaving the comfort of mainland haunts. I’ll excitedly explain.

While this surely sounds futuristic, younger readers of this column will see the day when mainland folks will be able to order items from Island restaurants and ice creameries – and have them quickly drone-flown across the bay. It’s ye old pizza delivery gone into the wild blue yonder.

Do not balk, ye disbelieving types. This is anything but Mannly pie-in-the-sky thinking. Even as you balk, drone delivery flights are breaking the barrier between the future and now-abouts. For soaring proof, just head over to Reykjavík, Iceland, a city with certain here-to-there similarities to our region. “Say what!?” says you. It just so happens that Reykjavík has sundry waterways and channels, whereby locations within short looking-distances become complex multi-mile drives to actually reach, not unlike West Creek to Beach Haven.

Last week, carried an article titled “Hamburgers and beer are about to start flying through the skies of Reykjavík, Iceland; A new commercial drone delivery trial begins.”

The article tells of an Israeli drone services company named Flytrex, partnering with an Icelandic goods delivery service to set up a small drone route. Flytrex calls it “the world’s first fully operational autonomous drone delivery system.”

However, that claim might be a bit behind the times. Per, Amazon has already made a few commercial drone deliveries in the UK. “(Amazon) has made its first drone delivery to an actual customer, dropping off one of its Fire TV streaming devices and a bag of popcorn to a house in the English countryside 13 minutes after receiving an online order.”

That Amazon connection is telling. It has become an absurdly rich company, meaning if it says “Fly” … it flies. What’s more, New Jersey is now an Amazon home base. Hell, it’s said Mr. Amazon himself recently got remarried over on Bonnet Island – in case you missed Saturday night’s fireworks display.

Should Amazon show some local love, it could be bombs-away with drone testing, LBI-style. After all, we have very cool goods awaiting mainlanders – just over yonder, across an easily drone-negotiated waterway. We’d be a perfect place for things to take flight.

Now, to bring in an angling angle, one that many a boat and beach angler can highly appreciate to the point of donating to research on an advanced drone delivery system. You’re on an epic bite; hookups are left, right and in between. The fish demand fresh bait … as you nervously see the last piece of precious bait hit the hook. Well, that’s it for that bite, right?

Oh, ye of little drone faith. A fresh bait delivery could be a mere cell phone call away, via Mann’s Phone-and-Drone Delivery Service app. A quick call and the nearest bait shop launches 5 pounds of bunker, homing in on the cell phone’s GPS. Or, tastier still, you’re doing an all-nighter in Holgate and have a killer craving for coffee and doughnuts – at any price. Hit my app button and fresh Wawa joe is on its way, delivered at sip-only hotness.

I got your angling attention now, eh? Welcome to the future; may it drone on.

COOL AND CONFUSED: Many of us are already doing surfcasting stretching exercises, loosening up gear and tackle for the fall fishing season, which is inching onto the horizon – and feeling even closer with all this cool air.

With fall’s approach, my thinking goes baity. Baitfish, such as mullet, are first sparked into a southward migration by a drop in bayside water temps. Eventually, they’re motivated by sun angle, especially during hotter falls, when the warmer waters say “Stay.”

The chill we’re now seeing could lead to what I call a “false start” to the migration. That’s when the mullet misread the cooler-than-usual bay water and make southward forays into the ocean.

That said, I can assure we’ll see some very mild – if not hot – weather before fall fully takes hold. When that happens, early-moving mullet feel the warmth and zip back into the bay via the nearest inlet. Once inside, they settle in and fill themselves on bottom algae and phytoplankton – possibly uncertain if that short run was the entire migration thing, having never experienced it before.

The no-guessing colder water of autumn, along with a more compelling lower angle of the sunlight, sparks a truer migration for the mullet. Grab your nets.

By the by, there might be a lot more than sun and water temps in play during the destination-based migration of mullet. Tentative research suggests the forage fish are instinctively seeking subtle chemical signals that tell them they’re finally home. Even if New Jersey were to suddenly become Florida-like in temperature and sun angle, the mullet would eventually move onward toward their assigned water-chemistry homeland.

Don’t balk at that chemistry thing. It has been fully proven that anadromous fish species follow the minutest chemical signals – and only those chem signals – back to rivers and even creeks of their origins.

BIG BASS UNFARE: I recently caught a smidgeon of heat regarding a somewhat prejudiced view I foster regarding the keeping of huge stripers as food.

While I’m a tireless supporter of recreationalists being allowed to keep fish for consumption, I simply question the tastiness of cow bass – fish over 25 pounds.

I’ve cleaned and prepared striped bass as large as 50 pounds. The taste of trophy bass, when baked, is what I call “washed out,” especially when compared to the deliciousness of bass in the 18- to 28-inch range. This smaller-is-better principal is well known among many seafood cooks, especially down Chesapeake Bay way.

Out of journalistic necessity, I must also point out the far more distasteful reality that larger bass can be loaded with environmental toxins, like polychlorinated biphenyls – which includes 209 different chemicals, most of them known carcinogens.

PCBs are slowly absorbed by striped bass through consumed forage fish, which take in residual industrial chemicals when bottom feeding. The toxin buildup grows as the fish grows.

Removing PCB-laden dark meat from a striper’s flesh can significantly reduce the amount of chemicals consumed. However, larger fish are more deeply impregnated with the chemicals.

Of optimistic note, smaller stripers not only are lower in toxins, but may be absorbing less and less, as PCBs slowly disappear from the marine environment after being banned from industrial usage many decades back.

I promise I’m not using scare tactics to save bigger bass. Taste and consumer safety are simply very compelling reasons to forsake the trophy bass after a couple showy selfies. Invite the smallest legal-sized bass home for dinner.

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