The Fish Story

Ending on Merry and/or SAD Note; When Surf Clam Fights Ruled the Sandbars

By JAY MANN | Dec 20, 2017

It’s time to wish all y’all a very Merry Christmas – and a hearty Happy Holidays to those of you who celebrate other Christmasesque events nowabouts. Hey, it’s all good when wishing merriness and happiness.

With all that upness offered, it’s also the time of year when temperate-climate types need to mentally and emotionally gird for the arriving coldness and light deprivation. Yes, that sinky concept can deflate the holiday balloon real fast.

Good luck to those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder – a down-and-out mental condition that would likely have remained hidden in its own confusing name if it didn’t acronymize into SAD. SAD hits the mental mark when spring is an entire season away – with many a privileged friend having flown off to more climatologically gifted parts of the planet, places where SAD means Sunny Ass Days.

But winter at the Jersey Shore has a benny or two. Hell, any dang time I feel like it, I can go look at a snowy owl … the same stinkin,’ sit-around, do-nothin’ snowy owl.

Just kidding! Geez, lighten up. In fact, the wonderful white owls of Holgate seem to be increasing in number this winter; four at last count. I often show them off, via photos and videos, at my intermittent blog fishlbi.com. That blog will remain in play as The SandPaper takes its annual end-of-year, two-week hiatus – before coming back in 2018, bigger and prettier than ever.

By the by, the cloud edition of The SandPaper will remain somewhat active, based on local newsy goings-on. It can be found at https://thesandpaper.villagesoup.com.

CLAM DAYS AWAY: I recall surf clams in an oddly nostalgic way. As kids, we’d feel them underfoot while body surfing Island sandbars. This would spark semi-traditional surf clam fights. Yep, they were about as dumb as they sound, as we chucked huge, sharp-edged clams at each other. It just somehow seemed the ideal thing to do at the time. It also fit in nicely with jellyfish fights and hurling gobs of itchy eelgrass on each others’ heads.

By the by, we didn’t wing the clams at each other with any great velocity. We’d do one of those shot put heaves, politely yelling “Bombs away!” This allowed a target plenty of time to dive aside, go underwater, or maybe even catch the heaved clam and chuck it back. I recall absolutely no serious clam fight injuries. Of course, my body carries a dozen or so bodily scars that are akin to Jimmy Buffett’s “Mexican Cutie” tattoo, i.e. how they got there, I haven’t a clue.

I reminisce over surf clams with a telling intent. The days of such clam fights on LBI are over, along with the days-of-plenty for the clams themselves. They are no more along our immediate shoreline, though they’re doing just fine farther out at sea.

Where large storms would once lead to vast washups of stranded surf clams along the beach, even the worst blows nowadays shove absolutely no clams ashore. The reason is spookily simple: The clams ain’t there!

A lack of clam washups has left many an angler wonting. Just a couple decades back, a single blow could loose enough clams to stock a freezer with shucked meat, clams being one of the best baits to freeze. It’s a highly effective fish-getter when thawed.

So where have all the clams gone, long time passing? They have gone where other near-beach lifeforms have also gone … AWOL, every one.

Also spookily absent are eco-vital lady crabs, those once ubiquitous toe-pinchers that swimmers hated but nature saw fit to place in great numbers. Lady crabs keep the place clean, particularly the bottom sands next to the beach.

Joining the crabs and clams in in-close gone-ness are a slew of important marine worms, including clam/sand worms – which I used to dig for bait shops. I have been able to dig nary one worm in recent years.

What we have is a full-blown what-the-fudge situation.

Regarding this lack of life in the shoreline shallows, I have to give a highly-belated nod of recognition to an old buddy: headboat Capt. Bill Hammarstrom. At least 20 years back, the Carolyn Ann skipper raged my way with warnings that a dead zone had developed right off the beachline, extending outward hundreds of yards. He knew, having been a lifelong professional fishing boat captain in those same waters.

Under Bill’s vociferous tutelage, I soon acknowledged there was, just maybe, something amiss in LBI’s oceanside shallows, biomass-wise. The captain was a tad more succinct, emphatically claiming that something was either killing or driving off the resident marine life therein.

Seemingly out of frustration with local life, Bill moved to the mountains of West Virginia. Pressure off, I switched my focus to beach erosion and climate change. However, there is now no overlooking the egregious near-beach absence of many mainstay creatures.

In case you hadn’t guessed, this is all part of my ongoing effort to figure out where all the surfside striped bass have gone, short time passing.

With the likely death/departure of clams, crabs and worms, you have removed the prime reasons striped bass enter the surf zone to dine. Sure, there is still the migratory coming-and-going of baitfish. However, nearly every in-depth study of Morone saxatilis proves the now-missing marine lifeforms are chief forage items when it comes to plump and happy striped bass.

To be sure, this likely/potential ecological problem was afoot long before Superstorm Sandy. Again, Capt. Bill was aghast by 1990. That said, I have no doubt the importation of massive amounts of sand via replenishments doesn’t sit well with any crabs or worms looking to return. Replenishment sand-slides won’t hurt the surf clam population because it’s already as gone as a doornail.

I’m keeping a close eye on this. And if Stockton or Rutgers wants to give things a scientific look, I can point out the ocean.

BAD START: So, I’m given this Sept. 6, 1945 copy of the Tuckerton Beacon, ostensibly for a way-back read on the first dredging of boat channels in Barnegat Bay that same year. But that read fell to the wayside when my eye was grabbed by a small, page-bottom headline: “Ocean Mosquito Commission Told of DDT By Scientists.”

The story explained, “A thorough scientific discussion of the merits of DDT insecticide powder before the August dinner meeting of the Ocean County Mosquito Extermination Commission Friday evening in the National Hotel, Manahawkin, produced the outstanding fact that it is more poisonous than any other chemical, in combating mosquitoes and flies.”

And “poisonous” was apparently good as gold, as “evidence presented in favor of the widespread use of the powder” resonated at the meeting.

Yes, this was a how-it-all-began marker.

It hit even closer to home when Freeholder A. Paul King remarked, “As far as the resort industry of Ocean County is concerned, we want an economic mixture in a solvent that will not kill beneficial insects nor destroy the favorable balance of nature.”

As we now know, depressingly so, much of the world was simultaneously singing the praises of DDT. Ocean County was far from the only place falling into the silent spring. It’s just odd seeing its local launch in such black, white and enthusiastic terms.

By the by, if you think that Rachel Carson’s world-changing book Silent Spring is about a quiet bubbling spring of water, issuing forth through the ground, you’ve only read the book’s title – or were so high on coffee when cramming for the final Literature exam you forgot the title actually refers to a springtime when no birds were heard.

I bring that up since the Tuckerton Beacon DDT story got me rereading Carson’s book. This go-round, it had an insert-here feel, meaning any number of mankind follies – climate change springing forth – can be inserted into what has become a planetary abuse syndrome.

CLASSIC CONGRATS: Fighting through a slow 2017 Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic, two big winners emerged. John Matt’s 48-pound bass was the grand prizewinner in that category. Robert Vallone’s 15.16-pound slammer bluefish took the grand prize for blues.

For the official score card, go to lbift.com/tournament.php?id=1476.

MANN OVERBOARD: I must take a moment to defend argon gas beams and a masterful British surgeon who seemingly sports a cool sense of what might be called internal humor – better make that a scalding hot sense of internal humor.

Some of you already know of what I speak, having seen one of the many news reports about British surgeon Simon Bramhall, who recently admitted to two counts of “assault by beating” relating to his internally initialing, i.e. signing, the livers of transplant patients in 2013. I see it as a latent form of the famed Zorro complex, if such a thing exists.

It can’t be overlooked that Bramhall’s masterful surgery had surely saved the transplant recipients’ lives. A fine thanks for an organ well done.

To leave his mark, the renowned liver, spleen and pancreas surgeon called on his trusty argon beam. The burning gaseous beam is commonly used to cauterize incisions, stopping blood flow in its tracks.

Be it blood-stopping dashes applied to internal organs or tattoo-esque lettering, the burn trail left by an argon beam is more of a flash in the pan than something eternally internal. According to theguardian.com, which broke the story, “The marks left by argon are not thought to impair the organ’s function and usually disappear by themselves.”

Nonetheless, the good doctor remains in water hotter than an argon beam bath, even though surgeons around the world balk at the notion of any criminality, per se. The worst word popping up in surgeon circles is “unethical.” Looking at the original Greek Hippocratic oath, there isn’t so much as passing mention of “Thou shalt not sign thy surgeries … with, uh, argon beams.”

Bramhall’s liver-based doodling would never have seen the light of day if it weren’t for a minor post-surgery complication in one of his transplants. A fellow surgeon, an obvious lily-livered tattletale, went in for some follow-up organ touch-ups and happened upon his colleague’s beaming “SB” initials. With British aplomb, he noted, “What the f***!” – per The Guardian, mind you.

Yes, the surgeon will be allowed to continue transplanting organs, though he’ll now be working out of a tattoo and piercing shop in Liverpool. “Hey, Doc, here’s some tribal artwork that might go nicely on my spleen … I mean, since you’ll be in there and everything.”

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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