The Fish Story

Plastics May Soon Be Going to Your Brain; Pompano Passing Through to Florida

By JAY MANN | Oct 11, 2017

Do the fish you’re catching seem to be somehow slower, maybe not as focused on the fact they’ve been hooked? “Looks like I’m hooked … whatever.” Well, those fish just might have plastics on the brain – literally.

After the recent showing of the eco-doomsday movie “A Plastic Planet,” I was urged by attendees to publicize the fact we’re going to hell in a plastic handbasket. The two-star movie – with a five-star message – offered vivid proof that enough plastic is being loosed upon our ocean to alter life therein.

While Southeast Asia and the Pacific basin are the worst plasticizers by a country mile, we are all seeing the fallout, most disgustingly via vast swirls of bulky plastic within gyre currents. One ugly gyre has even been named The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Fields of floating plastic trash are prime visual indicators that 10 percent of all plastic produced around the world ends up in the ocean – some of it sinking to the deep.

Mini-subs working the deepest abysses of the ocean are shedding light on the trashy fallout accumulating way down below. The pitch-black bottom of places like the Challenger Deep portion of the Mariana Trench, some 36,000 feet down, is strewn with plastic fallout. Some oceanic trenches look like the aftermath of a raunchy outdoor concert

But such out-of-sight/mind bottom plastic is ecological child’s play when compared to what eventually becomes of surface-floating plastics. Most floating plastics in the sea slowly fragment, breaking down into smaller and smaller particles, eventually getting small enough to go straight though brain membranes. The minutest of plastic particles, called microplastics and nanoplastics, could be coming back to bite us.

Size-wise, microplastics are indeed microscopic, near 0.0019 of an inch. In more graspable terms, that’s the thickness of a piece of paper. But microplastics are gargantuan when standing next to nanoplastics.

To envision nanoplastics, harken back to Biology 101 class, viewing an algal cell under a microscope. A nanoplastic is 1,000 times smaller than that algal cell. This hints at how insidiously small rotting plastics can become, which cycles us back to chemically muddled fish brains.

Researchers at the prestigious Lund University in Sweden recently made some mind-rattling discoveries about nanoplastic. It is seemingly entering the brains of fishes.

“Our study is the first to show that nanosized plastic particles can accumulate in fish brains,” said Tommy Cedervall, a chemistry researcher at Lund.

I should irritably point out that the ocean’s microplastic and nanoplastic load doesn’t exclusively stem from floating plastics breaking down. Many are purposely manufactured, used in the likes of cosmetics, clothing and even tires. While micro/nanoplastics are being phased out in the U.S., the pollution damage has been done – and is now being exacerbated by the breakdown of larger plastics.

“It is important to study how plastics affect ecosystems and that nanoplastic particles likely have a more dangerous impact on aquatic ecosystems than larger pieces of plastics,” said Cedervall.

However, Lund researchers aren’t daring enough to go up against big businesses by suggesting plastic nanoparticles could enter tissues other than fish brains – to possibly be transmitted to humans through consumption.

Well, step aside, Swedish folks, I have no qualms suggesting a high likelihood that our very own brains can also absorb nanoplastics.

Joining me in mind and body is our very own NJDEP, which has led the way, nationally, in panning microscopic plastics, releasing a strongly worded report titled “Human Health Impacts of Microplastics and Nanoplastics.” Here’s a telling opening statement in that report: “…Microplastics and nanoplastics may be ingested by a variety of aquatic organisms. Due to their small size and ability to adsorb and subsequently release chemicals, microplastics and nanoplastics pose a threat to these organisms. Human health may ultimately be affected due to the transfer of these plastics and/or contaminant chemicals (e.g., adsorbed pollutants, plastic additives) through the food web. Due to the emerging nature of microplastics and nanoplastics, human information is lacking for exposure and health effects.”

One final aspect of micro/nanoplastics – for this week’s rant – is how it literally buddies up with some seriously bad company. The European Food Safety Authority asserts, “One potential concern is over high concentrations of pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that can accumulate in microplastics.”

OK, that’s enough brain numbing for today. However, this plastics pollution thing is huge, especially as it relates to our angling and seafood dining.

I will back up a bit to assure we aren’t going to soon wake up with fully plasticized brains – providing we take on the plastics problem like champions. Along with everyday – and only moderately – effective recycling, join up with national groups like and Closer to home, get involved with Alliance for a Living Ocean, Ship Bottom,, and Clean Ocean Action,

POMPANO POWER: There are currently small migrating pompano in our beachline water … by the netful. We get this shiny, tropical species every fall. Some years they’re more plentiful and larger, growing up to sunfish size.

Years back, I kept a few larger ones, cooking them whole. They are absolutely a top-shelf seafood, as evidenced by the fact they’re $20 a pound at fisheries down south. I can taste why.

A pompano’s claim to fame is its blistering speed. Down south, where they grow to almost 10 pounds, they’re arguably the fastest nearshore fish, even outdistancing proven speedsters like permit.

Our young-of-year LBI pompano are chips off the old high-speed block. That speed means they have an ultrahigh likelihood of safely migrating to the southland. The odds of a striped bass catching one for dinner is less than slim-and-none. Even gangs of high-velocity bluefish, upon seeing feeding pompano, ponder an attack and say, “Screw that.”

What these small pompanos can’t outswim is a castnet. My 16-foot diameter net can bring them to a flapping halt – until it’s release time. The reason they succumb to netting is their desire to feed almost exclusively on sandcrabs. During low tides, they’ll hunker down in holes and troughs, easily cast upon. In good years, I’ve caught up to 50 in a single throw.

After nabbing a netful of high-energy mini pompano, I ponder using them as a shiny, oily bait, either livelined or chunked. But, then, I simply don’t have the heart to sacrifice these tropical beauties, knowing they’ll grow up to become astounding gamefish for the boys fishing for them down south. Ain’t I a nice guy?

SANDCRAB DEMAND: Called “sand fleas” in the Deep South, sand crabs are the prime-by-far bait used to nab big Florida pompano in the Sunshine State. With the demand for pompano meat so rightfully high, the pressure on sand fleas down there has decimated their number along many shorelines. A fellow I threw net with back in the day could cover fuel costs for his annual winter trip to Florida by hauling a massive cooler filled with LBI’s finest sand crabs. He’d catch them, mainly in Harvey Cedars, using a modified hand dredge/scoop made from chicken wire.

While on the sandcrab subject, my sole above-average fishing talent used to be fishing sandcrabs off the ends of jetties, targeting blackfish. Poised on a jetty, I’d literally look for tog within the rocks and flip out a single sand crab on a dropper-loop 1/0 hook, weighed down with either a 1-ounce bank sinker (on the tag end) or even just split shots on calm days. What a blast! I took tog up to 5 pounds.

Just as fascinating, I’d often by-catch stripers, one to over 25 pounds. That big-ass bass was willing to inhale that one tiny-ass sandcrab as if it were caviar – assuming fish like caviar.

My jetty togging quickly ended with blackfish restrictions out the wazoo, followed by sanded-under jetties. And blackfish stocks are troublingly down and likely not returning any time soon. I fully blame that decline – and lack of recovery – on too dang many fluke. Over-nursed flatties often line the inlet bottom like floor tiles. They scarf down dead-meat young-of-year tautog as they move out of the bay.

Fishery management has become blindly hellbent on protecting the most popular/profitable species; this includes striped bass. This mothering comes at the expense of other struggling species. Thus there have been no recovery gains of significance for tog, black sea bass, weakfish, winter flounder, kingfish, i.e. species that hatch and grow in the bay before being mugged as they try to move out to sea.

SNAPPER JERKING: Using small freshwaterish metals in Holgate, I’ve been able to humble a goodly number of snappers, including a few that were almost take-home material.

I use cocktail blues – 1- to 3-pounders – as filet material for my bluefish jerky. This year, I have a new marinade. It has more citrus than I usually use, meaning I have to dry the bluefish pieces faster to prevent them from cooking in the citric acid.

If you’ve never made smoked or jerked bluefish (easily done), you’re missing a seafood treat. It has a very mild flavor, short of the spices.

RUNDOWN: Climate change has its bennies, providing you’re not an iceberg. Needing SPF50 sunscreen on an 80-degree October day is a fine feeling for those of us not hellbent on seeing frost on the pumpkin. I do see some seasonable air moving in this week, though followed by another warm-up mid-month.

There is an astounding showing of schoolie bass over in Cedar Run, along with some other backbay communities. I had one report that “There are as many as you want to catch,” with one just-keeper in the mix. Another Dock Road angler said he was catching them two at a time. Unfortunately, some of the best hooking areas require knowing someone thereabouts – to use their docks. It’s what I call an exclusive backyard bite.

There will continue to be small stripers in the suds. Go at them with bait, jigs and surf poppers, especially when this week’s north winds usher in cleaner water. Many 2017 LBI Surf Fishing Classic entrants like to hear those small bass are in the mix, knowing that a rogue mega-striper might idly wander on-scene.

Big bluefish are making touch-and-go swipes along the LBI beachline. I don ’t know if there’s such a thing as resident choppers, but these recent blues seem to be locals.

Below are blues entered into the Classic. A couple other non-entrant blues were also caught.

Saturday, BL, 12.52 pounds, Quinn Rutan, bunker.

Sunday, Ship Bottom, 7.94 pounds, Gary Grippaldi, bunker.

The waveriding genes in me require I update the fact we have entered the fourth straight week of big, often-mean surf. Believe me when I assure that such a protracted run of nonstop waves is unprecedented. What’s more, we could add in another week of pounding surf if the forecast 25 mph NE gusts develop.

BUGGYISTS: For Classic participants, the $25 LBT “Tournament” beach permit is once again available, this time for the entire nine weeks of the Classic. It’s a steal.

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