The Fish Story

Sound of Unsilence Penetrates Astoundingly; Craft Beer With Killer Kick

By JAY MANN | Sep 26, 2017

We had a new moon last week, meaning it was the darkest night of the month, at least astronomically speaking.

Of pure minutiae importance, the new moon night closest to the winter solstice, Dec. 21, is the longest darkest night of the year – again, astronomically speaking. I’ll bet some weird-ass Gothic groups celebrate that event – or they will now.

That data offered, I’ll stay on the dark side by shedding some light on the question: Can fish see at night?

You might be surprised to hear that, on average, they can’t see any better in the dark than you and me. However, many a piscatorial species can still function remarkably well in the dark; using minute amounts of ambient light – as minute as starlight – along with heightened non-visual senses of smell and vibration-sensing, which can be as acute as sight itself.

ONWARD AND SOUNDWARD: I’ll offer more insights on fishy night vision as we get into the fall fishing madness. For now, I’m compelled by nature – my natural inability to stay focused – to switch the switch from sight to sound, recognizing that night in the ocean is when hearing skills hit home for many species.

Doing research on fish auditory abilities, I couldn’t hear myself think over the racket now arising over manmade maritime commotion, especially during the day. Nautical noise is primarily from boats, personal watercraft and commercial ships. There’s also the disturbing matter of known-deafening booms from oil exploration and military experimentation, which I’ll navigate away from … for now.

The human din drenching the ocean is sounding off on a number of fronts. It was recently the focus of a BBC story, titled “Hear the First Audible Recording from the Sea’s Deepest Point.” Highlighted was an ongoing project to measure the amount of sound pollution in the Pacific Ocean. The project includes researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon State University and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Their initial findings don’t sound good.

“Noise in the ocean has been increasing in the last few decades because of a growth in container shipping,” says Robert Dziak, a NOAA oceanographer who led the project. “Many researchers are now recognizing that this can have an effect on marine ecosystems.”

Most troubling is how noise on the water’s surface travels very “efficiently and cleanly” downwards. Hydrophone readings indicate noise pollution can reach to the farthest depth in the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, southwest of Guam.

Placing underwater microphones into the Challenger Deep has allowed Dziak to develop a baseline reading on the trickledown effect of the up-top noise. Future visits to the same location could alert researchers that it’s time to sound off about the sound situation – or increase the number of listening points.

Per the BBC write-up, the current impact from manmade oceanic noise is unclear, due in large part to the lack of far-reaching data.

“There are sensors out there to monitor the problem, but not as many as you might think,” says Dziak.

Cornell University marine bioacoustics expert Christopher Clark sees the pollution in far bleaker term. He told the website, “This acoustic pollution has not yet been fully explored by science, still less explained to the public. We look out at the ocean and see this bucolic seascape, and some sea gulls flying along the horizon and maybe a sailboat, and we think everything is hunky dory. Well, it isn’t. We are injecting so much noise that we are effectively acoustically bleaching the world’s oceans.”

While I have no idea what that means, I’m not wild about bleaching things … on principal alone. I’m looking into this acoustic bleach thing with vigor. Clark does offer me a research start-point.

“Many whale feeding grounds and migratory routes occur along shallow coastlines, which are now some of the noisiest, most heavily impacted habitats. If females can no longer hear the singing males through the smog of sound, they lose breeding opportunities and choices. If whales can’t hear from other whales that have found a really good patch of food, they lose opportunities to feed.”

To go from global to local in a quiet heartbeat, my personal read on manmade maritime sounds need only focus on our declared-delicate Barnegat Bay waters. Talk about a cacophonous daytime uproar. Boating-wise, it is likely second to none along the Eastern Seaboard. I base that on data indicating we have more vessels, per capita, than any other Eastern waterway.

I’ll feebly back down at this bayside point, not daring to suggest we need to quiet down out there. I’d be up against far too many oft-maniacal mariners. At my age, I’m too slow to panic paddle my kayak from a cigarette boat or high-power PWC piloted by someone who sees me as a hazard to maritime fun-having. So, I offer this noise pollution info in a highly “Not for nothin’” manner.

Since I’m now reduced to whimpering instead of shouting, I’ll also meekly question what noise pollution resonates from my street’s end, every summer. The din of countless bathers on the ocean’s edge surely generates immense mounts of sub aquatic noise – a din that must be highly noticeable to many species that live exclusively in the near shore zones.

Oh, back off, bathers and waders! I’m not saying your splashing, sloshing and squealing are necessarily eco-harmful. I’m just offering food for sound thought, while repeating that some of our most beloved gamefish, along with many a dolphin, are within earshot of the summer-raucous shoreline.

Oddly, I cannot find a single hydrophone/underwater microphone study on how much noise pollution is made by beachgoing tourism. In fact, borderline egregiously, I see no research being done on the decibel readings common to Barnegat Bay waters. Hey, Stockton University, wanna make a big splash in the maritime research realm? You got the talent.

MULLET EYES: Mulleting is the worst it has been in well over a decade. Blame is being aimed at the plenitudinous hurricane swells we're seeing.

These much sought-after baitfish usually migrate very close to land, using shallows to avoid the hungry advances of voracious predators. However, in the past, we have seen them hide within a stirred-up ocean by zipping a bit farther out, to follow the sandbar line. That masterful move keeps them far from our castnets – by about a football field distance. Last week, surfers reported schools of mullet spraying up around them, as they sit, awaiting waves, just beyond the bars; proof apparent of a mullet end-around. Bummer.

Speaking of these clever little buggers, did you know that a school of on-the-move mullet can see out of the water, quite easily noticing a human with a castnet, all wait-y, just up ahead?

Technically, it’s likely only certain gifted mullet doing most of the through-water seeing. Per studies, only one 20/20-seeing mullet can spot trouble lurking up ahead. That lone super-seer wastes no time loosing the alarm, “Run away!” … or something to that effect.

To the credit of all the mullet involved, the school will flee in instantaneous unison. There are no lollygaggers, unlike certain humans, who, upon hearing the likes of “Run away!” will just stand there, all, “Huhhh?”

“We are gathered here today to mourn the untimely passing of Larry ‘Huhhh?’ Rigorson.”

Anyway, by the time they’re migrating, mullet are as nervous as termites at an anteater convention. (Don’t miss the Discovery Channel special on giant anteaters.)

Mullet tensions begin early on. In their formative bay days, they’re quickly and cruelly alerted to the fact that they are … food. When it comes to the pecking order of things, they’re purely peckees.

From larval days onward, bayside mullet are mercilessly pecked upon by weakfish, fluke, bluefish, bass, crabs, eels, ibis, heron, kingfishers – and that’s just before noon. By migration time, these forage fish are actually wise beyond their months. X-files-like, they trust no one – short of fellow migrating mullet, who can be used as a shield when attacked.

DEATH WISH: I have to take a quick break to talk about coffee, particularly a nearby craft brew potentially hosting a beyond-caffeine kick that can land you in the ER … or even in a place where the joe don’t flow, i.e. six feet under.

Admittedly, I have no right to discuss coffee. I’m a lifelong non-imbiber. I know: too weird, right?

However, many a fellow angler has as much coffee coursing through his veins as blood. Therefore, I’ll eagerly pass on this just-in news story, which also meets my tastes when placed within my beloved category of, weird-as-s***.

Leave your coffee mug behind as we travel to Round Tree, N.Y. Here we’ll find a coffee company that has been specializing in a coolly weird designer brew of cold canned coffee.

The reason we’re gathered here, among snickering media from around the world, stems from the FDA recall of the company’s popular icy joe product after it was found to possibly contain what I’ll call a certain undesirable anaerobic essence, namely, Clostridium botulinum. Yep, we’re talking good botulism, arguably the deadliest bacteria known, when ingested.

I fully realize there’s nothing even remotely snickerable in botulism. However, since nobody has suffered ill effects, I get to go full-giggle by offering the coffee company’s name: The Death Wish Coffee Co.

Oh, does this ever rate high on the Mannly Madness Scale. Even the product’s appearance draws a horselaugh. The Death Wish Nitro Cold Brew can is ominously black, but highlighted by a large and looming image of a bright white skull and crossbones, wrapped within the “Death Wish Coffee” brand name.

“The coffee company which markets itself as selling the ‘world’s strongest coffee,’ has recalled all of its 11-ounce Death Wish Nitro Cold Brew cans from online sales and retail locations,” reported the nearby Port City Daily news, adding the company has ceased production until the issue has been resolved.

Heading back home, I’m not sure what a court of law might decide, should someone get a bit ill after knowingly downing a “Death Wish” drink. However, I’d have a damn decent time making a case that said drinker had been very duly warned.

RUNDOWN: If it seems I haven’t touched on fishing all that much, you’re right as rain … and wind and waves and currents and way more surf to come.

The wave-heavy shoreline has been conspiring against fair-weather casters, of which I’m now a proud card-carrying member.

T’were times that I’d already be out there in full fall-fishing mode – often after dark, idly tossing out chunks of bunker, on two rods, while plugging away with another rod. I have no idea who that person was … or why he had taken on that no-fear persona in my name. Now, during lousy outside conditions, I’d rather (speaking facetiously) watch reruns of the Kardashians, or tune into a sub-meaningless Phillies game, before I'll surfcast just to put in some catching-squat time. I’ll even go as far as motto-ing: A bad day at work is still better than a rotten day fishing.

This is not to even remotely suggest I won’t be among the first anglers snaking in on the bite, once other diehard personas painstakingly discover the fish have finally shown. “You don’t mind if I set-up between your two spiked rods, do you?”

Also, things take on a whole other mood of intensity, meaningfulness and get-out-thereness with the start of the almost-here Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic. Go to for info on signing up.

As to what’s hooking, there is fine togging near Barnegat Inlet – but still only a one-fish bag. This thick moving-out showing of blackfish bodes well for wreck fishing – and increased six-fish bag limit – come Nov. 16. No, it’s not too early to look that far ahead.

The snapper bluefish showing is too much, literally. These voracious mini-blues are making mincemeat of smaller baitfish. This is not atypical in September. A couple larger blues, close to slammer grade have been taken in the bay, as close in as the fishing dock in Ship Bottom. Here’s hoping they hang around for the Classic.

The blowfish bite near Barnegat Inlet has passed its peak. Some folks loaded up on them, even putting some of that tail meat in the freezer for a nostalgic midwinter meal or two. Blowfish meat freezes exceptionally well.

Two nice jumbo kingfish were caught bayside. That’s not much of a showing but indicates the ocean might still be holding them, somewhere amid the incessant Jose and/or Maria waves and foam. Kings really need to be fished with lighter gear, both for fun and to feel the subtle bites. Bloodworms have been hard to come by in shops. They’re still the top kingfish getter, though fake-o bites also work well.

Tiny-ass striped bass are in the low-tide troughs along the beachfront. Jigs work best, though the hooking is far from hectic. I like white in stirred up waters. Teasers also help the cause by making a jig-based presentation a bit showier, while matching the spearing hatch (via a strand of silver flashabou).

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