Haul seine survey offers interesting results

August 13, 2022

For the past 10 years, the Center for the Inland Bays has conducted a haul seine survey of the Inland Bays. Using all volunteer labor, they sampled 16 sites twice a month from April to October, and the results are very interesting.

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, when I had a camper trailer on Indian River Bay at Bay Shores, we would pull a haul seine every Thursday evening to catch bait for the weekend. We often had things we couldn’t identify, and now I have an idea why. The survey by the Center for the Inland Bays found 25 different species. I was not surprised to find that mummichogs were the No. 1 species by count. That’s why we pulled our haul seine. Of course, we just called them minnows.

The more recent surveys have caught silverstripe halfbeaks, permit and pompano. Some species have been found in the net since the survey began. Flounder, weakfish, tog, silversides and bluefish all use the Inland Bays as a nursery area. The more unusual catches include a cow-nosed ray, diamondback terrapin and the always-popular horseshoe crab.

One troubling figure that came to light was the catch per unit effort. That’s scientific jargon for how many fish they catch in each net pull. In 2021, they had a total of 32,967 fish for a CPEU of 167.34 against the historical CPUE of 230.91. In 2021, they caught 4,270 blue crabs for a CPUE of 21.17 against a 24.79 historical CPUE.

As you might expect with climate change, in 2021 they caught 47 different species. The historical catch has been 44. As the water warms, new species move in and, as yet, the old species have not moved out.

Zachary Garmoe gave the presentation and did an excellent job. Also, the fact that volunteers pulled those haul seines twice a month from April to October deserves a lot of thanks. I was happy to see the Inland Bays are strong nursery areas for a variety of fish that we recreational anglers enjoy catching, and I hope this data can be used to help protect this very valuable resource.

Bluefish management 

I am on the Bluefish Management Advisory Council, and at our last meeting, I suggested we do away with the unequal division between recreational fishermen. Right now, recreational fishermen on for-hire boats get to keep five bluefish, while the rest of us only get to keep three. I feel that in itself is wrong, but I suggested using conservation equivalency as we do for summer flounder, black sea bass and scup. If recreational fishermen in New York and New Jersey are happy with keeping only three fish, then let them remain at status quo. On the other hand, let those of us in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia go to public hearings and decide if we would like a more equal division of the resource.

On Monday, the bluefish board met in Philadelphia. At 3 p.m., I sat in on their discussion of what regulations we will have in 2023 and 2024. To say their data is flawed would be a major understatement. They have one set of numbers showing recreational anglers overfished our total allowable catch and another showing we underfished those same numbers. The same is true of our discards. One advisor said he releases 90% of the bluefish he catches, while another said he keeps all of his. Then there is the suspicion that some anglers may be keeping up to 15 blues a day. Having been on some head boats in New Jersey, I suspect those people are selling their fish back at the dock. Finally, I learned the for-hire industry had asked for its bag limit be raised to seven fish. I guess that would leave the rest of us with one fish.

In the end, it looks like the bluefish board will do nothing. The regulations will not change for the 2023 and 2024 fishing seasons. Too many discrepancies in the data is the reason given for the decision. Boy, I do have to agree with that!

Fishing report

I fished the surf at Fenwick Island Thursday and was treated to a show by eight ospreys diving on bunker about 30 feet off the beach. While that was going on, something grabbed my top-bottom rig and headed to the Azores. It dumped half my spool of line before the hook pulled.

Tuna fishing remains excellent. Chunking the inshore lumps and trolling the canyons both produce yellowfins. The canyons also hold bigeyes and true albacore.

Flounder are improving at the Old Grounds and are still in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. Spot, croaker and kings remain at Delaware Bay reef sites.


  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age. Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. He has been the regional editor for several publications and was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine. Eric is the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits. He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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