The de­coder of se­crets to bet­ter fish­ing for the past three decades

Marlin - - CONTENTS - — Sam White

“As a child, I would look at the ocean and won­der about the cur­rents and waves, and the fish and the birds.”

Mitch Roffer has a ded­i­cated mis­sion: He wants you to catch more fish, pe­riod. He founded Roffer’s Ocean Fish­ing Fore­cast­ing Ser­vice, bet­ter known as ROFFS, in 1987 based on that de­sire. Since then, his com­bi­na­tion of satel­lite data over­laid with text analy­ses of the cur­rent and ex­pected con­di­tions has be­come the bench­mark, a road map to find­ing the pro­duc­tive fish­ing grounds off­shore.

Roffer was born in Yonkers, New York, but es­caped the cold to at­tend the Univer­sity of Mi­ami’s Rosen­stiel School for Ma­rine and At­mo­spheric Sci­ence, where he earned his doc­tor­ate with an em­pha­sis on fish­eries oceanog­ra­phy and satel­lite re­mote sensing. He un­der­stood that fish­er­men needed a way to in­ter­pret satel­lite data in a way that was un­der­stand­able — and the fish­ing world hasn’t been the same since.

When did you dis­cover a love for the ocean?

As early as I can re­mem­ber, my par­ents used to take us to Long Beach in Long Is­land, New York. We used to play in the sand, body-surf and play games on the beach. I would look out and won­der about the waves and the tides, and why there were birds fly­ing over the ocean. Un­for­tu­nately, we also had to deal with oil on our feet, which we cleaned up with baby oil or kerosene and soap and wa­ter.

What was your first fish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence?

Surf-fish­ing with some older men on Long Is­land. I didn’t ac­tu­ally fish back then; I just watched as they caught floun­der and blue­fish.

How did you get started?

For my doc­tor­ate re­search, I was study­ing why the dis­tri­bu­tion of pelagic fish var­ied so much. Af­ter I fin­ished my Ph.D., I was work­ing on a sword­fish re­search project and had a lot of cap­tains, mostly from Virginia Beach [Virginia] to Cape Hat­teras [North Carolina], ask­ing me to help them find fish. So, I pro­vided some rudi­men­tary

fore­cast­ing analy­ses from the few satel­lites that ex­isted at the time. By the third sum­mer, I had no choice but to ask for some money to hire some­one to help me. I started the busi­ness in one of my spare bedrooms the fol­low­ing year.

How did you dif­fer­en­ti­ate ROFFS from the start?

We pro­vide in­te­grated fish­ing analy­ses that com­bine graph­ics with a text dis­cus­sion of the con­di­tions, rather than just satel­lite images or un­cal­i­brated mod­els. The map we pro­vide is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the ocean con­di­tions that we ex­pect you to find off­shore, and the text gives a dis­cus­sion of the present con­di­tions and the fore­casted fish­ing ac­tion. We fo­cus on de­tail; that’s the dif­fer­ence.

How many fore­casts does ROFFS pro­duce an­nu­ally?

We do about 30,000 analy­ses per year for our clients, but we con­duct ap­prox­i­mately 100,000 a year for our in­ter­nal stud­ies to fol­low the wa­ter and the fish.

What’s it been like work­ing with NASA for the past 11 years?

My ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with the NASA Eco­log­i­cal Mod­el­ing and Fore­cast­ing Re­search Team has not only been ed­u­ca­tional and

en­joy­able, but it has also en­riched my life as a sci­en­tist and as a per­son. We study top­ics rang­ing from land use and habi­tat change to the an­i­mals, ev­ery­thing from lions and bears to weeds and Lyme dis­ease — and, of course, the ocean cur­rents and the fish. I have the op­por­tu­nity to col­lab­o­rate with some of the most in­tel­li­gent sci­en­tists in the world.

How do weather phe­nom­ena such as El Niño af­fect fish­ing?

With El Niño, the sur­face wa­ter warms up and the ther­mo­cline forms much deeper in the wa­ter col­umn. In some ar­eas, this forces the fish to go deeper into the cooler wa­ter. And in places like Costa Rica and West Africa, the fish can’t go very deep be­cause the low dis­solved-oxy­gen lev­els limit their ver­ti­cal mo­tion. As a re­sult, the fish have to mi­grate out of the area to where they can find com­fort­able wa­ter tem­per­a­ture and oxy­gen con­di­tions. In the North­ern Hemi­sphere, that means they push to the north, which means good fish­ing in places you might not nor­mally ex­pect, like cen­tral or even north­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

What im­pact is cli­mate change hav­ing on our fish­ing?

Fish are ar­riv­ing ear­lier in the sea­son, mov­ing far­ther north (in the North­ern Hemi­sphere) and stay­ing longer be­cause the sea-sur­face tem­per­a­tures are

warmer. The Gulf Stream is slow­ing, but we don’t fully un­der­stand the im­pacts of that yet. In some cases, the lack of a tra­di­tion­ally cold win­ter means there is a much broader area where a species’ pre­ferred habi­tat oc­curs. That means fewer fish to con­cen­trate in one area.

From a me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal per­spec­tive, what are the big­gest threats we face?

Per­sis­tent, strong winds and stronger, more-fre­quent trop­i­cal storms. A longer trop­i­cal-storm sea­son is also a pos­si­ble threat.

What drives you to suc­ceed?

The de­sire to help peo­ple un­der­stand the ocean’s cir­cu­la­tion and how it re­lates to fish­ing.

Do you have any­thing left to ful­fill in your pro­fes­sional life?

I’d like to go in a sub­ma­rine and study the ef­fects of Gulf Stream eddy for­ma­tions on fish con­cen­tra­tions. Write a book or two.

If you had to fish for just one species, what would it be?

The new species I named is a black-blue-mar­lin-bluefin-tu­nas­word­fish. This fish gets very large, swims very fast and mi­grates to many won­der­ful des­ti­na­tions.

Are you a sports fan?

I en­joy ice hockey — Tampa Bay Light­ing fan — and the sports teams at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami.

Coun­try mu­sic or rock ’n’ roll?

Rock ’n’ roll is here to stay and will go down in his­tory as such.

Any per­sonal goals?

I would like to travel more to the is­lands in the Caribbean, Pa­cific, and Indo-Pa­cific to fish, dive, and drink very smooth dark rum.

Roffer ex­am­ines a bend in the Gulf Stream that could lead to good fish­ing ac­tion off the East Coast.

Mitch Roffer and his team of an­a­lysts use a wide va­ri­ety of data to for­mu­late ac­cu­rate fish­ing fore­casts, in­clud­ing satel­lite teleme­try and oceano­graphic stud­ies of the cur­rents.

ROFFS analy­ses in­clude a text sum­mary, as well as a graphic over­lay of the con­di­tions that are ex­pected to oc­cur within a spe­cific area off­shore.

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