Fisheries & Fish Industry

Daylight increases for fishing as old man winter settles in

Daylight increases for fishing as old man winter settles in

Before beginning, I would like to wish everyone my best for a safe, healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.

This includes good luck fishing. Have a great time welcoming in the New Year but do it with some restraint and caution. If you imbibe, call a cab for a ride. I want to see everyone on the water during 2017.

Our roller-coaster weather was warm most of the week but dipped back to daytime highs around 50 today and to continue Saturday. The forecast has it then warming back up into the 60s from Sunday into Thursday, so maybe the water will warm a degree or two. The wind is about as up and down, but the early forecast shows it falling out tonight and staying mostly around 10 knots through Monday, then puffing back up a little beginning Monday night. 

The bottom line is the early forecast has fishable conditions to begin 2017, and it will be interesting to see what fishermen bring to the docks. The commercial bluefin season opens at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning, and I’ll bet there will be several groups of twinkling lights out by the Trawler Wreck and Knuckle Buoy. Anyone interested in a pool to see who brings the first one to the dock?

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Last week, I mentioned that winter had officially begun, but there is a good side to that too. The wait until spring is now shorter and gets a day shorter every sunrise.

Speaking of sunrise, it began happening earlier and sunset coming later on Dec. 22. The time is only extended by seconds now, but before too long, daylight will begin increasing by minutes each day. 

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Most of the fishing this week has been inshore and nearshore.

There isn’t the variety of fish there was at Thanksgiving, but speckled trout, gray trout, red drum, black drum and a few sea mullet are being caught. There was a little mini run of flounder this week too as several fishermen reported slams (one each of speck, redfish and flounder).

Trout have been mostly inside, but there have been a few around the Cape Lookout Jetty, the Fort Macon Jetty and in the surf along Shackleford Banks. The inside specks are scattered through the Haystacks, Newport River, Core Creek, Adams Creek, North River Marshes, North River, Middle Marsh, Pelletier Creek, Spooners Creek, plus in the marshes behind Bogue Inlet, the White Oak River and Schoolhouse Creek closer to Swansboro and in the creeks off the Neuse River.  

The inside specks have hit a small variety of lures, but two things fishermen agree on is they are fishing smaller lures and fishing them slowly. Hard lures, especially suspending lures that will drift with the current, have been catching well. A variety of soft plastics are scoring too. 

Puppy drum are very scattered inside the inlets, but a few schools are starting to form in the surf. There are a few pups in many of the same places as specks, but there have been several schools feeding in the surf off Shackleford Banks, Bear Island and Browns Island. The pups in the surf have been biting better and more consistently than the pups inside the inlets. It might take a few minutes to get them going, but after a few have hit baits and struggled, the school usually gets excited and begins feeding steadily.

Some black drum have been mixed with the specks and pups. Black drum will occasionally hit lures, especially soft lures that are scented, but they prefer pieces of bait, and their preferred bait is pieces of shrimp. Red drum rarely turn down pieces of shrimp either. One good thing about the colder water is that the pinfish and other bait thieves are gone and a piece of shrimp will last until a black or red drum finds it.

Sea mullet and gray trout are becoming a little hit-and-miss as the water continues to cool and may be gone at any time. They have been on the edges of the Morehead City Turning Basin and the Beaufort Inlet Ship Channel from the port out to a little outside the inlet. Some had also been scattered up Shackleford Banks toward Cape Lookout, but that has gotten really slow. There are some grays in the holes at the end of the Cape Lookout Jetty and around the anchors for the old sub nets. These grays have been thick enough to mark on your fishfinder.

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Recreation bluefin season for small and medium fish (27 to 72 inches) has been open, but there hasn’t been much activity.

Several fishermen reported seeing bluefins pushing water as they fed in schools of menhaden off Cape Lookout, so the excitement is building for when the commercial season opens and trophy fish (73 inches and larger) are again added to the recreational limits. I expect to have bluefin tuna catches to report next week.

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Not many fishermen have headed offshore over the Christmas holidays, but there have been a variety of fish caught by those who made the trip.

The action begins with king mackerel and offshore bottom fish at around 100 feet deep. The key for kings is finding water temperatures in the upper-60s and structure with suspended bait. The bait doesn’t want to be suspended, and that is usually a good sign something is feeding on it. The kings are hungry and will hit spoons, sea witches with strip and frozen baits.

You will find an assortment of black sea bass, grunts and porgys a little shallower, but it takes about 100 feet to find grouper, beeliners and triggerfish. They will be hanging tight to structure and like pieces of cut bait and squid and will also hit jigs and bucktails. Remember that grouper season closes for four months beginning at midnight Saturday. 

There are a few wahoo, fair numbers of large blackfin tuna and occasional surprise fish feeding along the edges at the Gulf Stream. Temperature breaks, color changes and rips are all signs that something is happening under water. Often, there will be a cool side and a warm side, but at this time of year, you might try both. 

As the water continues to cool, water temperature becomes very important from inshore to the Gulf Stream. We are fortunate to have the Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Program (CORMP, www.cormp.org) weather reporting stations spread from Taylors Creek to offshore of Diamond Shoals and Frying Pan Shoals Light Towers. You can check the current water temperature and the history and know if it is rising or cooling. This is a website you should save everywhere you access the internet.

ASMFC Sets N.C. Summer FlounderPublic Hearing

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board announces the availability of Draft Addendum XXVIII for public comment.

The document, which was approved by the board in early December, presents a suite of management approaches, including regional options, to achieve the 2017 recreational harvest limit (RHL).

Draft Addendum XXVIII was initiated to consider alternative management approaches for the 2017 recreational summer flounder fisheries, which must undergo catch reductions due to a decrease in the coastwide RHL in 2017. In August, the Board and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved a 30 percent reduction in the 2017 coastwide RHL relative to 2016. This action was taken in response to the 2016 Stock Assessment Update which found fishing mortality was higher in recent years and population estimates were lower than previously projected.

Changes in summer flounder distribution, abundance and availability have created problems under the static state-by-state allocations, with overages often occurring. In response, states would implement regulations to reduce harvest, resulting in differing regulations between neighboring states.

In 2014, the board shifted away from traditional state-by-state allocations to a regional approach for managing summer flounder recreational fisheries.  A benefit of the regional approach is it provides the states the flexibility to share allocations. The intent is to set regulations that account for shifting distribution, abundance and availability while providing stability and greater regulatory consistency among neighboring states and enabling the states to meet but not exceed the coastwide RHL.

Anglers and interested stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on Draft Addendum XXVIII either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. The Draft Addendum can be obtained athttp://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/SummerFlounderDraftAddendumXXVIII_PublicComment_Dec2016_Revised.pdf or via the commission’s website, www.asmfc.org, under Public Input. Public comment will be accepted until 5 p.m. (EST) on Thursday, Jan. 19, and should be forwarded to Kirby Rootes-Murdy, Senior Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, Va. 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at [email protected] with the subject line: Summer Flounder Draft Addendum XXVIII. The board will review submitted public comment and consider final action on the Draft Addendum at the commission’s winter meeting in February.

The Atlantic coastal states of Massachusetts through North Carolina have scheduled public hearings to gather public comment. The North Carolina public hearing will be Monday, Jan. 9, at 6  p.m. at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information, contact Chris Batsavage at 252-808-8009.

For more information on the public hearings in the other states, contact Kirby Rootes-Murdy at [email protected] 703-842-0740.

Joint MFC advisory committee meeting on inshore trawling set

Five MFC advisory committees will meet jointly at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, 203 South Front St., New Bern.

The Finfish, Shellfish/Crustacean, Habitat and Water Quality, Northern Regional and Southern Regional advisory committees will listen to public comments, have their own discussion and comment on the petition for rulemaking that was submitted Nov. 2 by the N.C. Wildlife Federation. The petition calls for habitat protections that would impact shrimp trawl fishing in most North Carolina waters.

The petition asks the MFC to designate all coastal fishing waters (including the ocean out to three miles) not otherwise designated as nursery areas as special secondary nursery areas, establish clear criteria for the opening of shrimp season and define the type of gear and how and when gear may be used in special secondary nursery areas during shrimp season.

Specific requests of the petition include:

* Limiting shrimp trawling to three days a week in the daytime only in special secondary nursery areas.

*Limiting the total trawl head rope to 90 feet (which will limit the size of the net) in all state waters.

* Limiting tow times to 45 minutes in special secondary nursery areas.

* Opening shrimp season once the shrimp count in Pamlico Sound reaches 60 shrimp per pound, heads on.

* Implementing an 8-inch size limit for spot and a 10-inch size limit for American croaker.

* Requiring all fishermen to use two Division of Marine Fisheries certified bycatch reduction devices when trawling in state waters.

The commission will discuss and vote on the petition for rulemaking at its February business meeting.

Public comment will be accepted at the meeting. To accommodate as many speakers as possible, there will be a three-minute time limit on each comment.

Written public comments will be accepted through Friday, Jan. 20, by sending an email to [email protected] or by mail to:

NCWF Petition – Marine Fisheries Commission Office – N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries – PO Box 769 – Morehead City, N.C. 28557.

A copy of the petition is available on the Marine Fisheries Commission website at www.ncdmf.net.

For more information, contact Nancy Fish, division liaison to the Marine Fisheries Commission, at 252-808-8021 or [email protected].

ASMFC South Atlantic Board releases Cobia PID for comment

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s South Atlantic State/Federal Fisheries Management Board has released the Public Information Document (PID) for the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Cobia for public comment.

As the first step in the FMP development process, the PID provides stakeholders with an opportunity to inform the ASMFC about changes observed in the fishery and provide feedback on potential management measures, plus any additional issues that should be included in the Draft FMP. Specifically, the PID seeks comment on the management unit, goals and objectives of the plan, commercial and recreational measures, coastwide, regional or state-by-state measures and other issues.

The ASMFC released the PID in response to a request by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) for the ASMFC to consider joint or complementary management of cobia in light of the significant overage of the 2015 recreational annual catch limit (ACL) and the impact of those overages to state management. Recreational landings of the Atlantic Cobia Migratory Group in 2015 were approximately 1.5 million pounds, which is 145 percent over the ACL, resulting in a June 20 closure of the fishery by NOAA Fisheries. Commercial cobia landings in 2015 were 83,148 pounds, 38 percent over the ACL.

Cobia, which are widely distributed throughout the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, are managed as two distinct groups – the Gulf Migratory Group and the Atlantic Migratory Group. The Atlantic Migratory Group, which ranges from New York to Georgia, is managed by the SAFMC. The east coast of Florida falls under the Gulf Migratory Group. The SAFMC manages the east coast of Florida sub-ACL, which is set by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

The 2016 closure, which was in response to the 2015 overage, created concerns in states whose recreational seasons would have been significantly reduced by the closure. North Carolina and Virginia developed alternate management strategies to reduce economic impacts to their state fisheries, which resulted in differing regulations for federal and state water fishing. An intent of a complementary Cobia FMP is to provide the states the flexibility to respond to changes in the fishery and stock that meet their state fisheries needs without impacting federal fishermen while meeting the goals and objectives of the FMP.

Stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on the PID either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. The PID can be found at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/CobiaPID_PublicComment.pdf or via the commission’s website, www.asmfc.org, under Public Input. Public comment will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 6, and should be forwarded to Dr. Louis Daniel, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, Va. 22201, sent by fax to 703-842-0741 or by emailed to [email protected] with the subject line “Cobia PID.”

   Atlantic Menhaden Draft Amendment 3 PID released for comment

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board has released the Public Information Document (PID) for Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden for public comment.

As the first step in the amendment process, the document seeks input from stakeholders and those interested in Atlantic menhaden about changes observed in the fishery/resource and potential management measures.

Draft Amendment 3 was initiated following board review and acceptance of the 2015 Stock Assessment and Peer Review report, which found the menhaden resource in good condition – not overfished nor experiencing overfishing. The PID outlines a number of issues in the fishery and solicits feedback on how the resource should be managed. In addition to the specific issues identified in the PID, those who comment are welcome to provide input on all aspects of the fishery and resource, including recommendations for future management.

Stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on the PID either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. The North Carolina public hearing will be Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 5:30 p.m. at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries office in Morehead City. For more information, contact Michelle Duval at 252-808-8013.

The PID can be found at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/AtlMenhadenAmend3PID_PublicComment.pdf or via the commission’s website, www.asmfc.org, under “Public Input.” Public comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Jan. 4 and should be forwarded to Megan Ware, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, Va. 22201, sent by fax to 703-842-0741 or by email to [email protected] with the subject line “Menhaden PID.”

The management board will meet at the commission’s 2017 winter meeting on Feb. 2-4 in Alexandria, Va., to review and consider public comment and provide direction to staff for items to be included in the Draft Amendment 3.

Beat the January cold  at boat/fishing expos, fishing schools

When fishing slows during the winter, fishermen can enjoy cruising boat and fishing expos, and there are also opportunities to learn a few tips on catching more fish.

The big shows for January and early February are the Bass and Saltwater Expo in Raleigh, www.ncboatshows.com, (Friday-Sunday, Jan. 13-15), the Carolina Outdoor Expo in Greenville, www.carolinaoutdoorexpo.com, (Friday-Sunday, Jan. 27-29) and the Raleigh Convention Center Boat Show in Raleigh, www.raleighconvention.com/boatshow, (Friday-Sunday, Feb. 3-5). 

There are also a couple of fishing schools of note. The Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series (www.nationalseminarseries.com) is often considered the grandfather of these events, and it will be making a stop in Wilmington on Saturday, Jan. 14. The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department will present its annual Saltwater Fishing School (http://oakisland.recdesk.com) twice this year on Saturdays, Feb. 4 and 8. This school features Capt. Jimmy Price and myself and lasts all day, with lunch included. For the past several years, this school has filled in advance, so for 2017, it is being offered twice.

NCWRC and N.C. aquariums host ongoing fishing programs

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission operates four education centers across the state and offers a variety of fishing and outdoor education programs.

The closest of the education centers is the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville. Others are at the Centennial Campus Center at N.C. State University in Raleigh, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education in Pisgah Forest.

For more information on the centers and their programs, go to the Wildlife Resources Commission website at www.ncwildlife.org and open the “Learning” tab. The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center also has a Facebook page.

The North Carolina aquariums offer fishing and other outdoor programs through their aquariums and Jeanette’s Pier in Nags Head. The Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium is local, and others are at Fort Fisher and Manteo.

For more information on the aquariums and their programs, visit www.ncaquariums.com and select your preferred location

Wildlife Commission to hold public hearings

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) will hold nine public hearings in January on 39 proposed changes to WRC regulations related to wildlife management, fisheries and game lands for the 2017-18 seasons.

Three proposed regulations would redefine youth as anyone under 18 years old and allow them to participate during the youth either-sex deer hunts, Youth Deer Hunting Day and Spring Youth-only Wild Turkey Season (H2); Youth-only Delayed Harvest Trout Water Season (F9) and any youth hunts on game lands (G2). These proposal would not change any license requirements.

Proposed regulation (D1) would establish guidelines and set standards for the commission to carry out the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (WVC). The N.C. General Assembly adopted the WVC in 2008, which creates a way for member states to: (1) Promote compliance of hunting, fishing and trapping regulations in their respective states, and (2) Provide for the fair and impartial treatment of persons committing wildlife violations in member states. The WVC requires the WRC and Marine Fisheries Commission to adopt rules necessary to carry out its purpose.

Among the wildlife management-related proposed changes is one that would eliminate the use of paper Big Game Harvest Record sheets (H7). Hunters would report their big game harvest either by phone or Internet. This proposal would complete the conversion of big game harvest reporting from paper to an electronic registration system, which began with turkey harvest reporting in 2003.

Four game land proposals would add nearly 7,300 acres to the commission’s Game Lands Program. If passed:

* 156 acres would be established as the new Hill Farm Game Land, which borders the Dan River in northwestern Stokes County and would be designated a permit-only area (G7).

* 2,400 acres of the 3,170-acre Rendezvous Mountain State Forest in Wilkes County would be enrolled in the Game Lands Program as a three-days-per-week game land with bear hunting prohibited, as requested by the N.C. Forest Service, which owns the tract (G9).

* 2,818 acres of the newly acquired Voice of America tract in Beaufort County would become a permit-only area (G13).

*1,925 acres would be established as the new William H. Silver Game Land in Haywood County, which would be a six-days-per-week game land with an introductory either-sex deer season (G14).

More information on all of the proposed regulations to the agency’s wildlife management, game lands, fishing and other agency regulations for the 2017-18 seasons can be found online at www.ncwildlife.org. Comments on the proposed regulations and changes will be accepted through Wednesday, Feb. 1. Comments may be submitted at the public hearings during January by going online, emailing to [email protected] or mailing to: Rules Coordinator – N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission – 1701 Mail Service Center – Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1701.

The WRC will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 7, to review the public comments and vote on the proposals. Approved proposals will become effective Tuesday, Aug. 1.

Public hearings will begin at 7 p.m. at:

* Jan. 10: Bladen Community College Auditorium, Dublin.

* Jan. 11: Southern Alamance High School, Graham.

* Jan. 12: Stanley County Agri-Civic Center, Albemarle.

* Jan. 17: Haywood Community College Auditorium, Clyde.

* Jan. 18: Western Piedmont Community College, Leviton Auditorium, Morganton.

* Jan. 19: Elkin High School, Elkin.

* Jan. 24: Chowan County Public Safety Center, Edenton.

* Jan. 25: Craven Community College, Orringer Auditorium, New Bern.

* Jan. 26: Nash Community College, Brown Auditorium, Rocky Mount.

Tagged shark watch

It appears we will begin 2017 with a variety of Ocearch tagged sharks off the Carolinas.

Beginning off the Outer Banks, Montauk and Manhattan, a pair of great white sharks and Crystal, a tiger shark, are between the beach and the Continental Shelf from Cape Hatteras to the north, while Don, a blue shark, is in the open ocean offshore of the Continental Shelf.

MacAttack and Triton are another pair of blue sharks that have been roaming between the Continental Shelf and Bermuda off Central North Carolina.

Cisco, Mary lee and Yeti are all great white sharks off South Carolina. Cisco moved from around Frying Pan Tower to off Cape Romain this week. Mary Lee has been just beyond the Continental Shelf South, southeast of Charleston for a while, and Yeti has found something interesting a few miles off the beach at Hilton Head.

You can follow the travels of all these sharks and numerous other tagged sharks around the world, by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.       

Fisheries meetings

Jan. 9:  Marine Fisheries Commission Shrimp Bycatch Reduction Industry Work Group Workshop 3, 10:30 a.m., New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, New Bern.

Contact Kevin Brown at 252-808-8089 or [email protected]

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Jan. 9: ASMFC Summer Flounder Public Hearing, 6 p.m., NCDMF Central District Office, Morehead City.

Contact Chris Batsavage at 252-808-8009 or [email protected]

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Jan. 11:  Public Hearing on Proposed Shellfish Bottom and Water Column Leases, 6 p.m., Hyde County Courthouse, Swan Quarter.

Contact Steve Murphey at 252-808-8046 or [email protected]

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Jan. 17: Joint MFC Advisory Committee Hearing on N.C. Wildlife Federation Inshore Trawling Reduction Petition for Rulemaking, 12:30 p.m., New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, New Bern.

Contact Nancy Fish at 252-808-8021 or [email protected].

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Jan. 18: Public Hearings for Shellfish Leases, 6 p.m., DMF Central District Office, Morehead City.

Contact Marla J. Chuffo at 252-808-8048 or [email protected].

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Jan. 25: Wildlife Resources Commission Public Hearing, 7 p.m., Craven Community College, Orringer Auditorium, New Bern, www.ncwildlife.org.

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Jan. 30-Feb. 2: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Winter Meeting, Westin Alexandria, Alexandria, Va., www.asmfc.org.                               

Tournaments, seminars, sows, other events

Sept. 1-Dec. 31: Chasin’ Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge, Chasin’ Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.

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Oct. 16-Jan. 31: Intracoastal Angler Speckled Trout Tournament, Intracoastal Angler, Wilmington, www.intracoastalangler.com

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Jan. 7: Intro to Flyfishing Seminar, Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning

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Jan. 10: Swordfishing Seminar, EJW Outdoors, Morehead City, www.ejwoutdoors.com.

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Jan. 13-14: Striperfest, Cape Fear River Watch, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, N.C., www.cfrw.us

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Jan. 13-15: Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo, N.C. State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, N.C., www.ncboatshows.com

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Jan. 14: Cape Fear River Watch All Release Striper Tournament, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, N.C., www.cfrw.us

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Jan. 14: Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, Grand Ballroom, Wilmington Hilton Riverside, Wilmington, N.C., ww.nationalseminarseries.com.

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Happy New Year and good fishing.

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