SACRAMENTO–Harvests of important groundfish species such as lingcod and some rockfish species off the Washington coast will be cut drastically in 2000 to help the fish stocks rebuild.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) reduced the harvests today in response to the low populations of lingcod, canary rockfish and a rockfish species called Pacific ocean perch.
Similar harvest reductions will take place off the Oregon and California coasts to protect those species as well as cowcod and boccacio.
Sport and commercial fisheries will be affected by the conservation measures. Waters from three to 200 miles off the Washington coast are managed by the PFMC, a federal agency on which the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has one seat.
The PFMC action on ocean groundfish species comes at the same time WDFW is developing groundfish protection plans to rebuild depressed groundfish stocks in Puget Sound, which is managed by the state. Department scientists presently are drafting recovery plans for Pacific herring, Pacific cod, Pacific hake, walleye -pollock and brown, copper and quillback rockfish.
"We're moving aggressively to get these plans done and then put them into practice," WDFW Director Jeff Koenings said. "Similar to our efforts to recover troubled salmon stocks, the department's underlying management approach will be extremely precautionary. If we make mistakes while we pursue efforts to rebuild any of these resources, our goal is to error on the side of conservation."
Yesterday, the PFMC reduced catch limits for sport fishers taking lingcod and rockfish off the Washington coast.
The current 12-month season with a two-fish daily limit for lingcod will be reduced to a season from April 1 to Oct. 31. The daily bag limit will be one fish which must be at least 24 inches in length.
Sport anglers may continue to catch 10 rockfish per day in their 12-month season, but anglers will be restricted to two canary and two yelloweye rockfish per day.
The PFMC also implemented a number of restrictions designed to reduce that commercial harvest of lingcod and other stocks in trouble up to 80 percent for some species.
Phil Anderson, WDFW's representative to the PFMC, said certain commercial fishing gear is not selective as it catches groundfish in the deep waters off the Washington coast. The large cutbacks in commercial fishing were necessary to protect the stocks in trouble, even though some ocean groundfish stocks are healthy.
The commercial fishing reductions will be accomplished through a variety of techniques, including:
- Restricting the nets that may be used
- Severely limiting the use of rollers and other gear that enable trawl fishers to pull their nets across rocky bottoms where several of the stocks in poor condition tend to live
- Limiting the harvests of some fish species
"These fish stocks can recover if we can reduce the harvest and account for the wastage that occurs at sea," Anderson said.
"These measures are tough and they will hurt many fishing families but these cuts are necessary to ensure healthy groundfish populations for future generations.
He explained the steep decline in lingcod and some other groundfish species occurred due to overfishing and low reproduction due to poor ocean conditions. Those conditions included a warming of the water over the last decade and declines in the abundance of plankton and forage fish at the bottom of the food chain.
The water in Puget Sound also has been warming over the recent decade. Scientists from the state, federal government and treaty tribes also believe overharvests and predation by marine mammals and other fish species also are responsible for the decline of some Puget Sound stocks.
The National Marine Fisheries Service currently is trying to determine if those Puget Sound stocks should receive federal Endangered Species Act protection. That decision is scheduled to be announced in February.
In December, WDFW plans to take a comprehensive draft Puget Sound groundfish recovery plan to the public for review. It likely will propose harvest reductions and the creation of a marine reserve system to help stocks recover.
Anderson noted that some of the stocks in trouble, such as rockfish, grow slowly, live for decades and reproduce at very low levels.
He said an important element of recovering groundfish stocks in the ocean is to improve the accounting of total catch through the use of impartial observers on fishing boats.
Federal legislation now under discussion in Congress would, if passed, provide funds for the observer programs. The pending Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), among other things, would also provide monies for an array of fish conservation and habitat restoration activities.