PORTLAND - Recreational and commercial fishers off Washington's Pacific coast will face new and continued restrictions to protect weak groundfish stocks, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Sharply reduced rockfish harvest quotas for the 2003 fishery were adopted Sept. 13 by the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which sets fishing limits in U.S. waters 3-200 miles offshore. Review and approval of the fishing package is expected from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce later this year.
Under the new rules, recreational fishers off the Washington coast will be governed by more restrictive bag limits to protect overfished species, such as yelloweye and canary rockfish.
Rockfish are long-lived fish that grow slowly and some species don't reproduce until their late teens, making them susceptible to overfishing. They are caught in directed fisheries by both recreational and commercial fishers, and incidentally in fisheries targeting halibut.
In addition to the direct harvest restrictions, recreational fishers will not be allowed to fish for halibut or groundfish in a newly developed yelloweye rockfish conservation area off the north Washington coast.
Nearshore groundfish species that make up the bulk of the recreational catch remain healthy, and sport fishers will continue to have access to these species, including lingcod, said Phil Anderson, WDFW special assistant to the director and the department's representative to the PFMC.
Commercial pink shrimp, longline and trawl fishers will also be subject to new restrictions in 2003. Large areas of the coast will be closed to longline and trawl fisheries, while pink shrimp fishers will be required to install special gear in their nets that allows fish to safely pass through unharmed. The PFMC also imposed severe harvest restrictions in all commercial groundfisheries.
A recent survey of Pacific Coast groundfish species showed that nine stocks are overfished. Federal fisheries management rules require that stock recovery plans be developed for those stocks. Anderson noted that even with no fishing impacts, some groundfish stocks would take up to a century to achieve full recovery.
State and federal fisheries managers have already taken several steps to reduce fishing-related impacts to weak groundfish stocks. WDFW has closed a prime halibut-fishing area off the Washington coast to recreational fishing because of the potential for excessive incidental rockfish catch. Also, commercial fishers have enacted a voluntary closure of all commercial fisheries in a four-mile by seven-mile area adjacent the recreational halibut fishery closure area.
"The long-term objectives of our fisheries management actions are to help bring about recovery of over-fished species, and to ensure the economic stability of fishery-dependent communities such as Bellingham, Neah Bay, Westport and Ilwaco," said Anderson.