PORTLAND–Rebuilding efforts for some valuable Pacific Ocean groundfish stocks would mean significant reductions in commercial and sport fishing off the Washington coast next year, based on proposals developed today by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Federal law requires the council, which manages fishing in federal waters off California, Oregon and Washington, to produce stock rebuilding plans for lingcod, a rockfish called Pacific ocean perch and California boccacio, another rockfish species, because of their low numbers for next year. The poor condition of two other Pacific groundfish species, canary rockfish and cowcod, another California species, will require similar rebuilding plans by 2001.
Because commercial fishing gear, such as trawl nets, catch many species, opportunities to harvest healthy groundfish stocks, including some rockfish species and flatfish such as sole, would have to be reduced to rebuild the lingcod and other stocks. Sport fishing for popular species such as lingcod also may be limited to protect them.
After public review of the rebuilding options, the council will meet in November to select specific fishing plans.
"Some very popular and valuable stocks, such as lingcod, are in poor condition in the ocean. Rebuilding them is going to take more sacrifices from fishers, processors and our coastal communities," said Phil Anderson, a PFMC member and special assistant for Intergovernmental Affairs to Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Anderson noted Washington's fishing industry and coastal towns already have had serious economic setbacks due to conservation efforts designed to rebuild wild salmon stocks.
Anderson said the steep decline in the lingcod and other Pacific groundfish stocks was due to changes in the ocean that scientists did not detect soon enough. Changes in the ocean included a warming of the water in the last decade and declines in the abundance of plankton and forage fish at the bottom of the food chain.
Fish managers in recent years allowed excessive harvests of lingcod, Pacific ocean perch and other rockfish species because they didn't realize the effect of the changing ocean environment on the groundfish, Anderson said.
"We've been harvesting groundfish faster than they can reproduce," he explained.
The overharvest of the groundfish was compounded by the fact that those species grow slowly and don't reach reproductive size for years. Unlike salmon, many groundfish species live a long time and are difficult to count because they don't return to freshwater to spawn.
The public is being asked to comment on how deep harvests should be cut and how the reductions should be accomplished. Cutbacks could be accomplished by reducing the fishing seasons for commercial and sport fishers, limiting catches, banning commercial fishing in certain areas or depths and by other management techniques.
Compared to the 1999 harvests, the council is considering the following overall harvest percentage reductions for these species:
- Lingcod (coastwide): 48-54 percent. Currently, Washington sport fishers may catch two lingcod per day all year. The PFMC is considering proposals that would reduce the sport catch to two lingcod per day from June through August or one per day from April through September
- Pacific ocean perch (Oregon and Washington): 51-55 percent. Pacific ocean perch are not caught in sport fisheries
- Canary rockfish (coastwide): 89 percent. Currently Washington sport fishers may keep 10 rockfish per day. The PFMC may change the regulation to a limit of two canary rockfish in a daily limit of 10 rockfish
In June, Koenings announced WDFW was developing scientifically based conservation plans to rebuild seven Puget Sound groundfish stocks being considered for federal Endangered Species Act protection by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The Puget Sound stocks being reviewed by NMFS are Pacific herring, Pacific cod, Pacific hake, walleye pollock and brown, copper and quillback rockfish.
WDFW believes the Puget Sound stocks are in decline for several reasons, including harvest and predation by marine mammals and other fish species. Warmer water in Puget Sound also appears to be playing a role in their decline.