Feb. 2000 Fish and Game Commission Meeting
Interim measures for the management of the nearshore commercial rock fishery came up at the Commission meeting in Long Beach. While current law in this state requires the Commission and the Department to devise a fisheries management plan for rockfish, the Commission is developing temporary measures to be out in place until the state of the resource can be better evaluated. I, Gene Kramer, spoke on one of those measures, limited entry. The Department proposed setting a cap in the number of entrants into the fishery at about 900 fishermen, each with a current bag limit of 250 pounds per month. While this is a low bag limit by historic standards, I reminded the Commission that even this amount of pressure was not sustainable. This is a resource that has been hit hard already, and a resource with a rather narrow range, only in rocky areas out to perhaps 80 feet of water. The prime depths being fished now are 10 to 50 feet. The linear area per fishermen may be a half mile or less of coastline, given 900 fishermen and about 900 miles of coast, about half of which is rocky. The kelp beds cover less than 100 square miles. I urged the Commission to set the number of commercial fishermen at a level that they could legally make a living and not destroy the resource, perhaps at only 100 fishermen. If you have only one chicken at home for dinner, don't invite 50 people over for dinner.
Fisheries Forum with the California Legislature
At the March 1 Fisheries Forum, Bob Humphrey, a local sport diver and the Marine Resources Director of CENCAL, presented the following testimony to the legislature. He was the only sport fisherman to testify.
"My name is Bob Humphrey and I represent the Central California Council of Dive Clubs. Mike Malone, Legislative Chair for United Anglers of Southern California has asked me to speak in their behalf as well. Beyond representing Cencal and United Anglers I would like to think that I also represent the over one million recreational divers and fishermen statewide.
For 25 years I have had a strong love for freediving. Some people might go so far as to call it an addiction! I enjoy being able to provide my family of seven with fresh fish that I have learned to harvest from our wonderful ocean. I also love to competitively spearfish and am currently the central and northern California champion.
All divers, whether photographers, sightseers, or spearfishers have something to offer society that is completely unique. We are the public's undersea eyes. We are able to return to the same dive sites, year after year, and visually monitor what is happening with the fish and their habitat. While our observations may be considered "anecdotal", they nonetheless offer powerful testimony and should be respected.
It is our ability to visually observe the resource that has caused us to become concerned. The divers I am in contact with, especially those who have been diving for a number of years, almost universally testify to alarming declines in nearshore fish populations. I asked some of my fellow divers if they would write about some of their observations so I could bring them with me. I have over twenty of them here and would be happy to share them with you.
Corroborating our observations, scientific surveys have generated the same concerns. A 1994 CDFG report to the Legislature stated in part"The magnitude of commercial take has risen from about half the sport take to about double the sport take. The two fisheries also generally fish the same areas for the same fish stocks. It is not known how much additional harvest the species of concern can sustain without causing additional (italics mine) long term damage to fish stocks." Since this report was made, harvest of one of the species of concern, the cabezon, the nearshore commercial fishery's most sought after species, has increased tremendously. In 1994, the commercial landings of this nearshore species totaled 37 metric tons. In 1998 the landings totaled 169.6 metric tons! Some commercial representatives have called the nearshore commercial fishery a "clean" fishery that is high value and low impact. We feel they are half right, it is a high value fishery but, considering the small size of the habitat area, this magnitude of increased harvest has a relatively high impact and is surely resulting in a rapid depletion of the resource.
In 1989 the CDFG contracted with Ecoscan for a study designed to measure the area of kelp covered coastline. Ecoscan found an amazingly small 74 square miles of kelp from Mexico to Oregon. This is highly significant since the kelp forest is the predominant habitat of the cabezon. To put this into perspective, Lake Tahoe has an area of about 190 square miles. If you can imagine a thousand boats, wielding up to150 hooks each, hauling in 170 metric tons of cabezon a year out of an area about one third the size of Lake Tahoe, you should be able to understand our concern.
We are pleased that you have largely delegated the responsibility of managing the nearshore fisheries to the Fish and Game Commission and we encourage movement in that direction. We are also pleased with the direction the MLMA seems to be taking us and we commend you for that. So what would we like to see happen?
In light of our serious concerns that the nearshore fish stocks are headed into wholesale depletion, we have two requests that we feel you can actually do something with:
We encourage you to ensure that future Commission members are proactively conservative in their viewpoints. To us that means that they have a clear understanding of the issues and are oriented toward a precautionary approach to management. According to NMFS, the precautionary approach makes those who claim that a resource can sustain a harvest, shoulder the burden of proof. In former times, the burden of proof belonged on those who said the resource couldn't handle a harvest. The lack of a precautionary approach to natural resource management is at the root of the decimation of so many of our resources. We must change that now, and it's in your power to do it.
Since funding has such a major impact on the ability of managers to do an effective job of research, management, and enforcement, we urge you to allocate more money to the process.
We feel it's important that each sector contributes an amount that is proportional to their impact but a major inequity exists in current funding. A comparison of nearshore catches of cabezon shows the commercial industry's harvest to be 2.5 to 3 times the recreational harvest. This is hardly proportional to the industry's contribution to management!
In 1998, a 10% excise tax on recreational tackle, fuel, and other fishing related items allowed a contribution of $1,264,800 to the Sport Fish Restoration Project. This project funded monitoring and management of both the recreational and commercial fisheries. How much did the commercial fishery contribute to fisheries management out of the 3 million dollars they made? Would you believe1601.00? That represents the total landings of rockfish (1,231,516 Lbs.) multiplied by the landings tax of .0013/lb. The following year, another 100 to 200 thousand dollars was generated from a 125.00/ fisherman nearshore permit fee.
We urge the introduction and passage of bills designed to have users pay proportional to their impact.
I would like to close with this. Market forces are hard at work in the nearshore fishery. These forces will work quickly to decimate the resource. Right now we are seeing the biological equivalent of the Gold Rush. If we don't act soon, it will be too late.
We divers sounded the alarm about the coming collapse of the abalone fishery south of San Francisco. We weren't listened to until it was too late. We are hoping that we can avoid a repeat of that debacle. Please take a stand, first for the resource. Then we can take a deep breath and start talking about allocations without worrying that there won't be a resource to negotiate over."