"Chat Room" Fishery Management
by Jim Martin
Anderson Valley Advertiser January 4, 2001
Zeke Grader was slumped in his chair at the DFG meeting in Eureka on December 9, 2000. The Commission had formally assigned an allocation preference to the public, rather than private commercial interests. Grader is a second-generation commercial fishing lobbyist, so he has undue clout with the legislature, and with the DFG. Until recently, the California state legislature had set fishing regulations. With the collapse of nearly every significant fishery in the state, they handed over the authority to the DFG Commission and the Department is less likely to succumb to lobbying in favor of science.
Fishery management moves fast, fish being wild animals in a fluid environment (also known as "water" outside Sacramento.) The quick way to access developments and regulations for most of us is the Internet. Bob Humphrey, Marine Resources Director for Anglers Unlimited of Southern California, is a free diver who competes in national spearfishing championships - last year, he came in second. In his spare time from his job as a firefighter in the Bay Area, he has worked on preserving nearshore stocks of rockfish.
The DFG Commission holds its meetings in far-flung places such as Redding, Eureka, San Diego, and Sacramento. It's difficult for the average person to make it to the meetings and become involved in the process. Bob Humphrey persuaded the DFG to moderate a listserve for public discussion of regulatory changes on the internet. The "CAnearshore List" started up in October, and soon hundreds of messages a week were being exchanged. "CA Nearshore" has become a valuable and direct point of contact with the DFG and the regulatory process. It's a source of information about current regulations, both sport and commercial; it's a forum for discussion between various "stakeholders" such as anglers, environmentalists, commercial fishers, and DFG personnel. The discussion on CAnearshore did clarify a number of issues, and apparently caused the Department to recommend much more strict limits on commercial fishing to the Commissioners. The Commission approved the Department recommendations as a whole.
Zeke Grader is afraid that CAnearshore might develop into a true public hearing on the internet. If that happens, people from all over the state will be able to monitor developing regulations. No longer will meetings packed with bussed-in commercial fishermen be able to shout down the voice of the public. No more back-room deals. It's a depressing prospect if you are a commercial fishing lobbyist. Here's the PR from Grader's outfit: "Fishlinks Sub-legals":
"CHAT-ROOM MANAGEMENT" - CALIFORNIA THUMBS NOSE AT MLMA, REALLOCATES NEARSHORE FISHERIES TO RECREATIONAL USERS: Forget science, forget the law, the California Fish & Game Commission today, 8 December, voted to reallocate a substantial portion of the available harvest of three nearshore fish stocks - cabezon, kelp and rock greenling, and sheepshead - from commercial fishermen to recreational anglers and divers. At its Friday meeting in Eureka, the Commission, along with its advisors from the Department of Fish & Game (CDFG), based this "interim management decision" largely on information gathered from an internet chat-room set up originally by sport fishermen for the nearshore fishery. At no point in the deliberations, except for the presentation by PCFFA, was there any discussion of the requirements of law - the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA) and its nearshore provisions that gave the Commission authority over this fishery. And, there was almost no discussion on what science existed for managing the stocks or what was even needed. Instead, the Commission and Department choose to act on self-serving statements and hysteria generated from the chat-room. [...] "When we [PCFFA] drafted the Nearshore Fisheries Act and then supported its inclusion in the MLMA and worked hard for passage of that legislation, we naively thought we could get fair treatment by the Commission - that both it and the Department would follow the law. Boy, were we wrong," said an angry and exasperated Zeke Grader following the meeting. The PCFFA Executive Director, went on to say, "it was no accident the Legislature has kept most commercial fishing regulation away from the Commission for the past 60 years out of a justified fear that hunting and fishing cronies of an incumbent governor, given the chance, would screw any commercial fishery where there was also a sport take. And that's what happened today, the Commission and Department just cloaked this blatant reallocation in conservation clothes."
Grader had it exactly backwards. What the DFG did was prevent the reallocation of the fishing public to private commercial interests. Commercials have fished it down to the nubs. In order to comply with federally-mandated rebuilding plans, if the commercials are going to maintain their poundage, DFG must cut directly into the allocation of sport anglers, who already took a 30% cut last year. Sportfishing is reduced from historic levels, half of what it was in the 80s. Commercial fishing has exploded nearshore, especially with the livefishing for City fish markets. The fish are also flown out of the country.
The DFG tabled the discussion of the United Anglers proposal to limit the livefishers to less efficient gear (banning fish traps and set gear that can be left overnight) until the next meeting in February. The Commissioners chose, instead, to adopt complicated trip limits, 4-day a week closures, and monthly quotas for commercials.
For the local sport angler, lingcod fishing reopened on January 1. 2001, with a 26-inch size limit and a 2-fish bag limit. Last year's 10-rockfish bag limit will apply this year as well. There will be a 4-month closure in 2001 on rockfishing, March, April, May, and June, with the exception of "minor" rockfishing (basically, anything but lingcod) in May and June, inside 20 fathoms (120 feet). Cabezon must be 15 inches or larger. The number of hooks allowed while fishing for rockfish and lingcod has been reduced from three to two. Essentially, this is another large cut in sport take.
Mike Malone, Legislative Director of United Anglers, said, "Although some would characterize the Commission actions as bold and successful, I believe they have been sold, with no ill will on their part, a traditional management approach which fails to recognize the fundamental characteristics of the targeted fish - they are RESIDENTIAL - and set in motion a system which is fundamentally contrary to a conservation ethic."
If the current level of commercial live rockfishing continues, there is no future for nearshore stocks. The United Anglers proposal, on the agenda for the next DFG meeting in Sacramento on February 2nd and 3rd, may be the last chance for a sustainable commercial fishery, as well as a key to rebuilding the stocks. I'll be at the meeting. Until then, maybe I'll "see" you in the "chat room."