Catch limits set to protect coastal fishes


November 28, 2000

There will be fewer fish in the sea available for the Pacific coast commercial and
recreational ground-fish industries next year.

As expected, federal fishery regulations are being tightened to reduce the kinds and
amount of ground fish and rockfish that can be taken along the U.S. coast from
Mexico to Canada.

In some cases the regulations, which cover popular fish such as red snapper, sole and
cod, reduce allowable catches by more than 50 percent.

"Grim," said Tommy Ancona, skipper of the Fort Bragg trawler Caito Bros.

"This is just one more cutback in ground fishing in a long, long series of cuts in the
amount of fish we can land," he said.

No estimate of the financial impact of cuts this season was immediately available.
However, the ground-fish industry has been in decline for several years. The value of
ground, or bottom, fish sold at the dock fell from $72 million in 1994 to $52 million in

"Obviously, there is going to be significant impacts on the coastal communities and
fishing industries," Ancona said. "There will be less fish available to consumers, and
jobs in the coastal communities are going to see cutbacks."

The regulation changes also will affect the recreational-fishing industry.

Rick Powers, who skippers the New Sea Angler in Bodega Bay and also books fishing
parties on several other recreational boats, said the 10-fish limit remains in place for
sports anglers.

However, he said, the recreational boats will not be allowed to fish in waters deeper
than 120 feet, which will make the big-fish-rich waters 20 miles out off limits.
Nonetheless, he said, sports boats should be able to operate within the new rules.

"We will be able to modify our business and run coastal, shallow-water rockfish trips
out of Bodega," Powers said.

The regulations are subject to change throughout the year if the Pacific Fishery
Management Council determines its projections on the number of fish in the ocean
are faulty.

"If our crystal ball is perfect, it will be the way it is all year, but that has never
happened," said Jim Glock, staff officer for the council's ground-fish management

The regulations, recently adopted by the council, go into effect Jan. 1.

Glock said the rules reflect federal and state regulators' concerns that ground-fish
species are declining with a fleet too big for the number of fish.

"We're trying to maintain year-round fishing for both commercial and recreational
boats," he said. "But we have too many boats for everybody to be doing whatever
they want."

The council earlier this fall approved a long-term plan to reduce the fleet of some 2,000
commercial boats fishing the Pacific coast and to establish comprehensive programs
for restoring overfished species.

In the meantime, to keep the industry operating from one year to the next, the council
reconfigures catch limits and season calendars according to the latest information on
the health of fish populations.

Highlights of the 2001 ground-fish management plan include:

Catches for commercial fishing boats will be reduced for nearly all species.

For example, takes of sablefish will be reduced by 13 percent off the Central and North
coasts, Oregon and Washington, and by 55 percent off Southern California.

Widow and canary rockfish limits will be cut by 47 percent and 54 percent,
respectively. Limits for sole will be cut by 19 percent.

The amount of fish that trawlers may take during two-month periods throughout the
year was reduced for some species.

For example, last year trawlers could take 55,000 pounds of Dover sole during this
past January and February, but will be limited to 35,000 pounds of sole during the
same two months next year.

Catches for lingcod and Pacific ocean perch, however, will be increased. The
allowable lingcod take will be increased by 62 percent and the perch take will go up 12
percent. The increases were approved because the amount of fish taken this year was
much less than anticipated.

Catches for canary rockfish were cut by 54 percent as part of a plan to rebuild that
species over the next 50 years, and a 95-year rebuilding plan was approved for
cowcod, a rockfish species found in Southern California waters. The council declared
widow and darkblotched rockfish overfished and directed its staff to prepare
rebuilding plans for those two species.

Sports anglers in California waters will still be able to take home 10 rockfish, but the
kinds of fish allowed have been adjusted to reflect concerns about overfishing. For
example, the limit on bocaccio went from three to two, and for canary from three to

Glock said the new rules attempt to catch up with a natural resource that has slipped
out of control.

"In some cases we had stocks declining and we didn't know it, and in some cases
we've dug ourselves into pretty deep holes," he said.

Ancona, however, took issue with the term "overfished" that regulators use to
describe the problem.

"We have not been overfishing," he said. "We have been fishing under federal
mandates for over a decade. If there is a problem it is from mismanagement."

Karen Garrison, an analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council in San
Francisco, faulted the council plan for next year for failing to place observers on
commercial boats to more accurately monitor the fishery.

Glock said the council has approved a $2.3 million observer program, which will put 20
observers aboard the Pacific coast fleet, but it remains on hold until Congress
approves the funding.