State Plans To Close Rockfish Season Friday, October 5, 2001

Fish and Game officials say two species are depleted, forcing second closure this year

October 4, 2001
By Carol Benfell The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

State officials are expected to close the rockfish season for sports fishermen on Friday, a move that is sending an economic shock wave through the Bodega Bay fishing community.

Rockfish -- several species of fish found near rocks on the sea floor -- are the primary catch of fishermen this time of year.

Closing the fishery now, at the height of the season, will affect hotels, party boat operators, restaurants and retailers who rely on angler-tourists for their income.

Consumers will also feel the pinch because restaurants and fish markets will have to get their fish from farther away.

"It hits our community because of the people who come to town for sport fishing. Our whole town is affected," said Dawn Kennedy, a director of the Bodega Bay Chamber of Commerce.

Still, the closure is designed to protect the fish and the future of the fishery.

Fish and Game said it is seeking the emergency closure, which would last through Dec. 31, because the catch of two sensitive species -- bocaccio and canary rock fish --has already reached the annual harvest limit.

"Many of the rockfish stocks are very depleted," said Steve Wirtz, marine biologist with Fish and Game. Bocaccio, for example, is at about 7 percent of its historic levels, he said.

Because it is nearly impossible to fish for other kinds of rockfish without occasionally catching a canary or bocaccio, the entire fishery must be closed, Wirtz said.

Sport fishermen say the depletion came in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when consumer demand for fish increased and trawlers and gillnet boats moved into the area, capturing hundreds of thousands of pounds of rockfish a year.

Federal and state agencies were slow to recognize the danger but now have restoration plans in place. Local fishermen say the fishery needs to remain viable, but say they're paying the price today for lack of management by government agencies years ago.

Commercial boats were barred from fishing for rockfish earlier this week. If the sport-fishing closure is approved Friday by the state Fish and Game Commission, it will be the second this year and will reduce the normally year-round fishery to five months.

The closure will have a ripple effect through Bodega Bay, business owners said.

Party boat operators say they lost about 40 percent of their business during the March through June rockfish closure and now expect to lose even more.

Wil Morrow of Wil's Fishing Adventures has laid off six of his seven employees but vows to stay in business. "It's down to me and one other person," he said.

Rick Powers, who operates the Bodega Bay Sportfishing Center, is reducing his fleet of three party boats to one because of the shortened season.

He also expects to close his bait and tackle shop. "No way we can keep it open. You can't go through the winter with no income," Powers said.

At The Tides fish market, manager Gino Calderoni said the commercial closure will force him to buy fish from Canada and elsewhere to meet customers' needs -- raising the price.

Bodega Coast Inn, which offers package deals to sport fishermen, lost 15 percent of its business during the earlier closure, said Gene Mourglea, general manager. "Another closure is going to take a big chunk out of us," he said.