Emergency measures rejected

Panel pledges plan to restore rockfish stock

Jun. 19, 1999


Press Democrat Staff Writer

POINT REYES—Facing a drop in ocean rockfish populations so severe it may take nearly a half century to recover, the state Department of Fish and Game on Friday said it would develop by the end of the year an emergency plan for rescuing the declining resource.

But the Fish and Game Commission declined to impose emergency measures to reduce limits on the rockfish urged by the Natural Resources Defense Council and several other environmental and conservation groups.

"I don’t know if the emergency actions will be meaningful. It may be that something more severe than that will be needed," LB Boydstun, Fish and Game’s inter-governmental affairs representative, told the panel.

Conditions of the rockfish population off California’s coast were discussed on the second day of a two-day meeting at Point Reyes. About 100 people attended. The issue placed at odds the interests of commercial and sports fishing communities, neither of which want to take sole responsibility for helping restore the fishery.

But marine wildlife experts indicated the decline in the fishery is so severe that it may take as many as 40 years for the species to recover to pre-existing populations and that could be accomplished only if all rockfish fishing was banned.

Rockfish is a general category of a wide range of fish species living in rocky places or the ocean bottom in the North Pacific such as rock cod, ling cod, bocaccio and other types. Friday’s discussions focused on the bocaccio, which used to be a common sport game fish off the West Coast of the United States but has fallen off dramatically in recent years along with other rockfish species.

"The condition of bocaccio is the worst of any West Coast rockfish, but all rockfish populations are severely down," said Alec MacCall, chief of the ground fish analysis branch for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Tiburon.

MacCall produced dramatic numbers to illustrate the species’ worsening status. In 1980, he said, the total commercial and sports catch of bocaccio was 6,240 tons. Last year, he said, the catch was only 350 tons.

"Now, we’re looking at less than 100 tons," he said.

MacCall said part of the problem is caused by poor reproduction records of the species.

As a result, he predicted, fishing for bocaccio would have to be banned for 39 years before the species could recover to populations of 30 years ago.

Fishermen and women in the audience on Friday were not convinced. They reported large catches of bocaccio and other rock fish this spring and credit the departure of El Ni±o and the return of cold water temperatures in the Pacific.

"The availability of bocaccio has suddenly jumped up," said Bob Fletcher, president of the Sports Fishing Association of California which represents 175 fishing boats from Santa Barbara and San Diego. "There are a lot of large fish that were somewhere else when the warm water was here and now we’re seeing more of them."

But Karen Garrison, spokeswoman for Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, said the bocaccio being caught now are not full size, indicating most bocaccio are not reaching reproductive age and those that do reach maturity are found in coastal waters.

"The ball is really in your court for protection of the fish in state waters," she said, or face stronger action by federal authorities, including the possible listing of the fish as an endangered species.

She encouraged the commission to impose reductions on daily catches of all rockfish from 15 to 10 and of bocaccio from three to one.

But Boydstun said the state would have to do more.

Rather than act now on a piecemeal basis, he won the support of the commission to establish an ad hoc committee of fishing interests to develop options for dealing with the issue for the long term. He said he’d have options available for discussion in August with the intention of adopting a plan by Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, efforts to restore bocaccio and ling cod are under study by a special panel of thePacific Fishery Management Council. The panel will hold a public meeting on the study July 12 at UC Davis. ©

1999 The Press Democrat