By Darrell Ticehurst
The Reel News
Recreational bottomfishing on the pacific coast has been under attack and we are now off the water. The Washington Oregon and California coasts have been closed to rockfishing from 20 fathoms to 150 fathoms by the PFMC starting in 2003, sooner in CA. The lobbying efforts of misinformed people is paying off and has culminated in the latest series of rulings by the PFMC and state F&G commissions that have been devastating to recreational anglers and to the party boat fleet. Then it gets worse: the establishment of Marine Protected Areas are soon going to be twisted from an idea with some slight justification into a misguided effort to place all of the prime fishing areas off limits to recreational angling.
With the recent action of the PFMC forcing closure of the West Coast waters from 20 to 150 fathoms, all anglers have been removed from waters in these depths for bottomfishing for rockfish. The basis for this closure was that certain species are in danger of overfishing note that these fish are not "threatened" or "endangered" as defined by law, they are only estimated to be at risk because the estimate of the number of fish out there may be 10 to 20% of the original biomass. What was the original biomass? No one knows. What is 10% of this number? No one knows! Cowcod, yelloweye and bocaccio are the rockfish primarily responsible for this closure.
Of the three primary rockfish forcing this closure the best case made by the biologists was made for bocaccio. Based upon data from power plant outflow locations in California in 1999 they stated that there was a large surplus of boccacio and they raised the tonnage for the commercials and encouraged the taking of a larger harvest. Now in 2002 they have stated that they think boccacio is at 10% of historical levels and this reversed thinking is the primary cause of the emergency closures along the continental shelf giving time while the bocaccio recoverover 100 years by PFMC reckoning. The data used to justify the closure: the exact same data from 1999 that they said showed a surplus! In fact, the data neither justifies the surplus nor does it justify the closure, it was a count from one outflow pipe where the water temperature is artificially raised by the power plant and doesn't even represent what is happening in the ocean! They just reinterpreted the same old bad data. These guys are supposed to be using the "best science available" and that is what they claim to be doing, but they are not using science at all. A witch doctor with a modicum of common sense would make more sense than what these PFMC biologists are doing! Interestingly, the same biologist for the PFMC said that there were a lot of bocaccio out there, but he was just estimating the biomass to be smaller than it was.
I have never been against commercial fishing so long as the fish were there. With no real science we just don't have any accurate facts to cite. Having said that, it is probably true that there are a lot less fish out there than was the case in the past. Draggers have bigger boats, bigger motors, and heavier nets, and they can plow the bottom until every bit of structure is destroyed if they aren't controlled. Sonar depth finders, chart plotters, and side and forward scanning sonars have made commercial fishermen extremely efficient at what they do. So efficient that they can (and have!) fished out fish population after fish population. Cod in the Atlantic, swordfish most everywhere, monkfish, Chilean sea bass, white marlin, and whole lot moreall in jeopardy because of senseless fishing methods and improper administration. It wasn't our rods and reels that plowed the bottom, and it isn't our 7%, or less, of the fish take that is hurting the species. A little real science from the people who are supposed to be the caretakers of the species would show which species really had problems and which are just fanciful political fabrications to make it appear that the biologists are working.
Now we have the movement to establish Marine Protected Areasclosed to all fishing, sport and commercial. And where do they want to establish these areas? Right where the fish are. That is, where you and I fish. We are not the problem, we didn't cause these fish stocks to become overfished, nor has a rod and reel fishery EVER caused fish stocks to become endangered. And yet, the environmentalists want to lock us out of our best fishing areas to resolve a problem we didn't create. And our rod and reel techniques will not harm nor have any material impact on the fish within the MPA. If we are not going to get locked out of our favorite fishing spots we are going to have to make that point loudly and often.
We used to rail long and loud about how the commercial lobby was so organized and kept the regulations in their favor to the detriment of the recreational angler. Now that commercial lobby is being outspent thousands of time to one! The Packard Foundaation, the Pew foundation, and a whole lot of others are giving money by the boatload to the environmental movement. This would be a good thing if the money was being spent to fund solid science based solutions, but the MPA's are being pushed without much science at all, and unless we get organized we are going to be run over by what is becoming an irresistible force.
Right now there are environmentalists meeting privately with the party boat captains, negotiating with them as to where the MPA's might be happening. They are buying them drinks, bemusing them with interviews with gorgeous women and then when they are relaxed and off guard, they are asking about where the best fishing grounds are locatedto make sure that they "can make a living when the MPA's come". I am not making this upit is happening right now! They are literally writing the bills and establishing the MPA areas that are going to be written and implemented in our states. And then some friendly legislator will introduce them at a time when it is too late for us to do much about it.
We need to raise the level of public knowledge about recreational fishing. Rod and reel fisheries do not hurt the environment, are not a threat to fish, and can be conducted safely in MPA's, and we need to get that message out to everyone. We need a drumbeat of letters to editors of newspapers and magazines about the fact that recreational angling is a safe and conservation minded approach to fishery management, and the MPA's can work and will work while open to rod and reel fishing. Make no mistake, this is a large and carefully constituted campaign to establish MPA's and they will win. Our job is to make sure that we aren't included in the closure.