Department of Fish and Game
Contact: Chamois Andersen, DFG Information Officer, (916) 657-4132

Public Hearings Will Focus on 2003 Ocean Groundfishing Options

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) will host three public meetings to hear comments on a range of management options being considered by the Pacific Fishery Management Council for the 2003 fishing season. Those options relate to overfished rockfish and the effects of bottom fishing on long-term recovery efforts.

Because various species tend to co-mingle in groups, fishing activities can pose a threat to depleted rockfish that inhabit the same Continental Shelf areas of the ocean. As a result, fishing along the bottom areas of the entire shelf in 2003 will likely be severely limited or closed by the Council to protect certain depleted rockfish species.

The Council has indicated that other deep-water fisheries will also have to be closely managed along the Continental Shelf (shore to 35 miles out to sea, reaching depths of 900 feet). These fisheries include flatfish, sablefish, and possibly state managed fish such as California halibut and invertebrates, including pink shrimp, spot prawn, and sea cucumber. Other deep-water fisheries, however, would not be affected.

For the 2003 fishing season, the Council is considering three main options for California's recreational and commercial groundfish fisheries. After receiving public comments, the Council is expected to adopt fishing regulations at its meeting September 9-13 in Portland. Those regulations will affect all groundfish fishing activities beginning in 2003 along the entire West Coast.

In addition to the hearings listed below, written comments on groundfish fishing options will also be received, and should be mailed by Sept. 1 to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, 7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 200, Portland, OR 97220-1384.

The meeting dates and locations are as follows:

* July 23, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Humboldt County Courthouse, Supervisor's Chambers, 825 Fifth Street, Eureka.

* July 24, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Elihu Harris State Office Building, 1515 Clay St., Oakland.

* July 25, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., DFG Field Office, 4665 Lampson Ave., Los Alamitos.

At the meetings, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) staff scientists will provide information on new evidence suggesting that federal rebuilding requirements for bocaccio, canary, and yelloweye rockfish stocks need to be stronger for full recovery to be achieved.

The Council declared a West Coast groundfish disaster in 2000, when seven species were considered "overfished." They are bocaccio, yelloweye rockfish, canary rockfish, darkblotched rockfish, widow rockfish, cowcod, and Pacific Ocean perch. These species have dipped below 25 percent of the amount of fish there would be without any fishing.

There are more than 80 species of West Coast groundfish, a complex of bottom-dwelling fishes highly valued for both food and sport. Allowable harvests of some rockfish have dropped by as much as 85 percent.

Guided by the Magnuson-Stevens Act (reauthorized by Congress in 1996), the Council approved a management criterium that "overfished" groundfish must be restored to 40 percent of their "unfished" populations.

Because these fish are long-lived with life spans measured in decades, once depleted it can take years for their populations to recover. Many groundfish species also reproduce slowly, taking many years to become mature enough to spawn.

NMFS stock assessments of these species, conducted in 2001 and 2002, indicates that current conservation measures are not adequate enough to help restore these depleted species.

Along California's coast, the species of primary concern are bocaccio (central and southern California) and canary rockfish and yelloweye rockfish (central and northern California). Bocaccio have declined to 5 percent of their original abundance. Scientists say it will take nearly 100 years to rebuild the population, assuming all fishing stops next year.

The results of the new scientific findings, presented to the Council at its meeting last month in San Francisco, suggest that much of the bottom fishing for all rockfish species on the West Coast may need to be closed or modified in order to rebuild these stocks to federally mandated levels. Such management measures would be imposed on state and federal waters and for both commercial and recreational fisheries in Washington, Oregon, and California.

DFG and California Council members will also hear comments on California's nearshore fishery, which are included in the range of groundfishing options. Those options include all waters (primarily state waters, shore to three miles) at depths between 120 feet (20 fathoms) or less.

DFG fishery managers have recommended proactive management measures to address the additional fishing impacts to the state's nearshore rockfish species. DFG's management of the nearshore fishery is guided by the Marine Life Management Act, which calls for a long-term sustainable-use fishery, and one that is balanced between commercial and recreational users.

DFG recognizes that banning bottom fishing in federal deep-water areas will result in a shift in fishing effort to California's nearshore fishery. In addition to management of deep-water rockfish, the Council also has jurisdiction over the state's nearshore rockfish species. With DFG's recommendations, the Council is considering several options that will help minimize the impacts that additional fishing pressure may have on California's healthy nearshore stocks.

For a detailed list of all options for California's recreational and commercial groundfish fisheries, logon to DFG's Web site at Copies of the options will also be available at the public hearings. *Due to the complexity of the options for commercial groundfish fisheries, please refer to the Web site for this information. The list below provides a summary of the state's recreational options for both the northern and southern management areas.

Options for California's recreational fishery north of Cape Mendocino (Humboldt County) are summarized as follows (same as Oregon's options):

* Sport rockfish and lingcod fisheries would either be open at all depths, or only open in waters less than 27 fathoms (162 feet) or 20 fathoms (120 feet).
* Sport (rockfish and lingcod) fisheries would be open from year-round to less than year-round.
* Min. limit of 16-inch for cabezon instead of the current 15-inch limit.

Options for California's recreational fishery south of Cape Mendocino are summarized as follows:

* Sport rockfish and lingcod fisheries would be closed year-round in waters between 10 fathoms (60 feet) to 20 fathoms (120 feet) and deeper.
* Daily bag limit of five nearshore rockfish reduced from the current 10-fish limit.
* Min. limit of 16-inch for cabezon instead of the current 15-inch limit.
* The fishing season could be shortened by two months from the current eight-*month season.