The Commission voted to adopt the DFG's list of interim measures. Front and center to these options were the OY (Optimum Yield) , Allocation decisions, and implementation regs. The OY, in short, is the amount of fish the DFG thinks can be safely harvested. To determine this, the DFG averaged the total harvest from 1994-1999 and then cut it in half. Please note, they only did this for cabezon, greenlings, and sheephead, NOT rockfish. This is because they are depending on PFMC (federal regs) to regulate rockfish.
What is my beef with this?
My beef is that they determined the OY from a period when the live fish fishery had EXPLODED and recreational declined. They weren't supposed to do this according to the documents they were using to guide their method (Federal NMFS documents). They should have based their OY on a stable period such as the 1980s.
Also, they should have included nearshore rockfish in their quotas. The PFMC quotas change tremendously throughout the year. They WERE 550 pounds every two months sometime last summer. The last I heard, they were at 6000 pounds every two months. These numbers can't be relied upon for nearshore management. They were intended to regulate the whole rockfish fishery. The nearshore needs OY's all its own. Because the original biomass of the resource is such an unknown, AND it's so difficult to properly assess the resource. OK, water under the bridge...I'm not going to lose much sleep over it.
Now they have to cut that pie up. To do this, they averaged the catch from a period of the 80s AND a period of the 90s. The bottom line is, they gave recs the preference at a ratio of two to one. For example, 111,596 lbs. of cabezon was allocated to the rec sector and 67,132 went to the commercial. The DFG compared those numbers to 1999 catches and showed that the recs were actually allocated 36,000 MORE lbs. than they caught in 1999 and the commercials 250,000 less (a 79% cut from 1999 catch).
This is good right? If you were listening to Zeke Grader's chastisement, ridicule, and veiled threats to sue the DFG and Commission, you would think so. Here is why I wasn't so happy with the decision.
If you recall my sarcastic post before the meeting you remember that the allocation to the rec sector is ONE HALF what our average catch was in the 80s, BEFORE the live fish explosion. The commercial allocation is 2.5 TIMES what they averaged in the 80s! So our allocation is being compared to a catch level that was much reduced because the fish just weren't there. The commercial 1999 catch was high because they had been using such effective gear. At the meeting, the commercials were kicking and crying because the allocation wasn't split right down the middle. I say, if they want a more "equal" allocation, let them use more "equal" gear. They only want things equal when it will benefit them. I guess this is only human nature, especially when money is involved.
As it is, I believe even this allocation which seems so favorable to us, still represents a philosophy of management that legitimizes the displacement of a recreational fishery to accommodate a commercial. I personally don't think that is right in an area that is so heavily depended on by both the consumptive and non-consumptive recreational public. Alright...For now it's water under the bridge so let's move on.
How did the DFG propose to make these allocations and new catch levels happen? THIS is where I have a real problem. Nearshore commercial fishing has been closed an additional two days. It was just a weekend closure. Now it's closed on Thursday and Friday. The commercial season for these mentioned fish has also been shortened by two months (Mar and April north of Pt. Conception...Jan. Feb south.) In addition, the cabezon size limit was increased from 14-15 inches (both commercial and rec). Sheephead size was increased to 13" for commercial and 12" for rec and daily bag was cut from ten to five for rec.
So what's the problem?
One problem is, the DFG measures do not take into account the unknown floating capacity that exists in the commercial fishery. By law, the trappers are allotted 50 traps and the hook and liners 150 hooks. What will happen when these people try to make up for the reduced days by using more traps or hooks? In addition, there are hundreds of underutilized nearshore permits out there. Remember, in 1998, 237 fishers took 90% of the fish! There's another 800 permits out there!!! What if they start fishing full time?
Here's the other problem, and this one is the centerpiece of the UASC proposal. It also determines the direction I plan to focus my efforts.
The DFG measures do not address the impact the currently allowed gears have on the local ecosystems. If we were talking about pelagic fish or even fish that move around from reef to reef, we wouldn't have this problem. But in the nearshore we are talking about HIGHLY residential fish that are long lived and reproduce sporadically. The DFG has not addressed the impact these gears have when they saturate a reef with soaking bait. This bait is allowed to soak until the fish find their way to it. It draws them out of their cracks and holes like no other method can in such a concentrated way. This has produced a fishery that starts close to home (where rec fishers used to be able to catch fish) and moves out like a wave. The leading edge of that wave is hitting the high concentrations of fish and depleting them. In the meantime, their catch levels remain very high while ours go down (as may be seen by the data). Using commercial catch levels as an indication of fishery health is just plain wrong in this case. Catch will stay high until the wave gets to the end of the resource, then there will be a drastic drop. At that point, we will have witnessed the collapse of the fishery and it will be necessary to close it just like the abalone fishery.
The UASC proposal will go a LONG way toward keeping this from happening as may be understood by reading the rationale in the proposal itself.
Ok, this e-mail is way too long as it is so I'm going to talk strategy in my next one. Go grab yourself a beer or a coke, take a deep breath, and download the next installment. And believe me, I am no expert. I am open to all ideas. But, as you will see in my next installment, I think it's time to really narrow our focus.
I guess I'm a little encouraged because, while the measures are flawed, their adoption by the Commission may show a resolve on their part to stand up to the likes of Zeke Grader. We shall soon see.