The Pacific Fishery Management Council's (PFMC) Ad Hoc Allocation Committee (made up of representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the four state fishery agencies) met 3-4 June in Portland, Oregon to develop an alternative for the full Council to consider for addressing the latest reports on declining populations of boccacio, yellow-eye and canary rockfish. The three rockfish species are taken in the groundfish fishery, mainly on the continental shelf (10 - 150 fathoms), along with nearly 40 other species in this complex, by both commercial and recreational fishermen. There is also a small incidental take of these fish in non-groundfish fisheries such as halibut and salmon. Some eight Pacific rockfish (Sebastes complex) stocks have been declared as overfished and the three species above are believed in the worst shape. The news about the three Pacific rockfish stocks was revealed two weeks ago at the first hearing on California's Nearshore Fishery Management Plan; it came on the heels of severe restrictions being placed on New England's groundfish fisheries (see Sublegals, 5:22/05).
When the news broke initially, there were rumors of a total closure of all fishing on the shelf for 2003. This rumor was dispelled at this week's Portland meeting, when the group decided on an alternative to submit to the PFMC for the 2003 season to close only the directed groundfish fisheries on the shelf. From Cape Mendocino to the Canadian border, the Ad Hoc Committee is proposing a closure on directed groundfish fishing from 25 to 150 fathoms. The closure would not affect mid-water trawling for Pacific whiting (hake) or the pink shrimp fishery (provided the gear is modified to allow for release of rockfish). What take that would be permitted of the depressed stocks would be limited to a small incidental catch in the salmon and halibut fisheries. From Cape Mendocino south, the directed groundfish closure would be from 10 to 150 fathoms. If this alternative is accepted by the PFMC, it would force more fishing in the nearshore areas, particularly the recreational fishery, and push most of the trawl and longline fleet into the slope fisheries for deepwater complex species such as blackcod (sablefish), Dover sole and thornyheads. Fisheries such as Dungeness crab, albacore, swordfish, anchovies and sardines are not expected to be affected at all, since there is no interaction of these fisheries with the rockfish stocks of concern. It is uncertain whether the squid fisheries may be affected.
The full PFMC meets 17-21 June (see 5:23/02 below) to consider the new data on groundfish stocks and take-up the alternative proposed by its Ad Hoc Committee. There will be a meeting Monday evening, prior to the full Council meeting of the 18th, to review the stock assessments. The PFMC is scheduled to adopt its 2003 recommendations (to the U.S. Department of Commerce) at its 8-13 September meeting in Portland. West coast fisheries generated $900 million of income in 2000. Of that, commercial fisheries generated $426 million in California, $153 million in Oregon and $77 million in Washington, and recreational fisheries for the three states added another $246 million, according to the PFMC.
In the meantime, in Washington, DC, the U.S. Senate approved on 7 June an amendment by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) to the Supplemental Appropriations bill, to reallocate $500,000 from cooperative research funds to provide a one percent government loan guarantee for a $50 million industry-funded groundfish vessel/permit buyback bill. A significant reduction in fishing capacity is believed necessary to reduce pressure on stocks and facilitate rebuilding, as well as assure what groundfish fishery remains is economically viable. The PFMC has proposed a 50 percent reduction in fishing capacity. The question is whether the fishing industry has the wherewithal to repay such a loan, thus bringing into question the efficacy of this amendment that must still be reconciled with the House Supplemental Appropriations bill. "The west coast groundfish fishery is in no condition to pay back a federal loan for the $50 million or more it will cost to buy out a significant portion of its capacity," according to Rod Fujita of Environmental Defense (ED) who has been working on this issue.
PCFFA has been pushing for a buyback bill with substantial funding from the federal government. The rationale for federal funding is, according to the Federation: 1) the government encouraged and promoted the buildup in the trawl and longline groundfish fisheries (without having done any stock assessments), including providing loan guarantees for new and larger vessel construction; and 2) the government is providing substantial financial assistance to other U.S. food producing sectors, including the recent passage of a $90 billion Farm Bill (see Sublegals, 5:19/06). California Representative Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) is carrying a buy-back bill in the House of Representatives. This past week in Washington, DC, PCFFA proposed a national fishing vessel/permit buyback funding program to cover west coast and New England groundfish and Alaska crab fisheries. For more information, go to: www.pcouncil.org. For information on the Wyden-Smith buyback amendment, go to: www.wyden.senate.gov. To see the 5 June Seattle Post-Intelligencer report on west coast groundfish, go to: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/73291_fish05.shtml.