State Regulators Cut Sport Rockfish and Abalone Limits

By Doug Willis
Published Saturday, December 4, 1999

SACRAMENTO -- State regulators Friday adopted the most stringent rockfish and abalone sportfishing limits in California history to help reverse a long-term decline of both species in coastal waters.

The Fish and Game Commission's cuts in rockfish limits for sport anglers follow even steeper reductions imposed last month on commercial rockfishing by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, a federally created agency that sets offshore fishing rules for the West Coast.

A moratorium on commercial abalone fishing has been in effect in all California waters since 1997.

"Nobody's really happy, but everybody understands the need," said DeWayne Johnston, the state Department of Fish and Game's marine region manager. "It's been 30 years since we last cut the limit on rockfish. This is a pretty major reduction on the catch, the tightest it has ever been."

Commission President Richard Thieriot said officials "know that these regulations are tough on users" but are necessary to reverse "an extreme, dire situation" of years of declining populations.

The new sportfishing regulations will take effect March 1 and expire in 2002.

They allow daily bag limits of 10 rockfish. That will reduce maximum allowable catches of the four most common rockfish varieties from 12 percent for bacaccio to 67 percent for cowcod.

Other reductions are 34 percent for lingcod and 36 percent for canary rockfish.

The commercial fishing limits for the same four varieties were reduced last month 97 percent.

The new sport abalone rules continue to limit fishing to coastal waters north of San Francisco Bay, and retain the current limit of four per person per day and the current seven-month season. But they impose a new maximum of 100 abalone per year.

Under current rules, which allow the taking of abalone from May through June and August through November, an individual could theoretically take more than 700 annually. The annual limit would be enforced through the use of new abalone punch cards.

The new rules were endorsed, with varying reservations, by representatives of a half dozen commercial and sport fishing and environmental groups.

"We're all in a bad spot, and we're trying to work it through," said Mike Malone of United Anglers of Southern California.

The regulations also drew backing from the Golden Gate Fishing Association, which represents San Francisco area commercial fishing interests.

"We have to stop the decline," President Roger Thomas said.

Karen Garrison, policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, said the Fish and Game Department did a good job balancing conservation with fishing interests.

However, "there are a lot loose things around the edge" that may need further work, from enforcement to doing a better job of monitoring fish population.