Washington State Bans Live Fishery While
California Fish and Game Commission
Stalls On Effective Action

December 13,1999

The Northern California RFA, the United Anglers of Southern California (UASC), and the Central California Council of Divers (Cencal), have formed a coalition to combat the live fish fishery off the coast of California.

Commercial live fishers use extremely efficient gear, like fish traps and a form of bottom longlines called stick gear. Small undersized fish are especially prized. because thes are taken to market, this method gets mislabeled as "clean", because what would be bycatch elsewhere is retained for market.

On Friday, December 3rd, State regulators adopted the most stringent rockfish sportfishing limits in California history in an attempt to halt the decline of many rockfish species. Unfortunately, while doing this, the state is neglecting the nearshore habitat area which is their primary area of responsibility.

The nearshore is defined as that area which extends from shore to one mile out. As people observe our coastline they’ll notice a narrow band of kelp extending the length of the state. This kelp marks a fragile habitat area for many species of rockfish that, like the abalone, are endemic to it. Also like the abalone, most of the fish in this area are extremely slow growing, long lived, and residential. Fish in this area don’t move around much. Like the abalone, they are easily caught by fishermen and highly susceptible to overfishing.

In July 1989 a Fish and Game sponsored analysis of the California coast found that kelp covered an amazingly small area of 74 square miles, about one third the size of Lake Tahoe. One thing has been clearly shown by the state’s complete mismanagement of the commercial abalone fishery south of San Francisco. That is that this unique habitat area combined with such a residential population of fish cannot sustain a commercial fishery.

This nearshore area is the main focus of a commercial fishing industry called the live fish industry. They supply specialty fish markets and restaurants with fish at premium wholesale prices, which are then sold live on the retail market or prepared fresh in restaurants. The fish must be caught in the shallower nearshore waters because this is where most of them are found. In addition, they do not survive the pressure changes when brought up from depth so must be fished from the same area the kelp is found.

New federal commercial regulations will serve to cut general levels of rockfish harvest but they will also serve to drive even more commercial fishermen into the more lucrative nearshore.

According to Fish and Game data, the live fish landings in Monterey increased 513% from 1997-1998. As the supply becomes scarce, the prices will go up driving the industry to pursue this increasingly scarce resource until it collapses. This is exactly what happened to the abalone fishery and it is already happening with the nearshore rockfish population.

Many recreational fishermen have testified to this decimation of the nearshore resource and have proposed many worthwhile short term solutions, but their testimony has fallen on deaf ears.

The state is merely considering limiting the number of licensees into this area. This will only serve to allocate the same fish to fewer fishers. This is the same thing that happened with the abalone fishery until it collapsed a few years ago. Prepare to see the collapse of yet another fishery as the California Department of Fish and Game stands by and does too little too late.

Contrast this to what the state of Washington has done. On December 13th the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to prevent the live fish industry a foothold in their state. It was Washington's own Dept. of Fish and Wildlife that spearheaded the proposal to their Commission to stop this fishery. Also, Washington's leading charterboat organization, the Westport Charterboat Association, was very vocal in opposing this fishery. The RFA's northern California Board member also sent a letter, cautioning the commission not to let what happened in California, happen in Washington. A representative of the Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife credited the negative example of what is happening in California as the primary reason for the Washington commission's decision.

Please contact the California Fish and Game Commission and let them know how you feel at:

California Fish and Game Commission
1416 9th St. Room 1320
Sacramento, Ca 95814

You may also contact Rob Collins, Ecosystems coordinator at the Department of Fish and Game at:

     831 649-2870

or Dewayne Johnston, Marine Region Manager at: