The Closure of the nearshore Fishery In Washington State:

An Interview

Some Important Links:
Why Washington Banned The Nearshore Fishery
California Stalls While Washington Acts to Save Fishery

June 2001

I called Mr. Brian Culver of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (Washington F&G). MR. Culver, who has a degree in Fish and Wildlife Management has been working in the Washington state DFG for many years and has been an advocate for the preservation and continuance of the near shore ocean stock for recreational/sport fishing and the people of Washington State.

Washington state DFG, with the help of recreational fisherman and sport boat charter folks, pushed and got through a closure of near shore commercial fishing (out to three miles) in 1995.The closure did not, at the time, include trawler fishing since the thought was that this fishery doesn't target rock fish.

The intent of the commercial closure was to slow or stop the growing decrease in the near shoe rock fish stocks. The prime concern was the decreasing stock of the black rock fish, the main staple of the recreational fishing arena and the next concern was the decreasing stocks of Ling cod; though similar stock decreased were seen for all other rock fish stocks. Reducing the sport take in the 80'ies, first to 15 rock fish, and then 12 and then 10 didn't seem to appreciably impact the rate of decrease in the rockfish stock. Ergo, the decisive move was made to eliminate near shore commercial fishing.

I asked how big the commercial fishing industry was then; and learned that generally there were very few commercial fishermen that landed more than 3000 lbs. of fish per year. There was no live fishing industry in Washington then; nor of course is there now.

There was, understandably, quite a ruckus by the commercial fishing interests when the closure became law but the Washington DFG and Fish and Wildlife Commission's position prevailed. Then in 1999, they took a serious look at the trawler fishery (which went after flat fish "in sandy areas") and the conclusion was that the trawler fishery, for whatever reason, produced an "incidental" rock fish bycatch of 35 - 40% of their total catch; which they also sold along with their main target catch. As a result, the Washington state near shore was also closed to the commercial trawler fishery. Again there was quite an outcry by this fishing industry - the outcry was equal to if not greater than the original near shore closure.

Here are a few specific questions I posed to Mr. Culver:

Is there a web site or technical paper that describes the Washington state closure in further detail?

He answered "not really, there's bits and pieces of info here and there but he hasn't had the time to really document in detail the history, process, results, etc.

Have you been doing fish stock counts since the near shore commercial closure and have you seen a noticeable change in the near shore fish stocks?

He said yes but didn't have, at the moment, the time to go into details, species counts, etc. But he did say though he's seen an increase in the fish stocks since the closure, the "damage" has been done and, because of the slow growth rate of the rock fish and for the time for them to get to sexual maturity, it will be a while before the stocks get to the levels that he would like to see.

My conclusion was that Mr. Culver felt the near shore commercial closure was very necessary for Washington and would be appropriate for the rest of the Western coast to undertake.

Part of the problem that we(California) are facing, as I discussed it with Mr. Culver, is that rock fish have a very slow rate of growth. They typically reach sexual maturity only after about 6 - 7 years of life; at this point a black rock cod is about 30 - 35 cm. in length (that's about 12 to 14 inches). Unfortunately the California live fishing industry takes many rock fish that have not yet reached sexual maturity. Also, Washington state did not have the additional threat of near shore rock fish decimation by the commercial live fishing industry when they (Washington DFG) concluded that they needed to close the near shore commercial fishing industry in order to rebuild and maintain the near shore stock for future generations.

Bob Bachmann
Santa Clara, CA