The 2015 season has come to a close and now begins the task of constructing the groundfish regulations not only for 2016, but for the 2017/18 next biennial specification cycle. The 2016 season should be essentially the same as the 2015 season, working with the existing regulations already on the books for Annual Catch Limits (ACL) set by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC). For the 2017/18 two year cycle, there are some new possibilities regarding Canary rockfish and maybe an increased depth beyond 20 fathoms. To understand where we are going, it might be helpful to review the current “state of the fishery”.
The big news for 2015 was the reduction in the bag limit for black rockfish to five and the increase from two to three fish for ling cod. This bag limit reduction was a result of fishing pressure being placed on the nearshore rockfish due to the 20 fathom limitation. This concentration of effort on Black Rockfish (BR) resulted in the recreational sector substantially overfishing our ACL in 2014, thus requiring the bag limit reduction in 2015. The same bag limit restriction on BR should be in effect for the coming year. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), this reduction was successful in keeping the recreational harvest level within our target levels in 2015. Also, the heavy pressure in the near shore zone has caused a 25% reduction of harvest on the 11 near-shore species in the Minor Near Shore Rockfish Complex. Locally, the three species in that complex that we catch most are China, Quillback and Copper Rockfish. Northern California is not really the problem, but since we are included in the North of 40 d 10’ zone, we are affected by these concerns. We are the southern end of the zone that includes all of Oregon and Washington. This cutback affects them much more than California. So far, the no-retention policy in Oregon of China, Quilback and Copper and a limit of three Blue Rockfish seems to have kept landings within the target harvest policy. We won’t have all the data until after the calendar year is over, since Oregon and Washington have a year round fishery on rockfish. The increase of ling cod from two to three in the bag limit has witnessed the landings increase from 865 metric tons (mt) to about 2000 mt.
However, for 2017/18, further management actions will be necessary at the PFMC and State levels since the ACL for BR is proposed to be reduced from 420 mt to 335 mt. Keep in mind that this year, 75 mt was shifted from the commercial sector over to the recreational sector so that we could still have five in the bag limit. Without that shift, our BR bag limit would have been two fish. That will be a concern, since with an 85 mt reduction, and the increased harvest of BR by the commercial sector, that amount may not be available in the 17/18 years. CDFW will have a series of meetings in December of this year to address this and other rockfish issues.
While the ling cod increase worked out great for us up North, it created problems in the Central areas of the State. The bag limit for lings may be reduced back to two; however, we may be able to keep our three for Mendocino and North. We need to rally for that modification.
Two other issues are on the table for discussion. First, canary rockfish have been rebuilt, but the ACL for 2016 has already been set in the current biennial specification cycle at 125 mt, and it can’t easily be changed without lengthy emergency regulatory effort. The ACL for the 17/18 cycle may be increased somewhere in the 1500 mt range; that is under consideration at the moment. The second issue is the possibility of getting more depth for the North of 40d 10’ area. This would relieve some of the pressure on the BR problem, and we need to be supportive of that concept. Of course, the immediate concern will be the yelloweye (YE) by-catch issue, our only over-fished species in the North area. Further south, boccacio and cowcod are still overfished as well as YE, although encounters with YE are minimal. Here will be the tradeoff. If CDFW agrees to let us fish into the Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) deeper than 20 fathoms, we will probably have to agree to form YE hotspot areas that will be off-limit to fishing. Currently, the three known hot spots are: the outer side of the Point St. George reef, Redding Rock and the outer side of the Pinnacles off Cape Mendocino. CDFW will be asking for our knowledge and experience if there are other hot spot areas that will need to be identified. We need to provide that information if we have it so that we don’t catch YE if allowed more depth. More depth will allow us to target other rockfish; historically BR makes up about 95% of our catch.
Something else to think about is the bag limit for blacks. If the 75 mt is not available to shift from the commercial sector again, what is the minimum bag limit for black rockfish that we think we can live with? Can we effectively have a fishery with only two or three BR in the bag limit? That will be a topic of discussion. Keep in mind, as we search for other fish than blacks, our risk to catching YE increases and that will be an unknown the CDFW will have to model.
The CDFW is tentatively scheduled to be in Eureka on December 2 at the CDFW office for a face to face meeting from about 5-8 pm. They will be in Ft. Bragg the following day on December 3 at that office for the same discussions. Try to attend, or at least make your wishes known to HASA or to me prior to the meeting, so we can have your comments presented. CDFW is trying to be as creative as possible in consideration of relaxing the RCA boundaries to provide more opportunity, so we need to be cooperative in helping to construct a set of regulations, including bag limits, which will protect the overfished species issue and meet ACL limitations.
In summary, the 2016 season will have the same regulations and bag limits as 2015, but we need to be proactive for the next biennial cycle.