Humboldt Currents – Spring 2017

Casey Allen Humboldt Currents

The Fourth Annual Trinidad Kids Pier Fishing Tourney has been set for Sunday, Sept. 17th. This fun event is sponsored by the Trinidad Rancheria, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Pier Fishing Association, International Game Fish Association, Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers, and others. Tackle and bait are provided for those who do not have their own. This is a safe, easy fishing outing for kids of all ages and their families. The Trinidad Pier is a beautiful place and if not many fish are caught there are still plenty of prizes for all the participants. Be sure to put this on your calendar.

The Humboldt Bay Offshore Artificial Reef project is still alive. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has received so many requests for artificial reef projects the length of the California Coast, they have decided to revamp their reefing program. Legislation needs to be changed because the CDFW is only chartered to place artificial reefs for fisheries enhancement. The requests for projects spans dive sites, surfing reefs, mitigation reefs, and sediment abatement reefs. These are much different from fishery enhancement reefs. Before they can develop a state-wide reefing plan they will need to inventory the existing reefs to see what worked and what did not work. Our reef is strictly a fishery enhancement reef and is much different than any of the reefs placed in Southern California. The habitat is different and the fish are different, so we are hoping we will not have to wait for a complete re-evaluation before our project can be heard. CDFW is an advisory agency to all the permitting agencies in California and key to the success of our project. Stay tuned!

Marine Protected Area (MPA) Baseline Monitoring project results are in! Billed as a single data point in time, the baseline studies are the beginning to a long term monitoring project comparing MPAs to non protected areas. The obvious goal is to measure the impact of human activity in the marine environment to areas off limits to human activity except for non-take observation. The initial results seem to be neutral in most cases. One finding was that the farther from port the better the fishing and the bigger the fish. Although this seems obvious, the researchers were happy to show that humans had a detrimental effect on fish populations and size. On the other hand, some MPAs had fewer abalone than outside the MPA because urchins were taking over without being checked by commercial harvest. Another finding was the unexplained decline of sea stars, which was obvious over the two year data collection period. Monitoring will continue each year and funding is supposed to be solid. The results and presentations can soon be viewed at A future meeting between MPA managers and recreational anglers will be scheduled later this year, likely November.

I participated in the American Fisheries Society panel discussion on “Diverse Perspectives in an Era of Political and Environmental Change” during their Cal-Neva AFS Conference held in Eureka this year. The panelists represented different aspects of fishery interests. I represented recreational fishing, Laurie Richman academics, Aaron Newman commercial fishing, Greg Dale mariculture sales, and Eric Schlagenhauf mariculture farming. The audience included fisheries professionals and students. It was a great discussion that ranged all over the map and the main take away was that there is a future in fishery science. There is a strong desire to keep people fishing into the future and it will take bright new minds to figure out how to do that without harming the resource.

I also attended the NOAA Recreational Fisheries Roundtable meeting in Newport Oregon last March. It was much the same as the panel discussion described above. The roundtable included NOAA Recreational Fishing management, scientists, and economists; Pacific Fisheries Management Council members, recreational nonprofit reps, and tackle manufactures and retailers. NOAA management was very concerned about a proposed 20% cut in funding by the new administration. This could mean NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service would not have the personnel to conduct stock surveys. That would have a potential affect on those fishery managers who rely on the stock assessments to set season and take regulations. If that is the case, the general thought was managers would err on the side of caution. That could translate into shorter seasons and reduced limits for recreational anglers. The roundtable had a long discussion on the use of artificial reefs. It seems all the fisheries entities have in their charter the clause “to enhance recreational fishing opportunities.” All are struggling to find a way to do this and because of this the use of artificial reefs is getting a lot of attention. In fact, the 2017 NOAA West Coast Recreational Fishing Implementation Plan lists our artificial reef project as part of their plan. The last interesting discussion item was the need for more young anglers participating in the sport. Most cited reasons why participation has waned (video games, internet, etc) with the most likely being a lack of easy and productive places to fish. The days when every body of water was stocked with trout are gone. Fishing has become harder so most parents are not up to teaching their kids. We need safe and productive waters where mom and dad can take kids fishing. The guy from Northwest Steelheaders said it best, “rainbow trout are the gateway drug to fishing.”
Concern was expressed for California halibut by Phil Grunert during a meeting of the Humboldt County Fish and Game Advisory Commission. He pointed out that the California halibut that reappeared in Humboldt Bay last year might be overfished this year due to effort shift caused by the closed salmon season. We posed his question to California Department of Fish and Wildlife marine biologist, James Ray. Here is his email response:

First, there may be an effort shift to CA Halibut in the bay with the cancellation of the recreational salmon fishery.  However, it’s worth noting that really major shifts in effort into the bay only usually occur when other fisheries in addition to the salmon fishery are limited, such as Pacific Halibut and/or Groundfish. 
It is believed that CA halibut in Humboldt Bay do not reproduce because the water temperature for them to do so is generally too cold.  There has been no compelling evidence that consistent spawning occurs here.  This explains why the occurrence of legal sized CA Halibut in the Bay is sporadic.  Essentially, in warm water years, such as El Ninos, juvenile CA Halibut move up the coast with warm water from spawning areas further south  (although exactly how far north spawning occurs is unknown).  When the juvenile fish reach Humboldt Bay they take up some form of residency and grow.  Once they reach a size that they can be caught on hook and line, fisherman start to take notice, although when this first occurs many of the fish are sub-legal and cannot be kept.  Over a few years, all the while the fish growing, natural mortality (predation etc.) as well as removal through fishing pressure reduces the population.  So, for a few years, folks are catching a lot of CA Halibut of a similar size, but then the numbers begin to dwindle, because there is no recruitment from local reproduction and there is very little immigration. The warm water events that bring new fish into the bay don’t tend to last more than a couple of seasons at a time.  After several years of this, you’ll eventually only hear of the occasional capture of a large CA Halibut.

What does this mean?

From a fishery management perspective, because no reproduction is occurring in Humboldt Bay, production of future generations of CA Halibut in the bay does not rely on the fish present in the bay.  Rather, continued occurrence of fish in the bay over time, albeit sporadic, relies on a healthy spawning population persisting further south.  In this respect, it is highly unlikely that increased fishing pressure in Humboldt Bay, either from recreational or commercial sources, will negatively impact the overall CA Halibut population and more restrictive measures are probably not necessary.  Therefore, adequate harvest control regulations to ensure sustainability of the population are better focused in geographic areas that encompass the spawning component of the population.   However, increases in pressure will reduce the amount of time (in years) that CA Halibut are available in the bay as they will be fished out more quickly.  Finally, it is entirely possible that some time in the future (possibly near future) CA Halibut will start spawning in Humboldt Bay as ocean water temperatures increase.  That may necessitate a revision of current thinking.

HASA is working with the County of Humboldt, City of Eureka, CDFW, and the North Coast MPA Collaborative to place new kiosks at Humboldt Bay launch ramps. The goal is to consolidate the signage while providing more space for important notices and placing them in a location where folks can easily access them. Each organization has funding, labor, and permitting ability so the combined effort should succeed.