Groundfish Wrap-up for 2017

Tom MarkingAlerts, Groundfish

Fish are always on my mind…but since we are only a few days away from Thanksgiving, so is turkey and family.  Hopefully, we can all enjoy the holiday with the family and relatives without too much political dissention and arguing.  We need to bridge gaps and promote “world peace” by applying this idealistic goal on the home front.  After the PFMC meeting last week, with the “trawl gear switching” item that pits fixed gear  sablefish sectors against trawler sector brings this goal to the forefront.  The Biennial Specifications (SPEX) process pulls skeletons out of the closet and things really heat up.

ROCKFISH REVIEW:  Modification for the current 2017/18 cycle, where we had the bag limit reduced to three black rockfish and one canary, seems to have had the desired effect; the changes have kept us within our allocation at last glance.  The attempt to grant us more depth (10 fathom) for all areas above the Southern California area didn’t work out quite so well.  The extra depth resulted in a much increased impact to yelloweye rockfish (YE).  Where we had been only impacting about 1.5 metric tons (mt) per year across the State we pressed the 3.9 mt allocation limit by late summer, and thus the roll back of the ten fathoms in all areas.  We did get to keep the Nov-Dec fishery, but at 20 fathoms or less, not the “all depth” we had hoped for.  This same season structure will be in place for 2018, so try to avoid the YE areas; if successful, maybe we can keep the extra depth for all year.  It’s up to us to show we can fish deeper, without impacting YE, or we will lose this opportunity in the future.  The good news is that the YE are rebuilding much faster than projected.  As more data from surveys and bycatch come in, the models are updated and there is a 50% chance the stock will be rebuilt by 2027 (formerly projected to be 2071 in 2011).  One serious problem this year was the number of YE brought to the dock all across the State.  Anglers are not looking at CDFW literature for identification between YE, Canary and Vermillion, and that really pushed the mortality up.   While decenders have helped with less mortality, mis-identification really hurt us this year.  Our area had about 5% YE brought to the dock, while other areas north and south of us were at 9% and the Central Coast area was at 20%.  That is unacceptable, and we are our own worst enemy.

SPEX process for 2019/2020:  We are now starting the process to look at species harvest allocations and management measures for all groundfish.  These projections and proposed management measures will be analyzed over the winter and brought back to the PFMC in March and April of 2018 for preferred proposed alternatives, presented to the public in April, with final adoption in June of 2018.  The decisions will be implemented on January 1 of 2019.  For our area, such measures impact all the groundfish stocks we encounter.  Timing is a problem.  The CDFW will not have the final numbers for harvest for this year until about late February, so we are trying to build in flexibility for harvest levels prior to having those final totals.  For the North area, we are trying to get a few extra black and canary rockfish in the bag limit, and maintain at least two ling cod, and maybe push for a third (if possible).  The lingcod non-trawl allocation was exceeded this year south of the 40 d 10’ line at Horse Mountain and that will probably cause a reduction of bag limit to one ling cod. Here’s the wrinkle, north of this management line the ling cod are abundant and plentiful, but from Horse Mountain to the Oregon Border we are in the same bag limit as the south.  I’m trying to get that changed this year, so that we in the North Area can have a different bag limit than south of the 40 d 10’ line.  CDFW seems to be softening on this concept and has agreed to analyze this.  I think our loss of the salmon season this year helped out on this issue, in conjunction with the reduction to three black rockfish. They seem sympathetic to our plight, and are trying to help us out where they’re able.

We tried to get CDFW to consider the 30’ long weighted leader (to keep the hooks at least 30’ off the bottom to avoid YE) but it isn’t on the table for consideration with them.  They see this as too complicated to manage and enforce, so for Recreation, this concept isn’t being considered by the Department.  However, a recreation group from Half Moon Bay just got an application accepted by the Council (for consideration) of an Exempted Fishery Permit (EFP) to try this inside the RCA in their area.  This was over the strenuous objections of Marci Yaremko on the Council Floor.  An interesting dynamic is going on there, with the new Recreational Rep, Marc Gorelnik, pushing this item forward over Marci’s objection.  But, since he comes from that area, and knows all these guys, that may be the linkage for support.  I don’t think it’s going to go forward, but we’ll see in March.  The Department is adamantly opposed to this, and wants to focus on more depth and time on the water, rather than this boutique fishery that they don’t support.  However, this type of fishery is being considered for the Commercial Sector.  The Council forwarded three EFP’s, two applications in CA and one from Oregon.  They are primarily to harvest yellowtail and widow rockfish, mid-water pelagic types.

INPUT: The CDFW will probably hold a few Conference calls, or solicit surveys from the various Management Areas about mid-January to February on what we would like to see analyzed for our bag limits and season structures.  In 2016, they held regional meetings around the State, but due to low turnout and expense of travel, they will use conference calls this cycle.  That should work out OK, so long as the numbers are published so we have some time to compare and contrast these numbers to the current cycle.

HALIBUT: If you’ve been paying attention to the HTC site, you will have noticed that CDFW posted a notice that they have neglected to apply the net weight calculation on pacific halibut for the past three years, the result being we’ve left about 25% of the allocation in the water.  It seems the net weight deduction was not put into the model, and it was detected this year.  The impact was less than 25% this year since we exceed the allocation of 34,580 lbs anyway, so with the net weight deduction, we only left about 4,500 lbs in the water.  But that wasn’t the case for 2015 and 2016.  No doubt, we lost a lot of time on the water due to this oversite.  They have promised to do better in the future (sigh)!

 And, remember back last winter when this column reported that the IPHC surveys were starting up in our area again, with 32 sample stations located all the way down to the 37.5 degree line (above San Francisco)?  Rumor is the new survey stations south of the 40 degree line were lots of zeros, but we won’t know until the December Interim meeting in Seattle what the results were, and what it means for the 2A allocation and percentage over the entire halibut world.  Last year we were reduced from 2.87% down to 2.2% due to the new “time/space model” and a “hook competition” analysis scheme.  That was particularly disappointing, after six years of struggles to improve us from 2.1% in 2011 only to get knocked back down again.  It’s a tough life at these meeting, when you don’t have much political clout.  The Washington Tribes (with whom I have a very good relationship) helped us all out immensely by garnering 1.33 million (M) lbs. of allocation for 2A, when the model suggested we should be reduced back to 0.65 M lbs.  From a practical position, the Commission will keep us up toward the 1 M lb. area, since that seems to be an agreed minimal amount we need to sustain our fishery sectors.  The final decisions will be made at the Portland Annual Meeting in late January of 2018.

Crabbing:  Crabbing has been stellar for me the few times I’ve been out of Trinidad.  Crabs can’t resist committing suicide in my pots in very short order.  Maybe they like the look of my drift boat, and want to get a closer look.  The weight is a bit light, as they are about 18%, but they will get fatter each week by about 1%, so we should have the crabbing grounds to ourselves for another 5 weeks or so.  The domoic acid levels are very low or non-existent it seems, so have fun out there…and be safe!