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What's ahead for coastal anglers

he 2014 fishing season opened on May 1 for halibut, May 10 for Salmon and May 15 for groundfish (rockfish). The halibut opener was decent weather for the first three days and many nice size halibut were landed before the wind started up. Salmon has been spotty but some nice size fish are being caught if you can handle the lumpy water. The spring was fairly calm but the winds are coming late this year and now we have small crafts warnings and lumpy seas to greet us out there. Many of the more salty folks have been out there working the lines and getting their limits.

Carry a rockfish release device
The Rockfish season will be the same as last year from May 15 to October 31, north of the 40 degree 10 minute line above Shelter Cove; and the Mendocino area down south of Fort Bragg (38 degree 57.50 minutes) will be open from May 15 to September 2. Please carry a release device on your boat to put any non-targeted, or yelloweye or canary rockfish back down to depth. Whether it be a milk crate, wire device, upside down weighted hook, pressure release device, etc., please use whatever you’ve got.

There are a variety of these devices as depicted in this video that can be used to increase survival of rockfish that have been caught at depth. These devices do work well and the PFMC gave us more survival credit this year with the use of these devices. We can all do our part for conservation by handling any rockfish to be released carefully and quickly. The good news is anglers have been very responsible in avoiding yelloweye areas and we have only had about 50 percent by-catch mortality of YE over this past year.

2015/16 seasons may be more liberal
As a result of our efforts to avoid yelloweye, canary (and cowcod down south) the CDFW has proposed much longer seasons for us in the next cycle. The Northern and Mendocino areas preferred preliminary alternative as of this writing is to be from April 1 to September 30 at 20 fathoms, and October 1 to December 31 at 30 fathoms.

Public comment is being accepted on this subject prior to the PFMC meeting in Garden Grove on June 24th. There are actually four options, one being no change, but the more liberal option seems to be the favorite by most members of the Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers. It has been a long time since we have been offered this much time on the water. One nice advantage will be that those crabbing in the fall months can drop their pots and do some rockfish fishing while the pots soak. This will favor Trinidad the most since they have rocky habitat very close to the crabbing grounds. This has been a long time coming and I certainly hope these season extensions make it through the analysis and are adopted this fall for the next two years.

I do have some concern over the 30 fathom addition regarding yelloweye, so it is critical that we act responsibly as anglers and carry release devices, since we are more likely to pick up some YE and Canary at the additional depth. This extension of depth will be very carefully monitored for YE by-catch, so please be polite and honest with the Dock Samplers and have a device on board that is handy.

Halibut season allocations are complex
The halibut efforts are ongoing to try to get our allocation increased above the one percent of the non-tribal allocation for the 2A zone (currently set at 6240 pounds this year). We did have the survey results from last year that illustrated that we have about 100,000 pounds of exploitable biomass in the CA area that adds to the 620,000 pounds in Oregon and Washington. This was great news for us and we expected the Council would immediately grant us more allocation this year. Like many of you, I was sorely disappointed when this didn’t happen. There are many complicated and interwoven issues with halibut. The population overall is decreasing (but holding steady in the 2 Zone, which includes all of Canada and three Pacific Coast States), the fish are getting smaller in size at age (but ours are not), recruitment is much lower for the past decade, and all the zones but 3A got their allocations cut again this year. This is a frustrating subject.

These Pacific Halibut “twins” (both 45 lbs.) were caught off Eureka in mid-May
These Pacific Halibut “twins” (both 45 lbs.) were caught off Eureka in mid-May in just 1/2 hour. Photo courtesy of "Opportunity" Humboldt Tuna Club forum

While science is on our side to have our allocation increased in CA, the two northern states know that as our allocation goes up, their share goes down. This is compounded by the reality that we had a six-month season (now five months with the August closure this year) while in Oregon and Washington they have only several days to a few weeks in most areas. Also, we have only a one year survey, and survey results have a history of high variability, so the Council is hesitant to make any quick and substantial moves on the allocations without more years of data. Also, the WA tribes believe their 35 percent allocation is not enough and they will want more.

For all these reasons and several more in the background, the Council is not willing to open up the Catch Sharing Plan (CSP) to make a free-for-all on the allocations issue. CSP’s and allocations are very contentious; this is more of a political issue than a science issue. This is particular frustrating to us, because we know we have the fish in our area, but we are not going to be allowed to access them. Also, keep in mind these are migratory fish and move frequently and easily between depths and up and down the coast.

Halibut are under a lot of pressure by all sectors of the fishing industry and we all would like more. The by-catch in the Pollock Industry in Alaska is particularly vexing in that they catch millions of pounds of small fish while catching their targeted fish. (Pollock catch is 2.5B pounds per year with a two percent by-catch). All this compounds into an exasperating situation, where it literally takes years of meetings, discussions, arguments, negotiations and compromises between all the States, Canada and fishing industries to hammer out a solution. Issues like this cause grey hair beyond the normal aging process. We hope for some relief in the short term, but I can’t speculate what or how much that will be. I sincerely wish it were not this complicated or involved. I can only ask for your patience and we will continue to work with our State Officials and do whatever we can for the Recreational Sector.

National Recreational Fishing Action Plan
On April 1 of this year I had the opportunity to go back to Washington, D.C. and represent our area with 100 other recreational representatives from all over the country and the Western Pacific. In part, our purpose was to make recommendations on the up-coming Magnuson-Stevens Act that is up for reauthorization in the Congress. We had the Deputy Director to the Secretary of Commerce there as well as many top NOAA and NMFS folks.

On a wider scale we are developing a long term strategy on an Action Plan for the next ten years. Some of the major elements, are more partnerships on research efforts with NOAA and Rec Fisherman, more representation at the Councils, increased socio-economic data and legislative efforts. The Commerce Department is realizing that the Recreational Sector is contributing over $78B per year to the economy and creates over 350,000 jobs. We have large economic impacts on our areas; albeit, it is spread out all over the coastlines. We are trying to get the emphasis of the MSA to be more balance toward the recreational sector, rather than focus so heavily on the commercial sector. This work is ongoing and change comes slowly in Congress, but you have to work steadily and keep at it.

Get your gear together and get out on the water and have a great summer season. When the weather allows us, we should have another great year on the water.

Tight lines and be safe out there.

Tom Marking is a past Board Member of the Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers with a membership of about 500 local anglers. In addition, he is also a member of GAP the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel, serving as the CA Sportfishing Representative.


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