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PFMC announces 2015 harvest levels

ack in March we got our hopes up that we would see an increase in time on the water for all the CA coastline. We all got excited and sent in letters of the proposed three options as presented at the April Council Meeting. All the three options presented, extended the fishing season from the current May 15 to Oct 31 season structure. The favored option was from April 1 to Dec 31. However, ALWAYS a “no action” alternative (that means status quo – or no change from present) is kept in the mix. At the June meeting, we got the unfortunate news that the “no action” alternative was selected for the area north of 40 degree 10 minutes to the Oregon border (basically from Cape Mendocino).

After some wrangling we were able to get the Mendocino Coast area to get a few more months so that they will have May 15 to October 31 (same as the North Area). The Mendocino Area is from Pt. Arena to Cape Mendocino. That will be a big improvement for them, since they were only May 15 to September 4th previously. That should be a welcome relief from the short seasons they have had for the past seven years. The other areas of CA will all get extensions of time, or in the case of So. CA, they will increase depth from 50 fathoms to 60 fathoms (they already have a 10 month season). We in the north were the big losers in this one. Why was that?

CDFW claims the north area has impacts on Canary and the Minor Nearshore Rockfish Complex (MNRC).

For the Canary issue, I think that is a ruse. Why is the MNRC now an issue? Basically, the Feds have put in a new model of scientifically examining the MNRC. Since there is little data on these fish, they are considered “data poor” or “data moderate” for the purpose of analysis. The models put in multiple levels of uncertainty so the result is the model suggests they may be overfished. To prevent overfishing, the PFMC and NOAA have reduced the harvest north of 40 degrees 10 minutes to the Canadian Border from 94 metric tons (mt) to 69 mt. I won’t go into all the details, but that means we in CA suffer a reduction of 25% of harvest of nearshore fish like China, quill back, gopher, browns, blues, calico, grass, kelp, olive and several others of minor interest (13 species in all).

Oregon suffers the same fate. Washington, however, through some clever statistical gymnastics, actually got a 41% increase while we get cut. In essence, they cherry-picked data from the last five years of harvest of these various fish and elevated their harvest average to much higher than actually had occurred. They argue since they don’t allow a commercial fishery for the MRSR complex (like CA and OR allow), they should get special consideration. We can thank our State Regulators for this one, since they folded their tent and let Michele Culver (the WA State Rep), have her way, once again. Admittedly, I was furious over this decision, that I consider a travesty. WA gets an increase in fish while CA takes a hard hit, all with the approval of our Regulators and Representatives.

What are the ramifications of this decision for 2015? The MNRC issue is not over, not by a long shot. This could jump up and bite us next year, if CA, ORE and WA all keep harvesting at their normal levels. According to a CDFW fishery biologist, we could exceed the new 69 mt Annual Catch Limit by late June of 2015. Guess what happens if we exceed the ACL….hmmmm…we could have a “no take” on the minor nearshore fisheries (that would still allow us to fish for black rockfish); or, we could be shut down by Federal Action. Think about that, we will have no Halibut Fishing in August, and its possible Rockfish could be shut off through Emergency Action in late summer (remember what happened in 2007?). Such a closure would have devastating economic impacts on the four ports and businesses in the North Area.

There are several actions the Feds and the State may choose “in lieu of” a shutdown…but it’s a very real concern. According to the CA Officials, we cannot get more time on the water because we catch too many Canary and Minor Nearshore Rockfish species. Personally, I think it is all contrived, and I know for a fact, the numbers are padded and excessive impacts are proposed. In reality, we are just not that important up here politically, so it’s easier to shut us off, being one less area for the State to be concerned with. It saves them money for the Observer Program and saves on lots of staff time. Those who attended the last CDFW Commission in Fortuna, bore witness to what matters at the Commission. The halibut closure issue had no Staff Report and action was taken in about 30 seconds. Contrast that to the concern of listing the “lone wolf” that drifts in and out of Modoc or Siskiyou Counties with a 4-hour hand wringing discussion. Following that, was another 2½ hours of the Commission and public expounding on the blood thirsty brutality of a few Ranchers in the Bieber Area proposing a Coyote Hunt to reduce kill on their stock. It is very clear that Northern CA fishing is small potatoes to them. We are just not enough of a political concern to warrant much attention. Personally, I find that distressing.

Lingcod proposed increase in bag limit. But, there is one bright spot. We will get a third ling cod next year in 2015. It appears the lings have boomed back in rebuilding, to the point that the Commercial guys will get more time for harvest and we will get one more added to our bag limit.

As for halibut, I can’t add much to what has already been said. Our State Officials are not willing to brace the voting block of ORE/WA, so we are stuck with what we’ve got I’m afraid, that is an August closure. We will be lucky to not have more time restrictions for 2015. Its possible we may get some token increase of allocation from our current 6,240 lbs, but don’t get your hopes up. The PFMC is downplaying the halibut survey for 2013 that produced 100,000 lbs in the CA area, and our State Officials have waved the white flag so to speak. If anything is going to happen, it will have to be up to us Anglers to move mountains. The two State voting block is essentially a “tyranny of the majority.” The excuses provided are that one year is not definitive for a survey, the Catch Sharing Plan is a very complicated issue, it will cause real economic harm in WA and ORE, the dog ate my homework, etc, and this subject must be approached very carefully and with due caution.

Read all these excuses to mean ORE and WA want to keep monopolizing all the fish, and they have no incentive to give up one ounce of halibut to CA. Unfortunate for us, our State Officials seem to agree with this position. The current plan for CDFW is if we local folks will be willing to pony up $30,000 for a Socioeconomic Study, perhaps we can beg the IPHC to give us more quota, purportedly taken from the Canada and Alaska fisheries. Why they should do that is a mystery to me, but I guess greater minds than mine are plotting strategy and tactics.

All these proposed regulations will be discussed at length at the September 10-17th meeting in Spokane WA next month. The Preferred Alternatives will be proposed and brought back to the November Meeting for adoption, after the public has had an opportunity to comment.

So, enjoy the summer fishing while it lasts. Salmon are getting suspicious of us and getting harder to find, but the rockfishing will be around until October 31. Halibut will start again on September 1 and go until October 31, and they should be on the bite, so start getting your gear ready again.

See you on the water.

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. He attended the meeting noted above and agreed to share his view of what happened with MyOutdoorBuddy readers


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