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Bottomfish anglers get knuckles rapped

e North Coast rockfish anglers are a victim of our own success! 2014 has been an eventful year for many reasons, but there are definitely winners and losers on the horizon. In a nutshell, halibut is a win/lose scenario, depending upon your interpretation and the rockfish harvest was so successful, we have put ourselves in jeopardy. Let me explain in this month’s “Groundfish Fish Wrap-Up.”

Pacific Halibut allocation has been exceeded
As you are well aware, we have been exceeding our allocation of 6,000 lbs. for the last 7 years. As noted in my prior columns, that came to the attention of the IPHC and the PFMC and a subcommittee was appointed to study the problem for past two years and make recommendations. The culmination of the study, including our first population survey off-shore, resulted in action at the November PFMC meeting.

There were two issues of concern
The first is CA believed we were not getting a fair amount of allocation, and second, the OR/WA/IPHC/NMFS/PFMC regulators and anglers felt we were fishing unregulated and uncontrolled. As usual, there is some truth, and some misconception to all of this. Over the past two years of working in the Groundfish Advisory Subcommittee (GAP) I have empathized, cajoled, argued, pleaded and negotiated with the industry folks and regulators to inform themselves of the facts, the myths and work cooperatively to both of resolve both these concerns.

As you may know by now, the GAP took the lead in the resolution process and proposed that CA receive 4% of the non-tribal allocation of Pacific Halibut for 2015, with the understanding that we would stay within that allocation and take in-season action to shut the season down once the harvest guideline (HG) is attained.

pacific Halibut
Pacific Halibut

Expect two-three month season
To their credit, CDFW, after avoiding this issue for a number of years, proposed an in-season method that satisfied all the critics and is based upon the CFRS (dock samplers) data. This is a one year agreement for 2015. For example, if the IPHC allocation is 960,000 lbs. to the 2A zone in 2015, CA will receive 24,960 lbs. of Pacific Halibut. To keep within this allocation, we will have a season structure of probably two-three months, depending upon what months we choose. Once the IPHC provides us with the 2A allocation in January of 2015, CDFW will schedule a meeting to ask for our opinion on what months we prefer.

Monthly estimated Pacific Halibut harvest levels
Here is the current projection on monthly harvest success projected for 2015 by CDFW: May 3,700 lbs., June 8,600, July and August 16,000 each, September 6,500 and October 1250 lbs. So, pick any combination of months to not exceed 25,000 lbs. and there you have it. We will have to wait for the IPHC to act in January before we will know the allocation. This is a really brief summary of the outcome, but considering the impacts in all of 2A, this is the best we could negotiate for this year. This took four years of really tough negotiations, dozens of meeting and hundreds of hours of staff and advisory body hours to arrive at this. It is what it is. The challenge is for us to prove that we can stay within the allocation in order to try to improve our position with higher allocations in the future. This will be a challenge, but we had better be up to the task. This year’s off-shore survey should help bolster our request for an increased allocation.

Rockfish this year was a smashing success! I don’t know how else to put it. We harvested record amounts of Black Rockfish (BR) to everyone’s astonishment, particularly to the CDFW. And, ling cod were thick as flies this year with people complaining they couldn’t keep them off their lines to catch rockfish! When is the last time your heard that complaint? And, it is going to get better, for ling cod that is…not so for rockfish.

Black rockfish limit may be decreased by 50 percent
Here’s the rub. We caught too many BR this year and exceeded the Harvest Goal (HG) for California. We share the Annual Catch Limit with our sister states, so we each have a HG to apportion up the total amount. We blew through our HG this year in a huge way, the HG was 230.8 metric tons and the projection is we hauled in 416.9 metric tons. In the North, May through September, we doubled our harvest from a few years ago. To get us back to the 230 MT, we would have only had a two fish sub-bag limit for 2015. So, CDFW shifted 75 mt from the Commercial Sector (who are way under their HG) over to recreation that allows a 305 mt HG. That will allow a sub-bag limit of five BR. We owe the Commercials big time of this one.

Ling Cod: Daily limit may be upped to three
Here is the dilemma I see for next year. One, we will be tossing back scads of BR in an attempt the get the third ling cod they are allowing, and to try to catch something other than a BR. And what would that be? Greenling, cabezon, minor near shore species (MNS), vermillion, and whatever else is swimming around down there. A looming problem is the near shore minor complex has been reduced by 25% from 2014 due to the china rockfish problem up north (down to 40 10’ line). The minor NS complex has china, yellow and black, gopher, olive, treefish, quillback, grass, calico, copper and blue. For instance, we have caught 7.5 mt of China rockfish this year and the Over Fishing Limit (OFL) for 2015 is 7.2 mt.

copper rockfish IDvermillion Id sketch

Copper Rockfish (top) Vermillion Rockfish (bottom). These fish may appear to similar until you look for those characteristics that set them apart. Generally speaking if the underside of a jaw is rough, the fish is ready for the box (at least that is good way to be sure your red rockfish is a vermillion). Copper Rockfish also have distinct characteristics but with the guide offered below you will be better prepared to identify your fish correctly. If in doubt, descend the fish as deep as possible and release them.

Rockfish identification to be critical
Next year, we will be trying to fill our bag limit to ten fish, only five of which can be blacks. And, we have to try to avoid all the MNS species so as not to exceed that reduced allocation. I think you see the problem here. We have been squeezed into a narrow shelf of fishing area, and we are now beginning to deplete the local areas due to increased pressure. We can’t go deeper because of the concern of yelloweye and canary rockfish, both overfished with very low by-catch amounts. And, you had better bone up on telling the difference between a blue and black rockfish. Hint, blues have small mouths and blacks have big mouths, kind of like small and large mouth bass. But blues are a problem north of us, so that will be the next fish to slap us upside the head. Fishing is getting complicated these days.

[Editor’s Note: With more than 60 species of rockfishes found along the California coast, identifying catch can be difficult for novice anglers, experienced anglers, and charter boat crewmembers alike. With current ocean sportfishing regulations putting sub limits on some species and requiring anglers to release others, the ability to correctly identify catch has become even more important. Recognizing the need for a guide to help passengers and crewmembers properly identify rockfish, the Fishery Enhancement and Research Foundation (FERF) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have created a guide to present California Rockfishes and Associated Species which can be obtained here.]

I strongly advise every angler to take this very serious in 2015. It is incumbent upon us to have an effective release device that is functional and we use it. If CDFW sees a bunch of black rockfish floating around our boats, and our release mortality rockets upwards, they may be compelled to shut us down. That is a very real concern for next year. They will be tracking near shore and black rockfish harvest closely and will be watching for catch and wastage more critically than in the past. Get ready and be responsible.

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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