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Captain’s Log: Managing Fisheries for the Future

A Fish & Game marine biologist promotes the importance of long-term sustainability.

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Red snapper (vermilion rockfish), held by Ramona Lisa McFadyen, are one of our local, abundant — and very tasty — groundfish. (Capt. David Bacon / Noozhawk photo)

I found a well-written article on how our fish are managed and will share informative excerpts. It is written by Matt Michie, a marine biologist, and can be found on the Web site of the California Department of Fish & Game. Click here to read the story..

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Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)
The article shows how carefully fish are managed by traditional fisheries management practices and helps illustrate why we do not want permanent Marine Protected Areas, which prevent us from practicing conservative values by spreading out fishing activity. MPAs force anglers to fish a shrinking number of productive spots. Not good.

Excerpts from the article:

“State jurisdiction in ocean waters spans from the coast to three miles offshore, and federal jurisdiction spans from three miles to 200 miles offshore. As a result, the fishery is jointly managed by the California Department of Fish & Game and in conjunction with the states of Oregon and Washington, Native American tribes and the NOAA Fisheries Service through the Pacific Fishery Management Council. These agencies employ individuals trained in fisheries biology, statistics, economics or resource management.

“Groundfish management is guided by fisheries management plans (FMPs), which describe the nature and challenges of a fishery and provide regulatory mechanisms for stock conservation founded in long-term sustainability and sound science. The Nearshore Fishery Management Plan (NFMP), mandated by the Marine Life Management Act in 1998, provides the basis for managing California’s nearshore finfish, many of which are groundfish, while in federal waters farther offshore, the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan is used. In addition, PFMC and NOAA Fisheries Service are guided by the reauthorized (2006) Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act, which requires individual assessment of all fish stocks covered within the federal FMP.

“Stock assessments are a critical management tool for monitoring the abundance of fish populations as well as for predicting the consequences of policy decisions. A stock assessment is a review of the size and health of fish populations to support management of a species or fishery. It considers all available information on abundance, distribution, age structure and other biological or environmental factors and explores future outcomes of management alternatives and the associated uncertainty and risk of each action.

“The extensive amount of information in fishery stock assessments comes from catch data, fishery-independent surveys and biological knowledge (called life history data). Assessments are used to set harvest limits based on whether the stock’s status is determined to be ‘healthy,’ ‘precautionary’ or ‘overfished.’ A stock is declared overfished when its population size decreases below a certain level. For most groundfish, this level is 25 percent of the population’s ‘unfished biomass,’ or the size the stock would be if there was no fishing permitted; for NFMP species, the overfished threshold is 30 percent unfished biomass. In the absence of sufficient information for an assessment, harvest limits are set based on historic landings.

“The aim of a fishery stock assessment is to determine the historical and current status of a resource and to establish the level at which it may be sustainably used. Once a stock assessment is complete, the appropriate harvest limit is determined for that particular fish stock. For most fisheries in state waters, state and federal harvest limits are the same. California’s management guidelines can be set equal to, or more stringent than federal guidelines; however, they can’t be more lenient. For example, the cabezon and greenling fisheries are managed by DFG to stricter standards under the NFMP than the guidelines given by the PFMC.

“In the case of overfished species, the harvest limit is set to a level aimed toward rebuilding the species population. Strict management measures are adopted for both commercial and recreational user groups when a fish stock is declared overfished, because overfished stocks need to rebuild as quickly as possible. Because overfished species may live among healthy species and can’t be singled out for harvest, the harvest limit must be set low enough that overfished species are minimally affected while preserving as much fishing opportunity as possible on healthy stocks. Often, fishing for healthy stocks is limited by depth, time or area because of this inability to single out a target species.

“Once an overall harvest limit is determined, the harvestable stock is allocated among all fishery sectors. Allocation among the user groups is not entirely a biological decision but also a political, social and economic one that may be based on the historical landings of each group. The Fish and Game Commission and the PFMC make allocation decisions for the state and the Pacific coast, respectively, and their outcomes can have long-term effects on coastal communities.

“Increasing our knowledge base, setting harvest limits, rebuilding overfished stocks, allocating limited resources to user groups and meeting the needs of fishing communities present many challenges for groundfish managers. Fortunately, most user groups share the DFG’s goal of long-term sustainability.

“For more information regarding the groundfish fishery, visit the DFG’s Groundfish Central Web site at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/groundfishcentral.”

Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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