Friday, December 2 , 2016, 2:30 pm | Fair 62º


Captain’s Log: Managing Fisheries for the Future

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

Article Image
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..

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”

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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» on 01.10.09 @ 11:23 AM

Dear Capt. Bacon,

I am 64 years old and have fly fished all over the world for many of the great sport fish. I read your article with interest because, in my view, it begs some of the most critical questions about the world’s fisheries.

1. Mr. Mittchie belabors the obvious when he says, “Stock assessments are a critical management tool for monitoring the abundance of fish populations as well as for predicting the consequences of policy decisions.” This assumes that the Marine biologists at NOAA, DFGS, ASFM, or any of the other organisation with governance responsibilities actually can, with ANY accuracy, measure the stock of salt water species. Let’s look at soome recent history. The Canadian version of California’s DFGS authorised an 800,000 ton cod catch in a year when the fleet caught 20,000 tons and never sailed again. The cod are gone, likely depleted beyond their ability to rejuvernate. Last year The Atlantic States Fishery Management biologist managing Atlantic Coast striped bass said the stock were growing and doing well despite huge takes of spawning size cows in the Chesapeake Bay and repeated warnings from other monitors. Year before last, I caught 400 fish over 50 or so days, this ast summer I caught 8. The entire coats of Maine was without and meaningful bass catch, and at least three guides I know of had to quit fishing. We’ll see what this summer brings. The biologists say the fish just went somewhere else and will likely return soon. Look at the Pacific Northwest. The salmon season is closed to all. The real question is what wasn’t it closed the year before and the year before that if the biologists really had accurate stock assesment skills?
4 years ago I spoke with a Bering Sea pollock Captain of a 125 foot trawler. He said “oh no, we have no problem because we’ve worked with the biologists and we management the biomass really well. So well that their stock is now so far off normal that they have had to cut production significantly.

The list goes on and on. Biologists clearly do not have a grip on stock assesment.

2. The “lingo” precedes common sense. Managers get carried away by the givens of their discipline. By this i mean that fish biologists, like any other specialists, create a language of assumptions as well as diction and over time these assumptions are taken for granted. They need to reconsider the groundrules. They vote, for instance, to allow a 1 million slot size catch of spawing striped bass and say the commercil guys are doing a good job. But the never discuss the out-sized by catch of at least a million fish which get thrown back and largely die. The trawlers off the North Atlantic coast have huge by-catch problems.

Personally, I don’t think there is any justification for taking any fish other than farmed or stocked. With the cost of fuel and regular wear and tear the per pound cost of fish brought home to your table well exceeds the cost of simply buying it.

So, that leaves us with sport fishing. For me, once the fish has eaten, the fishing is over, and, in fact, I will frequently break off big fish (Tarpon for instance) because I don’t want to spend 2 hours winching them in. I’d rather be fishing.

I haven’t used a barb or taken more than perhaps 10 fish in 25 years and have my fun buttton punched all the time.
AND, the good news is that if we left the stock alone, we would be catching monstrous sized fish in just a few years. New records every year.

Tight lines.

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