Sunday, December 10 , 2017, 4:15 pm | Smoke 68º


Captain’s Log: Reducing Maximum Fishing Depth the Right Move

In the Southern Management Zone (Point Conception to the Mexican border), our maximum allowable fishing depth has been temporarily reduced from 60 fathoms (360 feet) to 50 fathoms (300 feet), from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 to fine-tune our cowcod stock rebuilding program. This is adaptive fisheries management at work.

Here is the press release from the California Department of Fish & Game, followed by my comments.

SACRAMENTO — The California Department of Fish & Game is limiting fishing depths in the Southern Groundfish Management Area to reduce interactions with cowcod. DFG’s action follows a recommendation made by the Pacific Fishery Management Council at its September meeting.

DFG has determined that cowcod take is projected to exceed the federal limit established for the non-trawl sector, which includes the recreational and commercial fixed-gear fisheries, in 2012, unless in-season action is taken. Therefore pursuant to Section 27.20 of Title 14, DFG is limiting recreational groundfish fishing depths to 50 fathoms (300 feet) in the Southern Groundfish Management Area (34°27’ north latitude to the Mexico border) effective on Nov. 1.

Cowcod are one of the largest rockfish species, reaching a length of 37 inches and weight of 29 pounds; they range in color from orange to pale pink/white.

Cowcod cannot be taken or possessed by sport anglers in California. Possession was prohibited to facilitate rebuilding the stock when it was declared overfished in 1999. However, they are incidentally taken on occasion when anglers are targeting other species. By limiting bottom fishing activity for target species to shallower depths, it is anticipated that incidental take of cowcod will be reduced.

“Allowable take limits for cowcod are the lowest of all the West Coast groundfish managed by PFMC, and these low limits pose the greatest constraint to Southern California anglers and a significant challenge to fishery managers,” said Paul Hamdorf, acting DFG marine region manager. “Implementing a 50-fathom depth constraint is expected to keep cowcod impacts within allowable limits and maintain conservation goals, while still providing anglers with fishing opportunities through the end of the year.”

Since being declared overfished, DFG and the Fish and Game Commission have worked closely with PFMC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to implement protective measures for cowcod, including closing critical habitat (Cowcod Conservation Area) and prohibiting retention in most fisheries. Cowcod primarily occur in depths greater than 50 fathoms in Southern California, and are slow-growing and long-lived. Full color illustrations of cowcod are available in the California Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet to help anglers identify and release this fish.

For more information regarding recreational groundfish regulations and to stay informed of in-season regulation changes, please call the Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulation Hotline at 831.649.2801, or visit the DFG Marine Region website by clicking here.

Captain’s Comments: I support this type of adaptive, in-season regulatory adjustment, and I understand that the change is made in order to allow us to continue fishing. Cowcod are a big and hungry but slow-growing fish and proved susceptible to overfishing.

When it was recognized in 1999, massive regulatory steps were put in place to manage them back to abundance while allowing us to continue fishing with minimal impact to stocks of cowcod. Happily, these big fish are becoming plentiful once again, as evidenced by increases in incidental take. It is working and working well.

The Department of Fish & Game recognized recently — while monitoring incidental catch counts — that we are getting close to our maximum allowable catch for the species. But rather than just wait until the number is exceeded and then halt all fishing for rockfish and lingcod, they are taking early action to reduce the incidental take, by restricting us to depths where cowcod are rarely found, and therefore allow us to continue our fishing season. Rockfish and lingcod are strong viable fisheries through the end of December, and many people rely on the fresh, healthy table fare and need the recreation time with family and friends.

I appreciate and support adaptive fisheries management that allows us to keep fishing for abundant stocks. This is so much better than shutting down vast tracts of ocean to fishing forever, thereby concentrating fishing pressure at the fewer remaining good fishing areas. It is wiser to manage fisheries by allowing a light take over a broad area than to shut down the best areas and run the risk of overfishing the few remaining productive areas. Marine Protected Areas are not wise fisheries management, but then they are more about garnering grant money than about fish and critters.

I applaud the DFG for taking steps to keep a successful fisheries management plan going and at the same time keep us fishing for dinner and recreation.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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