PCFFA’S LETTER TO THE PACIFIC COUNCIL ON THE GROUNDFISH CRISIS
4 November 1999
Mr. Jim Lone, Chairman Pacific Fishery Management Council 2130 SW Fifth Avenue, Suite 224 Portland, OR 97201
RE: Groundfish Management (Agenda Item G7 for 4 November PFMC Meeting in Sacramento)
Dear Chairman Lone and Council Members:
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), representing working men and women in the west coast commercial fishing fleet, has a two-fold interest in the Pacific groundfish fishery and its regulation. First, some of our members are engaged in this fishery either in the limited entry fixed gear fishery, the open access fishery, the nearshore fishery (regulated by the State of California), as well as some in the trawl fishery in central and southern California. Second, the regulation of, and restrictions on, the groundfish fishery have ramifications on fisheries many of our members are engaged in, including those for Dungeness crab and albacore.
Because the Council scheduled the plan amendment for groundfish rebuilding with the management measures for carrying out that rebuilding on separate days, it is not possible for me to testify in person on the management measures, but given my background in Pacific fisheries and the concerns of PCFFA’s membership I would like to offer the following comments.
Although it will result in some economic hardships, the Council, I believe, took the correct action on Wednesday by voting for a strong and speedy rebuilding plan. If it had not taken such an action there was every possibility the management of ground-fish would have been taken out of the Council’s hands and placed under the control of the courts and negotiators from NMFS. Moreover, choosing a rebuilding option with the greatest probability of success will be in the long term best economic interest of the fishing industry.
The success of a rebuilding plan, however, will very much depend on the type of management measures (i.e., fishing regulations) recommended by the Council for 2000 and the years following. These harvest regulations have to pass the straight face test; there can be no gimmicks or shortcuts, but solid measures based on the information available to us – both scientific and from the industry itself. I say that because, despite the crisis the fishery now finds itself in, there are still those proposing measures for themselves that will have no real conservation affects or simply place the burden of conservation on others.
To make the rebuilding plan work the Council has to first and foremost address those fisheries having the greatest impact on the stocks, both in terms of harvest and bycatch.
This Council should have learned something from the demise of much of the Pacific’s salmon fishery, when for a period of two decades it sat by mute, merely imposing greater restrictions each year on the fishery until there was almost nothing left to regulate, while the dams on the Columbia and the logging in the coastal watersheds exacted their toll on salmon and steelhead stocks. True, until 1996 the Council was not required by law to comment on threats and damage to fish habitat. But the 1976 FCMA did not mandate your silence. As the legal stewards of these resources (as opposed to some of us in the NGO community who have become the defacto stewards), you have an obligation to address those significant factors affecting the health of the fish stocks you are charged with managing. To effect a real rebuilding plan for groundfish, the Council cannot (as it did for so long with salmon) skirt or ignore the problems that are readily evident.
The most significant problem, frankly, is the level of bycatch in some of the trawl fisheries coupled with the use of heavy roller gear that has or is destroying rocky bottom habitats. This bycatch can be greater than the directed fisheries for some stocks. By stating publicly these problems that most are only willing to whisper about in back rooms does not mean, nor should anyone interpret it as, PCFFA or myself being anti-trawl. Indeed, I fear that unless some of the problems in the trawl fishery are quickly addressed, there will be a huge public backlash against this gear (there are already some “conservation” groups advocating its ban) even against its use on those stocks where it is relatively benign and the only practical method for harvesting certain stocks. We do not want to see trawls go the way of coastal gillnets.
If anyone doubts our commitment, remember that it was PCFFA that worked to establish a trawl fishery for California halibut after the trammel nets were banned along most of the California coast. PCFFA initiated the successful California legislation to provide for an earlier opening of the state’s pink shrimp trawl fishery to coincide with Oregon’s. And it is PCFFA that is now working with a conservation group in southern California to get the shell mounds and decommissioned oil rigs removed from the Santa Barbara Channel to restore fishing grounds there for trawling. We recognize that trawling is the only practical method now available (save for Scottish seining in the Gulf of the Farallones) for taking flatfish. We further recognize that the trawl fishery is important – along with Dungeness crab, urchin, salmon, squid and wetfish, and the fixed gear fisheries to the maintenance of our coastal fishery infrastructure (i.e., processing, distribution, etc.).
Finally, I know from my own experience that groundfish trawling can be conducted sustainably. Prior to the “Americanization” of the EEZ that came after 1976, and the influx of larger and most powerful trawlers and the wide-spread use of roller gear, groundfish trawling appeared a sustainable fishery.
The following then are some of the recommendations, both for the year 2000 and long-term, that I would like to submit on behalf of members of the PCFFA board and member associations concerned with the groundfish fishery:
Consider Impacts of Other Fisheries. Mr. Joe Easley of the Oregon Trawl Commission has recommended the Council consider the impacts of other fisheries on groundfish stocks. He is right. The Council must consider the sebastes bycatch in both the California spot prawn trawl fishery and the pink shrimp fishery. Although these fisheries are state managed, if those fisheries are conducted in such a manner as to undercut or thwart your rebuilding plan, or even cause the loss of valuable directed fisheries (e.g., open access, recreational), NMFS could preempt. The states must be consulted with the goal of modifying state regulations to significantly reduce the bycatch of rockfish in those two fisheries. Some have questioned whether there should even be a prawn trawl fishery north of Point Conception since the prawns can be taken in traps. Certainly the use of fish excluder devices (FEDs) should be considered in both of these fisheries. While it may be inconvenient and involve some cost to those involved in the prawn and pink shrimp fisheries, certainly that cost is less than the waste created or the loss of directed open access and recreational fishing opportunities.
It is truly unconscionable to allow some fisheries to be conducted in such a wasteful fashion that other fisheries that are relatively clean have to be greatly restricted or closed to permit this waste. To allow this to happen, as is being proposed, is a clear violation of the national standard requiring fishery plans to be “fair and equitable.”
Seasonal Closures. The idea of closing for two months the recreational, open access, and limited entry fixed gear fisheries, while leaving the trawl fishery open is a bad one. First, it may not be necessary if the Council addresses the bycatch problem in the trawl fisheries for groundfish, prawns and shrimp. Second, leaving the trawl fishery open, while sounding like a good deal for trawlers, will likely lead to a backlash against trawling. A 12-month trawl season in 2000 could lead to no trawling in 2001. While there are reasons for having a 12-month trawl season, there are equally good arguments for 12-month open access, fixed gear, nearshore and recreational fisheries. Moreover, a closure on all other groundfish fisheries, while allowing trawling to stay open really fails the straight face test considering that trawlers take the lion’s share of the groundfish.
If closures are to be enacted, then they have to be enacted on all fisheries taking groundfish. Again, fairness and equity (as well as the future of the trawl fishery) demands this.
Nearshore Fishery. I fail to understand why the California nearshore fishery is under the proposed regulations. First, this fishery is now under state regulation that includes size limits. Moreover, the California Fish & Game Commission has been given authority to impose a limited entry and other measures in this fishery, impose maximum size limits as well as modify the statutory minimum size limits, and is expected to soon adopt new regulations for the nearshore fishery. PCFFA initiated the legislation to provide for this fishery convinced that if properly regulated (we’re still waiting for the state to act) that it is the type of fishing that should be promoted. We don’t see what purpose is being served by the Council imposing its will over this fishery except to the extent to make sure it is consistent with a rebuilding plan.
Second, this nearshore fishery is the cleanest of any – commercial or recreational – currently occurring on rockfish stocks. Why then is it being singled out for punishment? This is a low-impact, high value fishery that can provide for a decent standard of living for fishing families operating in a small boat fleet. It does not target on the species of concern, and if they are taken at all they can easily be released alive. If the Council restricts or closes this fishery, while allowing the trawl fishery on rockfish stocks to continue, it will have made its clearest statement yet that the regulations are about who has clout on the Council and are not about good science or biology.
Closures on the nearshore fishery won’t pass the straight face test in any substantive plan for rebuilding groundfish stocks.
Roller Gear. The use of trawl gear over hard bottoms and rocky outcroppings has to be stopped. To this end, the proposal by the Fishermen’s Marketing Association to limit bobbins to five inches makes a great deal of sense. I am wary, however, of the backsliding that has taken place recently to modify the bobbins to a larger size. Roller gear simply has to be banned if essential fish habitat for rockfish is to be preserved and protected. Failure to forcefully address the roller gear issue in a rebuilding plan will not pass a straight face test.
Lingcod. We are encouraged by the reports of good signs of lingcod together with the reports of good populations of juvenile Bocaccio. As an alternative to some of the closures being proposed on the take of lingcod, I suggest the Council consider regulations establishing maximum size limits, in addition to the existing minimum size limits. This would allow for a take of lingcod, but still provide for a larger-sizedpopulation for spawning purposes. Similar regulations (i.e., maximum and minimum size limits) are in use elsewhere, including those for sturgeon.
Full Retention. Some PCFFA members believe full retention of all rockfish should be required of trawlers. The problem of discards has already been well written about in trade journals such as National Fisherman, and many think the way to fully document the extent of discards, as well as prevent waste, is to require full retention by trawlers. Absent an effective observer program, full retention may be the only way to determine the amount of discards in the trawl fleet. Two concerns with full retention are: 1) enforcement; and 2) providing an exemption for lingcod and blackcod (sablefish) which can both be returned alive (if care is used) from a trawler.
Research and Observer Program. We would agree with the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel that there needs to be a more extensive research program on groundfish, as well as a full observer program. While a research and observer program will not help with the 2000 management measures, it is critical that there be better information on the stocks to both protect against overfishing and assure full utilization. NMFS cannot continue using lack of funding as its excuse for lack of good research that everyone can have confidence in. If NMFS has any backbone at all, it must begin pressing the Congress for this funding. The Council can and should do everything within its power, as should the industry and conservation groups, to assure there is a level of funding provided to carry out the necessary research and observer program.
In the meantime, the industry (including the processors) could begin looking at measures to help secure the necessary research and observer monies, including in-kind contributions. Moreover, industry that possesses observer data should release that information.
Trawl Buy-Out. The proposal now being put forward by the Fishermen’s Marketing Association, for a buy-back of trawl fishing permits and the boats, should be supported. This proposal needs to have some overall goal — it seems that a buy-back of both fleet capacity (size of boats, not numbers) and actual fishing power (based on past catch records) should be established to achieve at minimum a 50% reduction. Such a reduction could then lessen restrictions on the remaining trawlers, fixed gear fleet, open access fleet and recreational fishery, as well as help to speed the rebuilding process. Ideally, the larger, more powerful vessels should be targeted for such a buy-out. NMFS, the Council, industry and conservation groups should all pressure Congress to get the necessary appropriation (similar to what is being done in New England) to carry this out.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments.
W.F. “Zeke” Grader, Jr. Executive Director Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA)
cc: Department of Commerce, NMFS