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DFG CLOSES ROCKFISH, LINGCOD SEASON.

Byline: Bill Becher Special to the Daily News

SAN DIEGO - The California Fish & Game Commission has closed the Southern California offshore rockfish and lingcod seasons starting Oct. 29.

Because of high early-season yields, the Department of Fish & Game has recommended the emergency closure, south of Cape Mendocino in Humboldt County, through the remainder of the year. Areas unaffected are waters less than 120 feet deep along the mainland coast and around offshore islands and rocks.

The offshore closure will be in effect through Dec. 31, when new harvest limits will be set. But the ruling effectively will eliminate deep rockfish fishing in Southern California for at least four months; the fishery is completely closed in January and February.

The emergency measure is aimed at protecting bocaccio and canary rockfish, two species that generally occupy waters deeper than 120 feet.

The commission also asked for revisions to simplify the proposed Nearshore Fishery Management Plan and also heard public comments concerning the establishment of a network of marine protected areas around the Channel Islands at its Oct. 5 meeting. The Nearshore Plan and emergency closures are aimed at preserving California's rockfish fishery. The DFG is concerned about the impacts of the rapid growth in the live-fish market for California's nearshore rockfish and wants to prevent problems that have occurred in the past, such as the near disappearance of abalone despite protective regulations.

The California Legislature passed a pair of sweeping, conservation- minded measures in 1998 and 1999 to overhaul the way marine fisheries are managed. One measure, the Marine Life Management Act, aims to end the pattern of overfishing one species after another by making sustainability a primary goal. The other, the Marine Life Protection Act, will set up an unprecedented string of no-fishing zones along the California coast to protect marine ecosystems.

State officials and environmentalists say the new rules could send California to the forefront of fisheries management. But many sport and commercial fishermen are strongly opposed to what was recommended by the DFG and question the science and data underlying the proposals.

``This is a new way of doing business,'' said John Ugoretz, a marine biologist with the DFG. ``We are being watched quite closely by the rest of the country and the rest of the world.''

Fishermen - both commercial and sport - have responded to the proposal with outrage in public hearings. Scuba divers also have voiced opposition to the possible closure of areas to even no-take recreational diving.

``The scientists have developed a kind of denial in that they think they can design reserves without considering people or small business,'' said Chris Miller, a Santa Barbara lobsterman who took part in a separate process to create marine reserves around Channel Islands National Park.

``My concern is that if you are establishing gigantic closures and taking thousands of people off the water, you need bullet-proof science. This proposal is clearly not based on that kind of science,'' says Tom Raftican, president of the United Anglers of Southern California.

He cites questions about the underlying science used in setting the Channel Island marine reserves raised by the Science and Statistical Committee of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, an advisory body to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The DFG's own documents seem to acknowledge that data are limited.

DFG biologists and environmental groups contend marine protected areas will help ensure species are not fished to dangerously low levels. Fishermen will benefit in the long run because many fish that grow in reserves ultimately will be caught outside of them, they say.

``Like always, we're concerned about managing fisheries with a limited amount of data to set harvest allowances. This is one of the reasons we support the inclusion of marine protected areas as an insurance policy against miscalculating the harvest allowances,'' said Joe Geever, Pacific Fisheries coordinator for the American Oceans Campaign, a conservation group co-founded by actor Ted Danson.

Although many fishermen agree reserves could lead to increases in species such as lobster and rockfish that tend to stay in one area, they say there is no evidence they will help the migratory species that make up the bulk of the commercial catch.

At its October meeting the Commission heard more public comments concerning options for marine protected areas around the Channel Islands. Those options include proposals to protect between 12 and 29 percent of the sanctuary, an option for no change to the existing system and an alternative to include the Channel Islands marine reserves with the Marine Life Protection Act coast-wide process.

DFG staff is preparing regulations for each option being considered by the commission. Additional public comments on the Channel Islands marine reserves proposals will be heard by the commission at its meeting Dec. 7 in Long Beach.

ON THE NET

--American Oceans Campaign: www.americanoceans.org

--California Department of Fish and Game Marine Resources Division: www.dfg.ca.gov/mrd/

--Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations: www.pcffa.org

--United Anglers of Southern California: www.unitedanglers.com/

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

(color) The California Fish & Game Commission has halted fishing for offshore rockfish, like the canary rockfish shown here, after Oct. 29.

Box: ON THE NET (see text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 18, 2001
Words:863
Previous Article:NOTEBOOK: DAVIS EXTENDS DFG DEADLINE.
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