Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023 @ 9:23 a.m.

Huffman Is Asking NOAA For Pause On Quillback Overfished Determination, Rep Says; DN Anglers to Help Scientists Collect Regional Data

Del Norte's congressman is asking NOAA to pause a determination that the quillback rockfish (pictured) is overfished, his representative told supervisors Tuesday. | Courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife


Groundfish Closure: State Department of Fish and Wildlife Questions Science On Quillback Rockfish Overfishing Status in California, PFMC At Odds Over Rebuilding Analysis

Del Norte Fishermen Are Pissed About Nearshore Groundfish Fishery Closure


Congressman Jared Huffman has asked NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, to pause making an overfished determination for the quillback rockfish — the species that led to the closure of California’s 2023 nearshore groundfish fishery.

Speaking before the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors via Zoom on Tuesday, Huffman’s representative John Driscoll said the Congressman asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to suspend their assessment until March.

Huffman is also asking NMFS to partner with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct data sampling from the fishery that’s being impacted, Driscoll said.

“All of us have probably gone out and caught quillback,” he said. “We know where they are. They’re mixed up with all the other species in the rocky habitat and nearshore areas. We all know they seem to be quite abundant in those areas although they’re not a desirable species in terms of catching them.”

Steve Huber, owner of Crescent City Fishing Charters, already has plans to get NOAA scientists on the fishing grounds. Three scientists will be paired with four fishermen, he told supervisors, and “we can go anywhere we want.”

“We’re hoping to start at the end of December because they don’t know how many eggs are actually in a quillback, which is pretty scary,” he said. “We’ve never been able to fish for them by the time we start in May, their spawning season is done. The goal is to be in there sometime in late December or early January, trying to get them (while they’re) pregnant to see how many eggs are inside of them.”

Huber said he’s got a few hotspots in mind — “areas no trawler is ever going to see.”

Huber and District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard spoke of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s failure earlier this month to adopt a rebuilding analysis for the quillback rockfish. Howard, who attended the PFMC’s meeting in Garden Grove, praised Huber for being willing to collect the hook and line data current assessments are lacking.

Howard also called on his colleagues to work to build a coalition of coastal counties whose commercial and recreational fishing fleets were also left out of the water when the season closed.

“We have until March to really push a unified approach to pause this overfished determination,” Howard said. “With the Board’s permission, the quickest way to access them would be with letters to their Boards from our Board and with personal communications from supervisors on the dais.”

As of Aug. 21, the recreational boat-based groundfish season between Cape Mendocino and the Oregon border was only open seaward of the 50-fathom, or 300-foot, Rockfish Conservation Area boundary line. Anglers could take and possess rockfish, slope rockfish and lingcod, but couldn’t deploy their gear shoreward of that 50-fathom limit.

According to Craig Shuman, CDFW marine region manager, the department closed the nearshore fishery after realizing that the quillback rockfish catch for the season had been nearing the overfishing limit of 1.04 metric tons by the end of July.

In 2021, NMFS scientists estimated that quillback rockfish in California were below the overfished threshold and created a draft rebuilding analysis. However in June 2023, the PFMC approved a groundfish fisheries management plan that recommended establishing three separate rockfish stocks for Washington, Oregon and California.

On Tuesday, Howard said the conclusion NMFS arrived at in 2021 was problematic because their assessment relied on trawling data. He pointed out that such data cannot be obtained locally because trawlers “cannot get in where this species exists.”

Howard has been pushing for a federal disaster declaration due to closure of the 2023 groundfish and salmon seasons and the Smith River Complex wildfire.

On Tuesday, Driscoll said that the Secretary of Commerce declared a fishery resource disaster for the 2023 Sacramento River and Klamath River fall chinook ocean and inland salmon fisheries. This came quicker than expected, Driscoll told supervisors.

CDFW is also looking into whether they can thread the needle on a disaster declaration for the groundfish closure, Driscoll said. This is a more complicated process since declarations aren’t generally made in response to simple management procedures, he said.

“They look more like the closure of the entire salmon season or the closure of crab for domoic acid purposes, etc., but generally are not allowed by fisheries management actions,” Driscoll told supervisors. “But they are considering that and if they’re able to do that and make a determination on what harm was (done) this past year and they request that of the Secretary of Commerce then I expect the Congressman would also support that. But that’s not something that’s going to happen in the very very near future.”

Driscoll praised Huber’s goal of pairing scientists with local fishermen to conduct hook and line surveys of the quillback, especially in rocky nearshore habitats that isn’t targeted by trawlers.

“The other thing, this is not directed at NMFS, but I think the State Department of Fish and Wildlife, they have authorities they can use to open other areas, other opportunities that may help blunt some of the pain and give some opportunities for folks in very nearshore waters,” Driscoll told supervisors. “I don’t personally know how much that’ll do for folks, but it’s something and I think asking Fish and Wildlife to examine those opportunities is going to be important.”

Del Norte County resident Andrea Spahn, an angler who has also been advocating for the groundfish season, said CDFW has discussed “giving us some areas to fish.” She noted that the department has proposed opening the fishery shoreward of 20 fathoms, or 120 feet, and deeper than 50 fathoms.

“That’s throwing us a bone,” she said. “(But) if you think shoreward to 20 fathoms, that area’s going to get fished out in no time at all. Now, talking 50 fathoms and deeper, what about small boats and kayakers? We’re probably going to get something this year, but we don’t know yet.”

Spahn also urged county supervisors to help local fishermen educate tourists, pointing out that regulations change all the time.

During public comment, Humboldt County Supervisor Michelle Bushnell also weighed in, thanking Howard for bringing the issue to her attention.

“Humboldt County is listening,” she said.

Howard also called for building coalitions on the fisheries side to help collect regional data on the quillback rockfish.

“I don’t want to see people like Steve [Huber] take a hit in the personal pocket to save a fishery,” he said. “It’s unacceptable because it is the job of the feds and the state to manage that species through accurate stock assessments, which they’ve ignored.”


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