Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, March 11 @ 5:15 p.m. / Community, Economy, Ocean

Pacific Fishery Management Council Restores Some Groundfish Fishing To California Anglers; Scientists To Meet With The Community Next Week

NOAA scientists will visit Crescent City next week to conduct hook and line surveys on the quillback rockfish. | Photo courtesy of California Department of Fish and Wildlife


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Seven months of engaging with state and federal fishery officials won back some access to the nearshore groundfish fishery for Del Norte County anglers.

Scientists with the National Marine Fishery Service also appear to have heard local calls for better data on the quillback rockfish — the species that led to the early closure of the nearshore groundfish season in August.

Steve Huber, owner of Crescent City Fishing Charters, said he will host NMFS scientists on his boat next week. They will use hook and line surveys of quillback rockfish to develop a stock assessment, Huber said.

Those NMFS scientists will also take part in a community meeting at the Flynn Center in Crescent City at 6 p.m. March 20. This will allow local fishermen to meet the research team and “start to understand what truly needs to happen in our area,” Huber said.

“It should be great to be able to get true data,” he told the Wild Rivers Outpost. “They haven’t done data here since 2015. The last time they did a full area [assessment] was in 2015, 10 years ago. Lots have changed in 10 years.”

Huber appeared before the Pacific Fishery Management Council in Fresno over the weekend arguing for that better data. On Monday, he said he was happy that the Council will allow locals and visitors to Crescent City to “put some fish in their freezer,” but he acknowledged that the Council was forced to make difficult decisions.

As it stands, recreational fishermen north of the Monterey Bay Area, will be able to fish shoreward of 50 fathoms, or 300 feet, during the month of April.

From May through September, anglers will be able to fish shoreward of 20 fathoms, or 120 feet. During October, recreational fishermen will be able to fish shoreward of 50 fathoms. Those boundaries shrink again to shoreward of 20 fathoms in November and in December goes back to shoreward of 50 fathoms.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council also approved a two-fish quota limit for vermilion rockfish, according to the motion California Department of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist Caroline McKnight made on Sunday.

Huber said the PFMC’s decision to restore some fishing opportunities to California was the result of the work he and his fellow anglers he and his fellow anglers have done since the CDFW closed the nearshore groundfish season early on Aug. 21, 2023.

“This is a step in the right direction,” he said. “But nobody won.”

According to McKnight, in addition to creating a 20-fathom boundary line for the recreational fishery, CDFW will also require that anglers carry a descending device on their boat that’s ready for use. She also noted that the vermilion rockfish is important to the recreational fishery and that setting a bag limit of two ensures the species stays within its harvest limits.

Keeping quillback rockfish will still be prohibited, McKnight said. There’s also some discussion about setting a bag limit for copper rockfish from one fish to none, she said.

“This has been a major reconstruction of our entire statewide recreational fishery in order to provide opportunity anywhere and everywhere,” she told her colleagues on the PFMC. “I want to acknowledge that this has been a major feat starting since last fall when we started taking in-season action to address the quillback and that it’s required a tremendous amount of lift from our [Groundfish Advisory Panel] representatives and stakeholders and industry and public and public officials that we’ve all heard from over the last several meetings.”

At a PFMC meeting in November, at-large Council member Marc Gorelnik, who’s from California, said the Council had adopted a NMFS assessment on quillback rockfish in 2021 indicating that the species was in severe decline. However, that data contrasted with “many years of stable harvest,” Gorelnik said.

At that November meeting, CDFW environmental scientist John Budrick pointed out that when the 2021 assessment was conducted, there was not a defined California quillback rockfish stock. The question, he said, was analysis of a newly-defined California stock would show to be in decline.

On Thursday, Craig Russell, director of NMFS’s Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Division, said the Northwest and Southwest Fish Science centers will be analyzing the length, age and maturity of quillback rockfish for a 2025 assessment. He mentioned questions Council members had in regarding the quillback data collected in 2021 and said NMFS will hold “smaller more informal meetings in select California ports” to collect broader data from the public.

Huber told the Council that four charter boat captains in Crescent City will host NOAA scientists. He said he’s taking four fishermen and two scientists on his boat and is charging NOAA $600 — half his normal rate — which will cover the cost of fuel and other expenses.

“I need the data,” he told Council members. “The people need the data and I don’t want cost to be the No. 1 problem to stop this from happening.”

District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard had been calling for more accurate data since CDFW closed the nearshore groundfish fishery in August. Speaking before PFMC members on Sunday, Howard drew a comparison between the quillback rockfish and the northern spotted owl. According to him, it took representatives of the timber industry to present a data set that prevented the spotted owl from being listed as threatened in California.

“We can do the same thing with quillback,” Howard said. “I’m encouraging this body to encourage both state and federal agencies to find a way to use the data sets that’s coming out of these areas that can’t be fished by traditional trawl methods.”

On Monday, Howard said the conclusion the PFMC came to that opened the nearshore area up to fishing is based on the work that local fishermen did.

Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore was also another elected official who went before the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to talk about the local impact closing nearshore groundfish fishing had. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Crescent City had seen “amazing recovery” in its sales tax and transient occupancy tax revenues, he said. However, once the fishery closed, those numbers went down, Inscore said.

“These things are huge in a small community,” he said, pointing out that more than 105 public comments had been submitted electronically by people he interacts with often. “There is work to be done and real-time assessment about what has happened and what is going to happen [that] needs to be taken seriously in real time. This is not something that is years away or months away. It is going to impact us significantly going into this tourism season.”


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