Bottomfish Closures off Washington Avoided for Now E-mail
Written by Allen Sansano   
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 19:11

Kayak Yelloweye

Yelloweye Rockfish are a slow growing, long lived fish found along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Baja Mexico. In 2002 they were officially declared as "overfished" across a portion of their range, and rebuilding plans were immediately launched. These plans included severe restrictions on Acceptable Catch Limits (ACLs) that were lowered to limits of 17 metric tons total, along the entire Pacific Coast from Washington to California.

State officials have also resorted to limited fishing seasons, fishing depth restrictions and lowered bag limits with the intention of maximizing fishing potential of other fisheries while minimizing impacts on Yelloweye Rockfish. Sometimes these measures are not enough. Emergency fishing closures have been instituted when Yelloweye ACL numbers are in danger of being exceeded. Such was the case recently in Washington, according to this press relrease from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Recreational Bottomfishing Will Close Off North Coast

July 24, 2012

Contact: Heather Reed, (360) 249-1202

OLYMPIA – Ocean waters off the north coast of Washington will close to recreational bottomfishing after midnight Thursday (July 26) to protect yelloweye rockfish, a species federally recognized as overfished.

The closure, announced today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), affects sport fishing for rockfish, lingcod, Pacific cod, and all other bottomfish in Marine Area 3 off La Push and the portion of Marine Area 4 west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line off Neah Bay.

Heather Reed, a WDFW fish biologist, said the closure is necessary to avoid exceeding quotas on yelloweye rockfish established under a federal stock-rebuilding plan. While it is illegal to retain yelloweye, Reed said anglers sometimes intercept the species while fishing for other bottomfish.

"Anglers took most of the quota as bycatch during the popular north coast halibut openings in May," Reed said. "That didn't leave us any margin for bottomfish seasons off the north coast for the rest of the year."

Seasons for most bottomfish species are generally open year-round.

Reed noted that the early closure applies only to Marine Area 3 and the coastal portion of Marine Area 4 west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line where the federal quota and rebuilding plan are in place.

As an unfortunate byproduct of this closure, kayak anglers were severely impacted. In Washington, there are relatively few launches into the open ocean that are kayak angler friendly. Hobuck beach at the northwestern tip of the state is one of the most popular. With the July 24 directive, Hobuck was effectively shut down for fishing rockfish and lingcod. Washington anglers were outraged, especially the kayak anglers. Many resorted to phone calls and emails to State officials and expressed their feelings. The result?  This press release two days later:

North Coast Bottomfish Fishery Will Remain Open Through Labor Day

July 26, 2012

Contact: Heather Reed, (360) 249-1202

OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today that the recreational bottomfish fishery off the north coast of Washington will remain open through Labor Day, postponing a closure previously set for Friday (July 27).

A new regulation approved today will allow sport fishing for rockfish, lingcod, Pacific cod and other bottomfish to remain open through midnight Sept. 3 in Marine Area 3 and the western portion of Marine Area 4 off La Push and Neah Bay.

"This is good news, not only for anglers but also the coastal communities whose economies rely on these fisheries," said Heather Reed, a WDFW fish biologist. "We know that a month of fishing means a lot to people on the north coast."

The bottomfish season is open year-round, with the exception of lingcod which is closed during the winter month.

Reed said the previous closure date, announced earlier this week, was designed to avoid exceeding yelloweye rockfish quotas established under a federal stock-rebuilding plan. While it is illegal to retain yelloweye, federally designated as an "overfished" species, anglers sometimes intercept the species unintentionally while fishing for other bottomfish.

"Anglers took most of the quota as bycatch during the popular north coast halibut openings in May," Reed said. "That didn't leave us any margin for bottomfish seasons off the north coast for the rest of the year."

Since then, however, the department has learned that the June yelloweye catch was lower than expected, and that yelloweye catch reserved for coastal research projects will be lower than originally anticipated.

"This new information gives us some flexibility to minimize the impacts to our coastal communities and allow our recreational bottomfish fishery to remain open through Labor Day," Reed said. "We still have to close the fishery early, but not as early as we had thought."

Reed said the department plans to look for ways to address high yelloweye harvest rates in the early season to avoid the need for early bottomfish closures in future years.

This will not be the last time we face this issue. The Yelloweye stock rebuilding plan is not projecting "rebuilt" status until some time around 2067. But, it does serve as a call to arms to both anglers and fisheries management. Both need to educate themselves on the issues, and develop innovative practices that can reduce bycatch impacts on Yelloweye Rockfish, thereby extending regular bottomfish seasons.

A major factor in this effort is the nearly 100% mortality rate for yelloweyes during catch and release attempts. Yelloweye rockfish almost always suffer barotrauma while being caught. If not returned to safe depth (and water pressure), they are left to float at the surface and die. Fish descender devices have been shown to have a high success rate in in reintroducing rockfish to safe depths and relieving barotrauma. Perhaps a grass-roots campaign led by the severly affected kayak anglers in Washington might get the ball rolling? There are a number of fish descenders available on the retail market, most notably the Shelton Fish Descender and Rocklees EcoLeeser to name a couple. Devising your own descender is relatively simple as well, as noted on the Alaska Fish and Game Rockfish Conservation site.

 

 

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