ILWACO — A regional fishery management council has announced that two previously over-fished species on the West Coast have recovered ahead of schedule.
For the first time in more than a decade, fishing restrictions will ease for bocaccio and darkblotched rockfish, both varieties of groundfish that have been under strict rebuilding plans for years. Harvest limits for both fish should increase starting in 2019, according to a press release from the Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional fisheries councils in the United States. The Pacific Council manages fisheries off of the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. In all, it manages more than 100 species of groundfish.
Bocaccio was declared overfished in 1999, and darkblotched rockfish in 2000. Starting around 2003, the council implemented numerous measures to help restore fish populations, including widespread fishing closures off of the West Coast. The groundfish fleet also had to limit fishing for other more abundant species to avoid unintentional catch of the overfished stocks.
Groundfish closures and restrictions had a harsh impact on the Lower Columbia River’s commercial fishing fleet, which in effect faced the ocean equivalent of the northern spotted owl crisis in Northwest forests.
However, recovery strategies coupled with favorable environmental conditions “have paid huge dividends,” Council Chair Herb Pollard said. The council credited commercial and rereational fishermen and west coast port managers for their support of the recovery efforts.
“By working together, we’ve brought bocaccio and darkblotched rockfish back to where they will again be part of a sustainable West Coast groundfish fishery that creates renewed opportunity for the fishing fleet, as well as more options for seafood consumers,” said Barry Thom, regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries, West Coast Region.
Between 1999 and 2017, 10 West Coast groundfish stocks were declared overfished, after surveys documented their declining numbers. Pacific whiting, for example, was declared overfished in 2002. The Council, working with NOAA Fisheries and the fishing industry, reduced commercial harvests. Combined with strong reproduction and recruitment, the fishing cutbacks led to the rapid rebuilding of Pacific whiting by 2004. The Council and NOAA Fisheries also developed rebuilding plans for the other nine overfished stocks: bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish, lingcod, canary rockfish, cowcod, Pacific ocean perch, widow rockfish, petrale sole, and yelloweye rockfish.
Lingcod was declared rebuilt in 2005, and widow rockfish in 2012. Both petrale sole and canary rockfish were declared rebuilt in 2015. Rebuilding plans remain in place for three remaining overfished species: cowcod, Pacific ocean perch, and yelloweye rockfish. He council plans to review the status of perch and yelloweye rockfish this summer. Fisheries managers believe the Cowcod stock will be restored by 2019.
“The Council is a transparent, science-based, inclusive approach to fisheries management,” said Council Executive Director Chuck Tracy. “Our progress in rebuilding overfished stocks shows the effectiveness of this approach.”