PORTLAND - Limits on fishing set by federal regulators will drive some commercial fishers farther out to sea and drive others out of business.
Meeting in Portland until late Friday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council closed trawl fishing for 2003 in Washington, Oregon and Northern California in waters between 100 fathoms and 250 fathoms deep. The closure - one of the strictest management measures employed on the West Coast - aims to protect shrinking populations of nine groundfish species.
"It's gonna force us out to deeper waters," said Kelly Smotherman, a Warrenton commercial fisherman who sits on an industry panel that advises the council. Coastal economies will suffer under the rules, set to take effect Jan. 1.
Ilwaco-based fishermen are concerned that some trawlers may switch part of their efforts to crab and albacore tuna, cutting those pies into ever smaller and less-profitable pieces.
"The income to communities based on groundfish landings will be reduced by an order of millions of dollars," said Peter Huhtala, program director for Pacific Marine Conservation Council. "A lot of the grounds off Newport and Astoria are closed, and that's mostly to protect darkblotched rockfish."
In California, the closed area will be larger. Trawling is prohibited there in waters between 60 fathoms and 150 fathoms deep for most of the year. Other sectors of the groundfish fishery, such as recreational and fixed-gear fishers, will face similar limits and reductions.
Fishers had hoped the council would make an exception for winter petrale fishing and open the closed area beyond 150 fathoms between November and February. Instead of setting a uniform depth line, the council delegated responsibility to state fishery managers, who will be tasked with creating specific petrale fishing areas.
The council voted for a satellite vessel monitoring system to enforce the new closed areas. Commercial fishers will have to install transponders monitored by satellites that periodically update their boats' position, course and speed.
Enforcement consultants from the National Marine Fishery Service were pushing hard to get the monitoring system included in the council's decision.
"Fishermen, for the most part, obey the law," Huhtala said. "But somebody's going to try to fudge if there's not some sort of enforcement presence."