|Cabezon. Credit: Pt-Lobos.com|
The groundfish covered by the Council’s groundfish fishery management plan (FMP) include over 90 different species that, with a few exceptions, live on or near the bottom of the ocean. These are made up of the following species:
- Rockfish. The plan covers 64 different species of rockfish, including widow, yellowtail, canary, shortbelly, and vermilion rockfish; bocaccio, chilipepper, cowcod, yelloweye, thornyheads, and Pacific Ocean perch.
- Flatfish. The plan covers 12 species of flatfish, including various soles, starry flounder, turbot, and sanddab.
- Roundfish. The six species of roundfish included in the fishery management plan are lingcod, cabezon, kelp greenling, Pacific cod, Pacific whiting (hake), and sablefish.
- Sharks and skates. The six species of sharks and skates are leopard shark, soupfin shark, spiny dogfish, big skate, California skate, and longnose skate.
- Other species. These include ratfish, finescale codling, and Pacific rattail grenadier.
The Fishery and Gear
Since there is such a wide variety of groundfish, many different gear types are used to target them. While the trawl fishery harvests most groundfish, they can also be caught with troll, longline, hook and line, pots, gillnets, and other gear.
The West Coast groundfish fishery described in the FMP has four components:
- Limited entry. This component is comprised of fishers with limited entry permits. The limited entry program limits the number of vessels allowed to participate in a fishery. This sector is, in turn, divided into limited entry trawl (for those fishers using trawl gear such as bottom and pelagic trawl nets) and limited entry fixed gear (for those fishers using fixed gear, such as longlines, traps or pots).
- Open access. This component of the groundfish fishery allocates a portion of the harvest to fishers targeting groundfish without limited entry permits, and fishers who target non-groundfish fisheries that incidentally catch groundfish. Trawl gear may not be used in the directed groundfish open access fishery. Trawl gears for target species such as pink shrimp, California halibut, ridgeback prawns, and sea cucumbers are exempted from this rule.
- Recreational. This component includes anglers targeting groundfish species and others who target non-groundfish species but who incidentally take groundfish.
- Tribal. This component is made up of tribal commercial fishers who have a federally recognized treaty right to fish for federally managed groundfish in their “usual and accustomed” fishing areas. These tribes, all located in Washington state, include the Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah. Formal allocations to these tribes exist for sablefish, and Pacific whiting. Other groundfish species allocations for this sector are decided by annual Council action.
The Management Context
Groundfish are managed through a number of measures including harvest guidelines, quotas, trip and landing limits, area restrictions, seasonal closures, and gear restrictions (such as minimum mesh size for nets and small trawl footrope requirements for fishing shoreward of the trawl Rockfish Conserrvation Area (RCAs are areas where fishing is prohibited to specific gears or sectors). The trawl sector of the groundfish sector is currently being rationalized – that is, it is shifting to an IFQ and harvest co-operative program that is scheduled for implementation in 2011 (visit the Council’s Trawl Rationalization webpage). This program is expected to reduce harvest capacity in the fishery, to make the fishery more efficient, and to lower bycatch (the incidental harvest of non-target species) in the fishery. All sectors of the groundfish fishery are currently constrained by the need to rebuild groundfish species that have been declared overfished (widow rockfish, canary rockfish, yelloweye rockfish, darkblotched rockfish, bocaccio, Pacific ocean perch, and cowcod). Rebuilding plans have been developed to help these species recover (see Amendment 16-1, 16,-2, 16-3 and 16-4). Because of the low available harvest of species managed under rebuilding plans, the overall groundfish harvest has been significantly reduced.
The Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) contains the rules for managing the groundfish fishery. It outlines the areas, species, regulations, and methods that the Council and the Federal government must follow to make changes to the fishery. The plan also creates guidelines for the biennial process of setting harvest levels. This page describes the amendments made to the FMP.
Below are three general processes used to regulate groundfish harvests. Since these processes can take up to six months, they may be streamlined for some decisions.
- The process for controversial or complex issues takes at least three Council meetings. Proposals for management measures may come from the public, from participating management agencies, from advisory groups, or from Council members. If the Council wants to pursue these proposals, it asks for other possible solutions to the problem being addressed and then directs the Groundfish Management Team (GMT), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and/or Council staff to prepare an analysis. At the next meeting when such a proposal is on the agenda, the Council reviews the analysis and chooses a range of alternatives and possibly a preliminary preferred alternative. The analysis is then made available for public review, and the Council makes a final decision at the next meeting the item is scheduled.
- The biennial management process was implemented in 2003 through Amendment 17 to the groundfish FMP. Under this biennial cycle, management measures are implemented for a two-year period, rather than just for one year. Separate harvest specifications (ABCs and OYs) are identified for each year in the two-year period. This cycle provides more time for the Council and NMFS to work on other critical groundfish issues, and more time for public comment.At least a three-meeting process (November, possibly March, April, and June) is used to decide biennial harvest specifications and management measures:
- November: the Council decides on a preliminary range of harvest levels and management measures
- March: additional analysis can be considered
- April: the Council decides final harvest levels, and decides a range of management measures for detailed analysis
- June: the Council decides final management measures
The Council reviews management performance (i.e., total fishing-related mortality, including landings plus discard mortalities) and socioeconomic impacts relative to management objectives (e.g., rebuilding plans) during the two-year management period in order to consider modifying harvest specifications and management measures in the next biennial management period. New assessment results are also considered when deciding biennial harvest specifications and management measures. Pacific whiting will still be managed annually, with harvest levels set each year under the terms of the U.S.-Canada Pacific Whiting treaty.
After considering Council recommendations and public comments, NMFS publishes the adopted regulations, thereby putting them into effect. For non-routine and annual management decisions, NMFS publishes a Federal Register notice and provides a public comment period before finalizing the recommendations.
The GMT is involved throughout the decision-making process. The team is made up of staff from the three state fishery management agencies (Washington, Oregon, and California), NMFS, and representatives for the tribes with a recognized treaty right to take federally managed groundfish. Traditionally, the GMT monitors catch rates, recommends harvest regulations and annual limits, and analyzes the impacts of various management measures. The GMT members presents information to the Council, Groundfish Advisory Subpanel (GAP), and other Council advisory bodies. GMT meetings are open to the public and public comment is generally accepted during the meetings.
The GAP advises the Council on policies and management decisions that affect the groundfish fishery and the public. The panel includes industry representatives of commercial and recreational groundfish sectors, tribal representatives, charterboat owners and operators, fishing organization representatives, processors, environmental organization representatives, and a public at-large representative. Each major commercial gear group is represented. Meetings are held at most Council meetings. The GAP operates by consensus and through majority and minority position statements that are offered as advice to the Council. GAP meetings are open to the public and public comment is generally accepted during the meetings.