Surface hook-and-line fishery for albacore
This has been an economically valuable fishery for all three West
Coast states for more than 100 years. The closure of West Coast
canneries in the early 1980s led to precipitous drop in the number
vessels landing albacore. In recent years landings have been
concentrated in the Oregon ports of Newport and Astoria and the
Washington ports of Westport and Ilwaco. This long-term northward shift
in fishing effort into waters off Oregon and Washington, where albacore
have been more available, is thought to be due to changing oceanographic
conditions. In recent years lower operating costs and better landing
facilities in Oregon and Washington compared to California also may have
contributed to this shift. The following graph, showing the number of
U.S. vessels in the albacore fishery making landings by year,
illustrates these trends.
Troll and bait boat (live bait) are the principal commercial gears,
although some albacore is incidentally caught by purse seine, longline,
and large mesh drift gillnet gears. Oceanographic conditions influence
the occurrence of fish within range of the West Coast fleet, but a
typical season runs July through October, with landings peaking in
August-September. This fishery lands albacore almost exclusively with
little incidental catch.
The HMS FMP requires a federal permit with a surface hook-and-line
gear endorsement for all U.S. commercial and recreational charter
fishing vessels that fish for HMS within the West Coast exclusive
economic zone (EEZ, from 3– 200 nautical miles from the West Coast) and
for U.S. vessels that pursue HMS on the high seas (seaward of the EEZ)
and land their catch in California, Oregon, or Washington.
Albacore is mostly landed fresh or frozen, with a portion of the
catch then exported to overseas markets for processing.
A treaty between the governments of the U.S. and Canada allows
vessels from each country to fish in the other country’s EEZ outside of
12 miles. Vessels also have port privileges and Canadian vessels may
land albacore in designated ports. For more information, see the NOAA
In 2022 the fishery landed 7,121 mt of albacore valued at $34.87
million. This was greater than 2021 when the fishery landed 3,490 mt
valued at $16.62 million. Over the past 10 years the number of vessels
participating in the fishery has varied from 293 to 701.
The following figure shows albacore landings in metric tons since
1981 through last year by U.S. and Canadian vessels. Note that
confidential data (i.e., landings with less than three vessels or
processors) is excluded in this figure. Less than three Canadian vessels
made landings, or less than three processors received landings from
those vessels, throughout the 1980s.
This figure shows inflation-adjusted ex-vessel revenue from albacore
for the same time period. As in the previous figure, confidential data
is excluded in this figure.
Drift gillnet fishery for swordfish and shark
This gear consists of floating gillnet panels suspended vertically in
the water column to catch pelagic species. It has a minimum stretched
mesh size of 17 inches and a single set of the gear may not exceed 6,000
feet in length. The gear is set at night targeting thresher shark and
swordfish. In recent decades swordfish has emerged as the dominant
target species, likely due to its higher value compared to thresher
shark and possibly shark conservation measures implemented in the
Although historically operating as far north as Oregon, today fishing
occurs south of Monterey, mainly in the Southern California Bight in the
fall and winter.
The fishery originally developed in the 1980s and has been in steady
decline in terms of participation and catch since then. This decline is
at least in part due to restrictions on the operation of the fishery to
mitigate catch of marine mammals and sea turtles.
Both Federal and California limited entry permits are required to
participate. The federal limited entry permit was implemented in 2018
through Amendment 5 to the HMS FMP. It mirrors many of the features of
the state limited entry permit and is required to fish in federal
waters. In addition to these limited entry permits, the HMS FMP requires
a general HMS permit with a drift gillnet gear endorsement for all U.S.
vessels that fish for HMS within the West Coast EEZ and California
requires a general resident or non-resident commercial fishing license,
general gillnet permit, and a current vessel registration to catch and
land fish caught in drift gillnet gear.
In September 2018 California enacted Senate Bill 1017, which created
a program to phase out the fishery by 2024. The program includes a
mechanism to buy back state limited entry drift gillnet permits along
with the surrender of drift gillnet gear for destruction. The Federal
limited entry permit also must be surrendered to participate in the
program. In December 2022 Congress enacted the Driftnet Modernization
and Bycatch Reduction Act, which amends the Magnuson-Stevens Act to
prohibit the use of large mesh drift gillnet gear five years after
enactment (i.e., in December 2027). The Act also directs NMFS to
implement a transition program that will compensate fishery participants
for the cost of permits, surrendered drift gillnet gear, and purchase of
alternative low bycatch gear.
Seasonal temperature fronts that concentrate feed for swordfish are a
major influence on fishing activity but regulatory time-area closures
also have a big influence on seasonal patterns. The fishery is closed in
the West Coast EEZ from February 1 to April 30 and closed within 75
nautical miles of the mainland shore from May 1 through August 14. For
this reason almost all fishing effort occurs after August 15. This
fishery is then effectively closed in an area north of Point Conception
from August 15 to November 15 to protect leatherback sea turtles (the
Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area). As a result, landings mostly
occur from November through January. The fishery also may be closed in
an area south of Point Conception from June 1 to August 31 to protect
Pacific loggerhead turtles during El Niños.
In the last 10 years DGN landings of HMS management unit species have
varied between 76 mt and 239 mt while inflation-adjusted ex-vessel
revenue has varied between $419,578 and $1,528,910. In 2022 the fishery
landed 82 mt valued at $446,750. This was greater than 2021 when 76 mt,
worth $578,253 was landed. During that period the number of vessels
participating in the fishery varied from 6 to 21.
The following figure shows HMS landings in the large mesh drift
gillnet grouped by common thresher shark, swordfish, and other HMS for
the past 10 years.
This figure shows inflation-adjusted revenue from HMS over the same
Harpoon fishery for swordfish
California’s modern harpoon fishery for swordfish developed in the
early 1900s. Prior to 1980, harpoon and hook-and-line were the only
legal gears for commercially harvesting swordfish. At that time, harpoon
gear accounted for the majority of swordfish landings in California
ports. But the development of the drift gillnet fishery in the 1980s
supplanted harpoon gear as the main swordfish fishery. The pelagic
longline fishery has also become a larger source of swordfish landings
on the West Coast in recent years. As a result, participation in this
fishery has declined.
The fishery typically occurs in the Southern California Bight from
May to December, with landings peaking in August, depending on weather
conditions and the availability of fish in coastal waters. Some vessel
operators work in conjunction with a spotter airplane to increase the
search area and to locate swordfish difficult to see from the vessel.
This practice tends to increase the catch-per-unit-effort compared to
vessels that do not use a spotter plane, but at higher operating
A state permit and logbook are required to participate in the harpoon
fishery in addition to a general resident or non-resident commercial
fishing license and a current CDFG vessel registration along with the
federal general HMS permit.
In the past 10 years harpoon fishery landings of swordfish have
varied between 5 mt and 32 mt while inflation-adjusted ex-vessel revenue
has varied between $84,218 and $421,644. In 2022 the fishery landed 32
mt valued at $421,644 compared to 7 mt valued at $97,367 in 2021. During
that period the number of vessels participating in the fishery varied
from 11 to 21.
The figure below shows harpoon fishery swordfish landings, in metric
tons, over the past 10 years.
This figure shows inflation-adjusted ex-vessel revenue from swordfish
over the same period.
High seas longline fishery for swordfish, tuna, and opah
The HMS FMP prohibits pelagic longline fishing within the EEZ.
(Commercial landings of striped marlin, an incidentally caught species,
are also prohibited on the West Coast.) Pelagic longline vessels fishing
outside the West Coast EEZ land swordfish and tuna in West Coast ports,
mainly San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Historically, pelagic
longline vessels landing on the West Coast have been based in Honolulu
but in recent years some vessels have made San Diego their home
The HMS FMP prohibits targeting swordfish with pelagic longline gear.
However, vessels possessing a Hawaii longline limited access permit may
land swordfish at West Coast ports. More than four-fifths of vessels
landing on the West Coast possess a Hawaii permit.
In recent years pelagic longline has accounted for about two-thirds
of total West Coast swordfish landings and a quarter of tuna landings,
other than albacore tuna.
In the last 10 years the number of pelagic longline vessels making
landings of HMS and opah on the West Coast has varied from 8 to 23.
Landings composition has shifted from swordfish to tunas and other
species over the decade. In 2013 swordfish accounted for 89% and tunas
7% of the 480 mt in landings of HMS and opah made by this fishery. In
2022 swordfish accounted for 31% while tunas accounted for 57% of the
374 mt in landings of HMS and opah. Opah, which is not a management unit
species in the HMS FMP, is also a significant component of landings. In
2022 at 40 mt it accounted for 11% of landings of HMS and opah.
The following figure shows landings trends for tuna, swordfish, opah,
and other HMS in metric tons, over the past 10 years.
This figure shows inflation-adjusted ex-vessel revenue for the
Coastal purse seine fishery for yellowfin, skipjack, and bluefin
This fishery is prosecuted by small coastal purse seine vessels
operating in the Southern California Bight from May to October. These
vessels usually target small pelagic species, such as Pacific mackerel,
Pacific sardine, anchovy, and market squid. However, they will target
more tropically distributed yellowfin and skipjack tunas when intrusions
of warm water from the south, typically during periodic El Niño
episodes, bring these species within range of this coastal fleet.
Similarly, purse seine vessel operators will target the higher-valued
temperate water Pacific bluefin tuna when they enter the coastal waters
of the Southern California Bight. In recent years, the availability of
Pacific bluefin in Southern California has increased substantially and
has comprised about 15% of landings.
Between 2014 and 2022 purse seine fishery HMS landings have varied
between 598 mt and 2,500 mt while inflation-adjusted ex-vessel revenue
has varied between $717,410 and $3,162,275. (Earlier years are excluded
due to data confidentiality requirements.) In 2022 the fishery landed
602 mt valued at $776,258. This compares to 1,882 mt in 2020. During the
past 10 years the number of vessels participating in the fishery varied
from 3 to 14.
The following figure shows purse seine fishery landings of HMS tunas,
in metric tons, between 2014 and 2022. (Some years are excluded due to
data confidentiality requirements.)
This figure shows inflation-adjusted ex-vessel revenue from HMS tunas
for the fishery over the same period.
Deep-set buoy gear
Beginning in 2010 the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research
(PIER) began design and testing of deep-set buoy gear (DSBG) as a low
bycatch method to catch swordfish. The design was inspired by gear used
off the east coast of Florida, but both the gear and deployment method
were modified to suit conditions on the West Coast. PIER first presented
preliminary results to the Council in March 2012 after the first year of
research trials. In March 2015 PIER submitted an exempted
fishing permit (EFP) application for review by the Council. Under
its proposal up to five commercial vessels would be authorized to test
the gear with PIER researchers monitoring their activity. (Two other
individuals independently applied for EFPs to test the gear type at this
time.) While fishing under the PIER EFP continued, the Council began
actively soliciting EFP applications to expand the number of vessels
testing the gear. At the same time, the Council began scoping an FMP
amendment to make DSBG a legal gear along with associated fishery
management measures. Since then, the Council has reviewed and made
recommendations on over 100 EFP applications to test DSBG and related
gear configurations and NMFS has issued permits to more than 50 vessels.
To date 41 vessels have made landings with the gear.
Two DSBG gear configurations have been tested. So-called standard
DSBG consists of independently deployed pieces of gear. Each piece
consists of a set of floats at the surface that allows fish strikes on
the gear to be detected, a weighted vertical line that puts up to three
hooks below surface waters where sea turtles and marine mammals
typically occur, or at least 100 meters (55 fathoms, 328 feet) below the
surface. The terms of the EFPs allow no more than 10 pieces of gear to
be deployed at any one time and the gear must be monitored during
deployment. Strike detection leading to fast gear retrieval, deployment
at depth, and active monitoring contribute to low bycatch with this
gear. PIER subsequently developed a linked buoy gear configuration
intended for larger vessels and greater production. Each piece of linked
gear consists of two buoy and vertical line sets joined by a horizontal
line at depth with three hooks attached to it by branch lines. Each of
these gear pieces is joined by a horizontal line at least 11 meters (36
feet) below the surface. As with the standard configuration, no more
than 10 pieces may be deployed at any time and the gear must be actively
monitored. The figure below shows these gear configurations.
Amendment 6 describing management measures including a limited entry permit
program for vessels fishing in the Southern California Bight was approved on March 31, 2023 and implementing regulations came into force on June 7, 2023. The process to issue limited entry
permits began when regulations authorizing the gear came into in place.
Between 2015 and 2022 DSBG HMS landings (including LBG) have varied
from 12 mt in 2015 and 125 mt in 2020. Inflation adjusted ex-vessel
revenue from HMS varied between $128,261 and $1,183,027. During the past
10 years the number of vessels participating in the fishery varied from
2 to 26.
The following figure shows HMS landings in metric tons during this
This figure shows the resulting inflation adjusted ex-vessel revenue
($1,000s) from HMS for the same time period.
Participation by fishery
The following figures shows trends in the number of vessels making
HMS landings by fishery over the last 10 years.
Seasonality of HMS landings
Landings in HMS fisheries vary throughout the year. This seasonal
pattern of HMS landings is shown in the following two figures showing
average monthly landings over the past 10 years. (Landings in the
albacore surface fishery are shown separately because they are at much
larger scale than the other HMS fisheries.) Overall, landings have been
highest in August at 3,776 mt. and lowest in April at 101 mt.