Current HMS SAFE Report: Commercial Fisheries Descriptions

Commercial Fisheries Descriptions

Surface Hook-and-Line Fishery for Albacore

Albacore is an economically valuable fishery in all three West Coast states and has been a target of commercial fishermen for more than 100 years. Troll and bait boat (live bait) are the principal commercial gears, although some albacore is caught using purse seine, longline, and drift gillnet gear as well. The fishing season varies from year to year, depending on oceanographic conditions, which strongly influence the occurrence of fish within range of the West Coast fleet, and economics. A typical season runs July through October, with landings peaking in August-September. 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.

In 2001, the last operational cannery in the Port of Los Angeles closed its doors, ending a West Coast tuna-canning dynasty. Changing global market conditions and a dynamic raw material/finished goods supply environment forced the plants to close. Without domestic-based cannery operations, a majority of the albacore are landed fresh or frozen, then exported to overseas markets for processing. Comparing the 1980s to the 2000s, participation in California (measured by the number of surface hook-and-line vessels annually landing albacore) declined by 64% while participation in Oregon and Washington increased by 62% and 130% respectively. Overall, the coastwide decline was 13% based on this metric.

These trends likely reflect a shift in fishing effort into waters off Oregon and Washington where albacore have been more available due to favorable oceanographic conditions. In recent years lower operating costs and better landing facilities in Oregon and Washington compared to California may also have contributed to this shift.

Information on recent landings and revenue in this fishery may be found on the Fishery Performance page and in the following tables:

  • Table 6. Real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue for the West Coast albacore surface hook-and-line (troll and baitboat) fishery, Canadian vessels included, since 1990.
  • Table 7. Monthly landings (number, weight in round mt) and real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue  for albacore by the surface hook-and-line (troll and baitboat) fishery, by state, Canadian vessels included, last three years.
  • Table 8. Annual landings (number, weight in round mt) and real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue for albacore by the surface hook-and-line (troll and baitboat) fishery, by port group, Canadian vessels included, last three years.
  • Table 9. Number of vessels, landings (round mt), and ex-vessel revenue (inflation adjusted) of albacore and in the West Coast albacore surface hook-and-line (troll and baitboat) fishery (in U.S. west coast ports), Canadian and US vessels compared since 1990.
  • Table 10. Number of vessels, landings (round mt), and real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue for albacore in the West Coast albacore surface hook-and-line (troll and baitboat) fishery by state, Canadian vessels included, since 1990.
  • Table 11. Average nominal price-per-pound ($/lb) for albacore by month and by state, last three years, Canadian vessels included.

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Drift Gillnet Fishery for Swordfish and Shark

California’s swordfish fishery transformed from primarily a harpoon fishery to a drift gillnet fishery in the early 1980s; landings soared to a historical high of 2,198 mt by 1985. Initial development of the drift gillnet fishery in the late 1970s was founded on catches of common thresher shark. The thresher shark fishery rapidly expanded, with 228 vessels landing more than 1,000 mt of shark in 1985. Following 1985, swordfish replaced thresher shark as the primary target species because there was a greater demand for swordfish which commanded a higher price-per-pound and possibly also due to the 1986 establishment of a shark conservation measure. Annual thresher shark landings declined in subsequent years because of the switch to swordfish to maximize economic returns and the implementation of management measures to protect the thresher shark resource.

Both participation and fishing effort (measured by the number of sets) have declined over the years. Industry representatives attribute the decline in vessel participation and annual effort to regulations implemented to protect marine mammals, endangered sea turtles, and seabirds. In addition, if oceanic or other conditions are unfavorable for swordfish, permittees may concentrate on more favorable fisheries, such as albacore; however, permittees may return to swordfish fishing once conditions improve.

Historically, the California drift gillnet fleet operated within EEZ waters adjacent to the state and as far north as the Columbia River, Oregon, during El Niño years. In addition some Oregon-based vessels participated in this fishery. In Oregon, the DGN fishery for swordfish had been managed under the Developmental Fisheries Program, which authorized up to ten annual permits to fish for swordfish with DGN gear. For the past several years, the fishery was inactive and no one applied for permits. As part of a substantial reduction in the Developmental Fisheries Program, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission removed swordfish from the program, beginning in 2009. Consequently, state permits to fish with DGN gear off Oregon are no longer allowed.

Fishing activity is highly dependent on seasonal oceanographic conditions that create temperature fronts which concentrate feed for swordfish. Because of the seasonal migratory pattern of swordfish and seasonal fishing restrictions, over 90% of the fishing effort in recent years has occurred from August 15 through January 31.

The drift gillnet fishery is managed by California state and federal limited entry permit systems, with mandatory gear standards and seasonal area closures used to address various conservation concerns. The federal limited entry permit was implemented in 2018 through Amendment 5 to the HMS FMP. It is intended mirror 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.

Both the state and federal limited entry permits are issued to an individual fisherman, rather than a vessel, and are only transferable under very restrictive conditions; thus the value of the vessel does not become artificially inflated. To keep these permits active, current permittees are required to renew their permit from one consecutive year to the next; however, they are not required to make landings using drift gillnet gear. In order to receive a Federal limited entry DGN permit, state limited entry permit holders had to have renewed their state limited entry DGN permit by March 31, 2018. About 150 state limited entry DGN permits were initially issued when the program began in 1980 and peaked at 251 permits in 1986. The number of these permits has steadily declined since then. To date, 6o federal limited entry DGN permits have been issued.

In addition to these limited entry permits, 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. The California limited entry permit may only be transferred to an individual who already possesses a general gillnet permit.

Consistent with the HMS FMP, DGN vessel operators must also maintain a logbook recording catch and operational data such as the time and location of fishing.

The drift gillnet fishery has been subject to a number of seasonal closures over the years. Since 1982, the drift gillnet fishery has been closed inside the entire West Coast EEZ from February 1 to April 30. In 1986, a closure was established within 75 miles of California mainland from June 1 through Aug 14 to conserve common thresher sharks; this closure was extended to include May in 1990 and later years. In 2001, NMFS implemented two Pacific sea turtle conservation areas on the West Coast with seasonal drift gillnet restrictions to protect endangered leatherback and loggerhead turtles. The larger of the two closures spans the EEZ north of Point Conception, California (34°27’ N. latitude) to mid-Oregon (45° N. latitude) and west to 129° W. longitude. Drift gillnet fishing is prohibited annually within this conservation area from August 15 to November 15 to protect leatherback sea turtles. A smaller closure was implemented to protect Pacific loggerhead turtles from drift gillnet gear during a forecasted or concurrent El Niño event, and is located south of Point Conception, California and west of 120° W. longitude from June 1 – August 31 (72 FR 31756).

In September 2018 California enacted Senate Bill 1017, which  directs the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop a program by March 31, 2020 to allow payment to permit holders for the voluntary surrender of drift gillnet permits. After March 31, 2019 California state drift gillnet permits cannot be transferred, and all permits must be surrendered or revoked by January 31 of the fourth year after $2 million in funding for the program is received by the state.

Information on recent landings and revenue in this fishery may be found on the Fishery Performance page and in the following tables:

  • Table 12. Number of vessels and landings (round mt) in the West Coast drift gillnet fishery since 1990.
  • Table 13. Real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue for the West Coast drift gillnet fishery since 1990.
  • Tables 14 a & b. Monthly landings (number, weight in round mt) and real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue for common thresher shark and swordfish in the drift gillnet fishery, last three years.
  • Tables 15 a & b. Annual landings (number, weight in round mt) and ex-vessel revenue (inflation adjusted) for common thresher shark and swordfish landings in California port groups in the drift gillnet fishery, last three years.

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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. In the early 1980s, a limited entry drift gillnet fishery was authorized by the State Legislature and soon afterward drift gillnets replaced harpoons as the primary method for catching swordfish. The number of harpoon permits subsequently decreased from a high of 1,223 in 1979 to a low of 25 in 2001. Fishing effort typically occurs in the Southern California Bight from May to December, 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 cost.

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. (DGN permit holders are entitled to obtain a harpoon permit free of charge.) Additionally, the HMS FMP requires a federal permit with a harpoon gear endorsement for all U.S. vessels that fish for HMS within the West Coast EEZ 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.

Information on recent landings and revenue in this fishery may be found on the Fishery Performance page and in the following tables:

  • Table 16. Number of vessels and landings (round mt) in the West Coast harpoon fishery since 1990.
  • Table 17. Real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue for the West Coast harpoon fishery since 1990.
  • Table 18. Monthly landings (number, weight in round mt) and real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue for swordfish by the harpoon fishery, by state, last three years.
  • Table 19. Annual landings (number and weight in round mt) and real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue for swordfish by port group in the harpoon fishery, last three years.

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High Seas Longline Fishery for Swordfish and Tuna

California prohibits pelagic longline fishing within the EEZ and the retention of striped marlin. Both these prohibitions are incorporated in the Council’s HMS FMP. Longline vessels fishing outside the West Coast EEZ intermittently land swordfish and tuna in West Coast ports.

Vessels operating outside of the EEZ can land fish in West Coast ports if the operator has the necessary state and Federal permits. The operator must comply with the High Seas Fishing Compliance Act, which requires U.S. vessel operators to maintain logbooks if they fish beyond the EEZ. Additionally, the HMS FMP requires a federal permit with a pelagic longline gear endorsement for all U.S. vessels that pursue HMS on the high seas (seaward of the EEZ) and land their catch in California, Oregon, or Washington.

With implementation of the HMS FMP in 2004, federal regulations were promulgated to protect endangered sea turtles east and west of 150° W longitude and north of the equator, prohibiting West Coast-based shallow-set longline fishing to target swordfish. Vessels permitted under the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Pelagics FMP may use shallow-set longline gear to target swordfish and may land their catch on the West Coast. West Coast swordfish landings by Hawaii-based vessels have trended upward since the fishery reopened in 2004. Landings have occurred almost exclusively in California ports.

Targeting tunas with deep-set longline gear is permitted outside the EEZ under the HMS FMP.

The number of pelagic longline vessels making landings on the West Coast has increased from six in 2010 to 22 in 2018. Landings composition has also shifted from swordfish to tunas and other species over the decade. In 2010 swordfish accounted for 82% and tunas just 13% of the 331 mt in total landings made by this fishery. In 2018 swordfish had declined to 28% while tunas accounted for 46% of the 1,411 mt in total landings. Opah, which is not a management unit species in the HMS FMP, is also a significant component of landings: in 2018 this species accounted for 22% of landings, amounting to 310 mt. (Note that the totals reported here are greater than reported in Table 20, which only reports landings of management unit species.)

Information on recent landings and revenue in this fishery may be found on the Fishery Performance page and in the following tables:

  • Table 20. Number of vessels and  landings (round mt) by Hawaii permitted longline vessels in West Coast ports since 1990.
  • Table 21. Real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue by Hawaii permitted longline vessels in West Coast ports since 1990.

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Coastal Purse Seine Fishery for Yellowfin, Skipjack, and Bluefin Tunas

U.S. West Coast catch of yellowfin, skipjack, and bluefin tuna represents a relatively minor component of overall eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) tuna catch, on average equaling approximately less than 1% of EPO- wide landings. More than 90% of the catch for these species in the U.S. EEZ EPO is made by small coastal purse seine vessels operating in the Southern California Bight (SCB) from May to October. These vessels primarily target small pelagic species, especially Pacific mackerel, Pacific sardine, anchovy, and market squid. However, they will target the tropical yellowfin and skipjack tunas when intrusions of warm water from the south, typically during periodic El Niño episodes, bring these species within range of the coastal purse seine fleet. Similarly, purse seine vessel operators will target the higher-valued temperate water bluefin tuna when they enter the coastal waters of the SCB. The number of purse seine vessels that landed tuna in California averaged 197 annually 1981-90 but subsequently declined substantially to an annual average of 4 in the 2003-2012 period.

The decline in the number of domestic vessels is correlated with the relocation of large cannery operations. Increased labor costs for cannery operations contributed to these facilities being moved overseas, where labor costs are less. Currently there are no canneries in California functioning as primary offloaders of tuna.

The HMS FMP requires a logbook and federal permit with a purse seine gear endorsement for all U.S. vessels that use purse seine gear to fish for HMS within the West Coast EEZ and for U.S. purse seine vessels that pursue HMS on the high seas (seaward of the EEZ) and land their catch in California, Oregon, or Washington.

Information on recent landings and revenue in this fishery may be found on the Fishery Performance page and in the following tables:

  • Table 22. Number of vessels and landings (round mt) for HMS tunas in the West Coast purse seine fishery since 1990.
  • Table 23. Real (inflation adjusted) ex-vessel revenue from HMS tunas in the West Coast purse seine fishery since 1990.

 

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