Pacific Rockfish Closures Tough, But Much-Needed Step

June 21, 2002
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(21 June, 2002 -- Oakland) Environmental Defense today called the Pacific Fishery Management Council's ruling late Thursday to protect dwindling West Coast rockfish stocks an unfortunate but necessary action to address steep declines in important fish populations that could become extinct.

"We had hoped, in recent years, that regulators would institute appropriate preventive measures to restore these fisheries in time to avoid the need for broad closures. But today the Council finally found itself facing a very hard decision on how to stop the steep declines in important fish stocks which might otherwise continue toward extinction," said Environmental Defense marine conservation advocate Richard Charter. "The Council's action was a tough, but much-needed step."

The Council voted last night to immediately close major areas of the West Coast continental shelf and slope to bottom fishing for the remainder of this calendar year. The move is an attempt to limit any further demise of commercially valuable groundfish species including Pacific red snapper, grouper and fantail. A decision about future years' closures is expected to be issued today.

As the oversight body in charge of regulating sport and commercial catch of various fish species in federal waters along the U.S. West Coast, the Council chose today to enact a ban on all bottom fishing for rockfish in medium-depth waters north of Cape Mendocino, California, in order to aid in rebuilding critically depleted stocks. The closure comes at a time when mounting scientific data, in the form of newly completed "stock assessments," points to the need for cutbacks in fishing activities in order to prevent a complete collapse of some species.

"Over the past several years, scientific evidence has been accumulating that shows the need for more protective fishing limits, particularly in the case of rockfish species that rely on older, mature individuals for much of their reproductive success," Charter said.

Some of these species are often inadvertently caught as "bycatch" by fishermen seeking other kinds of fish and are killed as a result. This cycle plays an important role in damaging some of the rockfish stocks, leading to the decline of species that are not necessarily being targeted for harvest. The Pacific Council's actions, which included an order that all bycatch be released, were aimed at protecting both targeted species and associated bycatch species.