NMFS set to impose ‘most restrictive set of regulations’

By Edward Wolfe  
Coquille Valley Sentinel

             Coquille, Oregon - 8/22/02 -The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) told area fishermen last Thursday that, in order to rebuild groundfish populations, it is planning to implement in 2003 what its documents term “the most restrictive set of regulations in the history of the fishery.”

            Heather Munro of Oregon Sea Grant said that recent regulations on fishing have hit deep and they’re “going to hit deeper.” She described changes the fishing industry is going through as “fundamental and permanent.”

            Members of NMFS, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other fishery management agencies met in the North Bend Library with local fishermen and community leaders to discuss upcoming regulations that will severely reduce groundfish harvest levels. Although Munro said that input from local fishermen could affect the level of restrictions, she also said fishing management is moving ahead with the data they currently have. She and others also admitted that the data they have is not very good.

            After surveying various stock levels for several years, scientists have made educated guesses about which fish species are suffering from reduced numbers. Based on this data which Ralph Brown, a member of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), admits is “faulty,” they’ve nevertheless recommended drastic cuts to the industry.

            All options under consideration include large-scale closures of both commercial and recreational fishing. Fishing for species with high populations will be affected by regulations to protect species with low populations. Bottom-fishing for groundfish (and possibly other species) will probably be prohibited across most of the continental shelf.

            The harvest reductions are not just for the near future. To “rebuild key stocks” of certain groundfish, NMFS and the PFMC say fishing would have to be drastically reduced for the next 15 to 136 years.

            NMFS describes the groundfish fishery as being in a crisis. According to an NMFS “questions and answers” handout, the crisis was caused by the following factors:

            Inadequate understanding of fish stocks’ health

           Too many boats chasing too few fish

           Steady declines in amounts of groundfish

           Failure of groundfish to replace themselves


            Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements.

            The restrictions being imposed by NMFS are based on data NMFS Groundfish Senior Policy Analyst Steve Copp called “inadequate.” Senator Ted Kulongoski told The Newport News-Times that “it’s clear we need much more better research.”

            Fishery management representatives presented possible restrictions in two categories: least conservative and most conservative. One drag fisherman told The Sentinel that if the most conservative restrictions are enforced, he and 99 percent of the fishermen he’s talked to will be out of business. Oregon Sea Grant has a program that can assist displaced fishermen with job retraining if they are unable to continue fishing with the new regulations.

            Other possibilities offered to the ground fishermen was to acquire permits and equipment necessary to harvest other fish that aren’t classified as overfished, or to do their fishing in deep water outside of the fathoms covered by the coming restrictions. That option involves extra expenses, different equipment and no guarantee of being able to catch the fish normally caught in shallower depths.

            If a fisher acquires a permit to harvest a different species of fish, his troubles may not end there. Also addressed by the fishery management is the matter of “bi-catch.” That refers to catching more than one type of fish at a time. If a fisherman hauls in a load of fish that aren’t under regulation, he must also ensure that no restricted fish are in the catch. If there are restricted fish on board, he must throw them back or pay fines upon returning to the dock.

            Some fishermen urged the regulators to change the daily quota regulations so that if they catch more than their quota in a single day, they can apply them toward an annual quota. Currently, fish over the quota must be returned to the water, even though by the time that happens, they are dead. If the fishermen were given an annual quota, they could complete their year’s worth of fishing sooner rather than throwing dead fish back in the water to satisfy a “regulatory discard” rule. Munro responded that individual quotas are not permitted under the law and an annual quota would be considered an individual quota.

            NMFS is required by various laws, including The Magnuson-Stevens Act, to consider the economic impact their regulations will have on fisheries and coastal communities, but they are not permitted to fail in their obligation to the fish for the sake of mitigating economic impact. There is currently no time frame for how long the severe restrictions on groundfishing will be in place. According to the Fishery Management Q & A document, “significant depth-based fishing restrictions will continue for some time in the future.”

            Brown said that if these overfished species were endangered, fishers would be permitted to catch more than they will be now without such classification. He said regulations in response to overfishing are “tougher than Endangered Species Act regulations.”

            Asked if the yelloweye rockfish might be to the fisheries what the spotted owl has been to the forestry, Brown said it’s “much worse than the spotted owl.”

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