Click here for Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Thursday, March 07, 2019
Tagging Giants

A couple weeks back, I wrote a bit about seasons and limits. In it, I cited the trawl fishery had most of the current lingcod allocation at an “80/20” split between trawl/hook and line sectors. That now appears untrue, while the gist of the issue, that there is a lot of unattained ling harvest available, yet the hook-and-line sector is right against the line on our allocation, is true.

In the past week I received the DFW’s most recent set of ling catch projections, which included a table of the past years’ allocation and harvest by sector. Crunching those numbers revealed the trawl/hook and line split as 45/55 actually, with hook and line “non-trawl” getting the slightly larger share.

Now, “non-trawl” includes not only us recreational anglers, but commercial hook-and-line fishers as well. And this split is less formal – more fluid. So, the result is we’re in the same boat when it comes to lingcod.

This is the scenario cast by that table of numbers for the years 2013 to 2018. The average harvest guideline set was 1,078 metric tons (mt). The mean trawl allocation was 485mt, of which they harvested just 25mt on average, or slightly more than 5 percent of it.

On the non-trawl side, the average allocation was 593mt, of which an average of 555mt or 95.3 percent was taken. In the years 2016 and 2017 non-trawl overshot our allocation, which is what lead to such a high mean.

South of the “forty-ten” (40º 10’ N ~Cape Mendocino) management line, we sports take by far the greater number of lings, which appears to be roughly 80 percent of the total ling catch, all sectors combined, and about 85 percent of the non-trawl catch. This equates to roughly 44 percent of the total harvest guideline for lings on average.

However, the bottom line was, just under 55 percent of the harvest guideline was taken, meaning over 45 percent of the available harvest was left in the water for whatever eats lings besides us.

The excess ling availability was of course due to California’s greatly reduced trawler fleet, one which now fishes very cleanly, catching very few lings. Trawlers still hold the keys to almost half the allocation of lings fisheries models show as available for harvest.

Hopefully those fish are still out there waiting for us. However, looking at the steep decline in our catch rates in the last two years suggests perhaps not. Maybe they just went deep as they got bigger, and out of our reach. Or maybe there was a ling plague or sea lions got ’em. Who knows?

While one might say the drop in ling catches has to do with the reduction in daily bag limit from 3 to 2 fish in 2017, the steep decline in SoCal ling catch continued between ’17 and ’18. State wide, however, non-trawl catches remained similar between the two years, actually increasing slightly. So maybe they just went north to visit with our long lost albacore.

In response to that column, Mr. Steve Crooke, a retired DFG marine biologist still actively involved in fisheries management at the federal level, commented, “Great article on bag limits and seasons. You might have added that scientifically derived size limits tend to strengthen both for fish which can be released alive.”

So there you have it. Having size limits increases access as more liberal bag limits and longer season lengths.

Sheephead — the new fillet regs are out!

Recently, the Sportfishing Association of California worked in collaboration with the DFW to finally develop a sheephead fillet size limit and regulations for filleting sheephead at sea. Now no longer will you have to come home with your goats whole in a bag.

The new regs call for a minimum fillet length of 63/4 inches. The entire skin must be left fully attached, on the fillet.

While the pros already know this, private boaters must be aware — any sheephead fillet filleted prior to going into rigor will shrink considerably.

You’ll want to make sure any close to limit (12 inches) sheephead are dead and stiff, as well as straight before you fillet them. The goat daily bag limit is 5 fish.


PFMC member Capt. Louie Zimm forwarded — the comment period for “amendment 17” of the “sardine fishery management plan” is out for public comment. This is a critical amendment with the purpose of keeping live bait in the boxes and bait tanks.

At issue is another extremely low sardine stock assessment for the northern subpopulation of Pacific sardine. This week, this is likely to throw sardines into being declared overfished, which would automatically require no more than 15 percent of any bait catch be sardine, under current regulations.

This would hammer live bait fishing. Bait schools are most often predominantly of one species, yet mixed. Having to pass up any bait schools showing many sardines in them 100 percent of the time would drive costs up and risks rationing at the bait dock, though there’s fin-bait aplenty. And we love those hard swimming sardines.

Zimm writes: “The chances are good that sardines will be declared overfished next week at the PFMC meeting. The reasons for this are complicated but have to do with the fact that sardines have been concentrating very close to the coast the past few years. This area of concentration is out of the reach of the large survey vessels that conduct the Coastal Pelagic Species survey. Also there is much discussion whether the sardines that we use for live bait are of the Northern or Southern Stock. The stock that is being considered for the overfished declaration appears to be of the Northern Stock.”

Amendment 17 would allow the PFMC more flexibility in this regard. “The intent of Amendment 17 is to allow more flexibility in setting restrictions on the live bait portion of the fishery when a stock is overfished and would not weaken any statutory requirements to rebuild an overfished stock.”

The key issues here are: Sardines used as live bait never leave the ecosystem. In fact, the vast majority of them are released alive as chum. The amount the live bait fishery takes is tiny as a fraction of the normal fishery.

In addition, there is a likelihood the assessment simply missed most of the current biomass in their surveys, as much of it was concentrated in very near-shore waters not surveyed effectively. And also, as Zimm points out, It’s not clear whether our SoCal sardine is actually the same stock as the stock with the very low assessment.

Allowing the Council the flexibility to establish regional regulations rather than submitting to a Pacific Coast wide, one-size-fits-all reduction to 15 percent or less of any haul is key.

Comments must be received by May 17.

You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2018-0137, by any of the following methods:

Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2018-0137, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Mail: Submit written comments to Barry A. Thom, Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, NMFS, 501 W Ocean Blvd., Ste. 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802-4250; Attn: Lynn Massey.

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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.

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