Posts Tagged PFMC

Jun 20 2017


PORTLAND, OREGON – Two important West Coast groundfish stocks that were formerly overfished have now been rebuilt.

Bocaccio and darkblotched rockfish, which are managed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, were under strict rebuilding plans that have constrained West Coast fisheries for more than a decade. Bocaccio was declared overfished in 1999, and darkblotched rockfish in 2000; both were rebuilt well before their original target dates.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils that manage ocean fisheries in the United States. Altogether, the Pacific Council manages more than 100 species of groundfish.

Managing groundfish fisheries under rebuilding plans has been an immense challenge for the Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries). These plans required sharp reductions in commercial and recreational fisheries targeting groundfish, which included widespread fishing closures through the establishment of Rockfish Conservation Areas off the West Coast and other measures. Since 2003, managing overfished species through area closures such as the Rockfish Conservation Areas has helped to reduce fishing impacts and rebuild overfished groundfish species.  In addition, the groundfish fleet has had to limit fishing for other more abundant species to avoid unintentional catch of the overfished stocks.

“The rebuilding strategies used to achieve this conservation success, coupled with favorable environmental conditions for groundfish productivity, have paid huge dividends in rebuilding our overfished groundfish stocks and resurrecting West Coast groundfish fisheries,” said Council Chair Herb Pollard.

The successful rebuilding of these species reflects the support and sacrifice of West Coast ports and fishermen who recognized the difficult actions and fishing cutbacks necessary to restore the stocks.  The rebuilding of bocaccio and darkblotched rockfish will lead to increased harvest opportunities beginning in 2019.

“By working together, we’ve brought bocaccio and darkblotched rockfish back to where they will again be part of a sustainable West Coast groundfish fishery that creates renewed opportunity for the fishing fleet, as well as more options for seafood consumers,” said Barry Thom, Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region.

Between 1999 and 2017, ten West Coast groundfish stocks were declared overfished, as surveys documented their declining numbers. Pacific whiting, for example, was declared overfished in 2002. The Council, working with NOAA Fisheries and the fishing industry, reduced commercial harvests. Combined with strong reproduction and recruitment, the fishing cutbacks led to the rapid rebuilding of Pacific whiting by 2004. The Council and NOAA Fisheries developed rebuilding plans for the other nine overfished stocks—bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish, lingcod, canary rockfish, cowcod, Pacific ocean perch, widow rockfish, petrale sole, and yelloweye rockfish.

Lingcod was declared rebuilt in 2005, and widow rockfish in 2012. Both petrale sole and canary rockfish were declared rebuilt in 2015. Rebuilding plans remain in place for three remaining overfished species: cowcod, Pacific ocean perch, and yelloweye rockfish.  New assessments for Pacific ocean perch and yelloweye rockfish will be reviewed this summer and may be adopted in September.  Cowcod is expected to be rebuilt by 2019.

“The Council is a transparent, science-based, inclusive approach to fisheries management,” said Council Executive Director Chuck Tracy. “Our progress in rebuilding overfished stocks shows the effectiveness of this approach. West Coast fisheries are a model of sustainable resource management, and they will continue to provide healthy seafood, jobs, and support for coastal communities, as well as access to this resource for all Americans.”


The bocaccio and darkblotched rockfish assessments were developed by scientists at NOAA Fisheries and were reviewed by the Council’s scientific advisory bodies.  NOAA Fisheries confirmed the stocks’ status as rebuilt on June 16.

Council Role  

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 for the purpose of managing fisheries 3‐200 nautical miles offshore of the United States of America coastline.  The Pacific Council recommends management measures for fisheries off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.



Ms. Jennifer Gilden, Communications Officer,, 503-820-2418

Mr. John DeVore, Groundfish Staff Officer,, 503-820-2280

Mr. Chuck Tracy, Executive Director, 503-820-2280

Mr. Jim Milbury, National Marine Fisheries Service, 310-245-7114

Michael Milstein, National Marine Fisheries Service, 503-231-6268

On the Web

Pacific Fishery Management Council:


Bocaccio stock assessment:

Darkblotched rockfish stock assessment:

NOAA Fisheries article on rockfish rebuilding:

Jun 15 2017

Controversial drift-gill net fishery wins long-fought battle

Federal fishery managers denied a proposal this week to immediately shut down Southern California’s most controversial fishery in the event that wide-mesh gill nets accidentally kill a handful of certain marine mammals or sea turtle species.

The swordfish and thresher shark fishery will remain open, even if it kills several whales or sea turtles, the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries decided.

The decision not to institute so-called hard caps on the fishery comes after a public review period initiated last year was extended to discuss the law proposed by the state’s Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2014.

For the few dozen fishers who still catch swordfish and thresher sharks off Southern California in deep-water drift gill nets, the decision brought a big sigh of relief.

“It’s a great feeling to know that NOAA is using science and not political pressure to decide this issue,” said longtime local fisherman David Haworth. “We have just a few people fighting against millions of environmentalists who think taking one of anything is too many: That would be great, but we have to feed the whole world.”

The decision was a blow to Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and other conservation groups that have lobbied for years to close the fishery.

“We’re disappointed that NOAA Fisheries decided to abandon these plans. It’s a long time coming,” said Paul Shively, project director for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “We did a poll (in 2015) that showed overwhelming support with Californians to shut down the fishery.

“This still remains the most harmful fishery on the West Coast when it comes to marine mammals and sea turtles.”

Existing protections working

The proposed hard caps would have forced a seasonal closure if gill nets killed two sea turtles or fin, humpback or sperm whales, or four short-fin pilot whales or bottlenose dolphin over a two-year period.

In 2015, 18 drift gill net vessels landed 66 metric tons of swordfish worth $454,000, according to a report by NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Meanwhile, the U.S. imported 8,386 metric tons of the fish from other countries.

Fishers and National Marine Fisheries Service regulators say protections they’ve instituted since the mid-1990s, when drift gill nets were indiscriminately killing tons of marine animals, have come a long way.

“We increased our net size and that helped (reduce bycatch) a lot,” Haworth said. “What’s very discouraging for us right now is that most marine mammal species are on the increase now. They wanted to shut us down over animals that are doing better. So, it was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ ”

NOAA fishery biologist Jim Carretta, who specializes in creating marine mammal protections, said regulations implemented since the 1990s have greatly reduced gill net damage.

Gill nets are now made with wider mesh to allow larger animals to escape, and are placed 36 feet below the ocean’s surface to avoid marine mammal interaction. They also have acoustic pingers that divert dolphins and other species.

“If you have a bycatch problem, you don’t immediately shut down the entire fishery. You start examining what factors are driving the problem,” Carretta said. “We’ve had great success in reducing bycatch in this fishery. But it’s not going to go to zero.”

Regulators and fishers are also testing new technologies to bring additional protections for bycatch, such as a new deep-set buoy gear and electronic observers on boats to monitor catches.

State Sen. Ben Allen, whose district includes much of the South Bay coast, proposed a bill last year that would hasten the use of deep-set buoy gear and ban gill nets. It remains in committee.

“We already have allowable take numbers for these marine mammals,” Carretta said. “The hard cap levels seemed arbitrary to me. They were not thoroughly steeped in the science behind calculating how much bycatch is sustainable.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act also continue to set protections for vulnerable marine animals that were hunted to near-extinction.

‘Redheaded stepchild of fishing’

Mike Conroy, president of West Coast Fisheries Consultants that represents fishers, said he believes the rule would have been overturned in the courts if it had passed.

“Twenty years ago, the drift gill net fishery was the Wild West, but I can’t even remember the last time a turtle was caught,” Conroy said. “(The proposed rule) probably wasn’t enforceable anyway.”

Gary Burke, a veteran drift gill net fisher, also said he hasn’t seen a sea turtle in years.

But Shively questioned whether environmentalists can rely on the word of fishers whose livelihood depends on keeping the fishery opened. He advocates for having observers on board every fishing boat to ensure they’re accurately reporting bycatch. Regulators say that’s not feasible.

“We’re been the redheaded stepchild of fishing,” Burke said. “All fisheries have bycatch. But we’ve done great jobs to limit what we can. We are going to have some, but the question is whether we’re killing too many. That’s why NOAA takes estimates and decides how many can be removed to maintain healthy populations.”

Originally posted:

Apr 25 2016

D.B. Pleschner: Sardines not collapsing, may be in recovery

On April 10, the Pacific Fishery Management Council closed the West Coast sardine fishery for a second straight year. The council followed its ultra-conservative harvest control policy and relied on a stock assessment that does not account for recent sardine recruitment.

But in fact, there are multiple lines of evidence that young sardines are now abundant in the ocean.

In addition to field surveys, fishermen in both California and the Pacific Northwest have been observing sardines — both small and large — since the summer of 2015. And California fishermen also provided samples of the small fish to federal and state fishery managers. During the council meeting, the industry advisory subpanel — comprised of fishermen and processors — voiced concern with the inability of acoustic surveys — on which stock assessments are largely based — to estimate accurately the number of fish in the sea. These surveys routinely miss the mass of sardines in the nearshore, where the bulk of the fishery occurs in California, and in the upper water column in the Pacific Northwest, where Oregon and Washington fishermen catch sardines. The recruitment we’re seeing now seems much like the recruitment event following the 2003 El Niño. The years 1999-2002 were characterized by strong La Niña conditions, similar to the years 2010-2013. And what happened after the early 2000s? By 2007 the West Coast sardine population hit its highest peak in recent memory.

So by all appearances the sardine population is likely on the upswing — not still tanking as many environmentalists and media reports are claiming.

But despite this evidence of recovery, Oceana’s Geoff Shester continues to argue for even stricter management measures. He accuses the fishery of overfishing sardines, and alleges that overfishing is the primary cause of recent sea lion and seabird mortality. Responding to similar claims that Oceana made in a recent Seattle Times article, internationally acclaimed fishery scientist from the University of Washington Dr. Ray Hilborn said, “Dr. Shester’s comments are some of the most dishonest commentary I have seen in the fisheries world … he simply continues to ignore science and pursue his own agenda.”

Despite what Oceana and other environmental groups claim, the reality is that sardine harvest control rule is very precautionary — perhaps the best example of ecosystem-based management in the world. Sardine harvest policy allocates more than 75 percent of the biomass for forage needs, as it has since the fishery returned in the 1980s.

The lack of flexibility in management policies to adapt to the reality observed in the ocean, especially during assessment “update” years, is a recipe for disaster — and the impact is already being felt by California’s historic wetfish industry. This industry normally produces 80 percent or more of the volume of seafood landed commercially statewide, representing as much as 40 percent of total dockside value. Closure has serious repercussions for California’s fishing economy.

As the subpanel noted to the council, “Adaptive management should work both ways. The council’s current policies make it easy to reduce fishing opportunity, but not to increase it. There is no parallel policy allowing for new data to be incorporated into assessments in update years — or for a fishery to be reopened — until the next full assessment. The current policy has the real socio-economic effect of curtailing fisheries, and by extension harms the industry and dependent coastal communities. Requiring fishermen and industry to tie up the boats and close the processors’ doors for two or three years, or longer, does not achieve Optimum Yield.”

Thankfully, the council did provide a potential lifeline for fisheries to continue by approving a small allowance for sardines caught incidentally in other fisheries. That’s because sardines tend to school with mackerel, anchovy and squid, and fishermen need a reasonable number of sardine caught incidentally to continue to pursue their livelihoods.

The sardine fishery will undergo full assessment in 2017 when all evidence and model assumptions will be reviewed and potentially changed. Hopefully the council will also adopt more real-time management policies in its quest to achieve the best available science. It’s in the best interest of both fish and fishermen.


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Apr 25 2016

Sardine numbers remain low, 2016 fishing remains closed

Stock assessment finds sardine biomass below cut-off level for directed fishing this year

Last weekend scientists and managers at the Pacific Fishery Management Council weighed the results of a new stock assessment of sardine populations off the West Coast. This new assessment, which was approved and adopted as best available science for management of sardine in the 2016-2017 fishing year, shows that sardine numbers remain low, and remain below the cut-off level where directed fishing for the species could again be allowed.


Based on this information, and the management framework in place for this stock, the Council voted to keep fishing for sardine closed for the second year in a row. As occurred last year, the Council voted to allow for small amounts of sardine taken (up to a total of 8,000 metric tons) as live bait harvest, Tribal harvest, incidental catch in other fisheries (such as mackerel and anchovy), and for scientific research studies.

Directed commercial fishing for Pacific sardine is not allowed because the assessment estimated the spawning biomass to be approximately 106,000 metric tons. This is below the cut-off level of 150,000 metric tons, the lowest level at which directed fishing is allowed. This cut-off threshold, included in the Coastal Pelagic Species fishery management plan, is set three times greater than the level at which sardines are considered overfished. This approach limits fishing as the stock declines to help maintain a stable core population of sardines that can jump-start a new cycle of population growth.

The stock biomass is the size of the adult sardine population of reproductive age (a year old and older) as measured by offshore surveys conducted by NOAA Fisheries in the last year. The estimate does not include very young fish that are not yet part of the spawning population.

There are some indications of stronger sardine reproduction in the last year that could eventually lead to improvements in West Coast sardine numbers, scientists said. For example, surveys in 2015 counted increased numbers of small sardines off central California and similarly found young sardines along the Oregon-California Coast that would not be included in overall stock biomass estimates, and as such, would not be represented in the stock assessment. That indicates that sardines spawned along the West Coast last year and, if the young fish survive, they could add to the adult population in coming years.

Although sardines usually spawn off central California in the spring, last year they apparently spawned farther north, off Oregon. That suggests that sardine spawning may have shifted, perhaps in response to unusual ocean conditions such as “the blob,” an expanse of warm water that dominated West Coast waters through much of 2014 and 2015, and the El Nino climate pattern now affecting the region.

“The normal timing and distribution of sardine spawning has shifted dramatically as a result of warm water conditions the last three years and we did not catch them in their usual spawning areas at their regular time,” said Dale Sweetnam, deputy director of the Fisheries Resources Division at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center, which leads sardine surveys and stock assessments on the West Coast.

Sardines are known for their wide-ranging “boom-and-bust” population cycles around the world. They have been in decline off the West Coast since a series of cool years from 2010 to 2014 reduced the survival of eggs and very young fish so that few survived to join the adult spawning population. The question now is whether recent warmer conditions may boost the survival of the large numbers of young fish so that more survive long enough to join the adult population.

Two annual stock assessment surveys, one currently underway this spring and another one planned for this summer will help to answer that question.

“We have had a few years of very unusual conditions on the West Coast, and we’re still learning what that means for sardines and many other species,” Sweetnam said. “Our best sources of information are the surveys that tell where the fish are and how well they’re surviving. Preliminary results this spring suggest that we did have good recruitment last year; however, the magnitude and extent of that recruitment will have to wait until we have completed the surveys.”

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Mar 17 2015

West Coast waters shifting to lower-productivity regime, new NOAA report finds

State of the California Current report highlights record-warm conditions and effect on fisheries

NOAA Fisheries/Alaska Fisheries Science Center


88424_webMany sea lion pups in California’s Channel Islands are underweight and are washing up on beaches starving are dead. Biologists suspect unusually warm ocean conditions are reducing marine productivity, causing female sea lions to struggle to find sufficient food to nurse the pups. For further details

Large-scale climate patterns that affect the Pacific Ocean indicate that waters off the West Coast have shifted toward warmer, less productive conditions that may affect marine species from seabirds to salmon, according to the 2015 State of the California Current Report delivered to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The report by NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Southwest Fisheries Science Center assesses productivity in the California Current from Washington south to California. The report examines environmental, biological and socio-economic indicators including commercial fisheries and community health.

“We are seeing unprecedented changes in the environment,” Toby Garfield, Director of the Environmental Research Division at the SWFSC, told the Council when presenting the report, citing unusually high coastal water and air temperatures over the last year. Climate and ecological indicators are “pointing toward lower primary productivity” off California, Oregon and Washington, he said.

That could translate into less food for salmon and other marine species, added Chris Harvey of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. High mortality of sea lion pups in Southern California and seabirds on the Oregon and Washington coasts in recent months may be early signs of the shift.

Among the highlights of the new State of the California Current Report:

• Record-high sea surface temperatures combined with shifts in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, North Pacific Gyre Oscillation and weaker upwelling of deep, cold waters indicate declining productivity in the California Current.
• After several productive years the biomass of tiny energy-rich organisms called copepods, which support the base of the West Coast food chain and provide important food for salmon, has declined significantly.
• California sea lion pups and seabirds called Cassin’s auklets found dying and emaciated in large numbers in recent months may reflect the transition to less productive marine conditions.
• Although commercial fishery landings have remained high in recent years, the fishing fleet has become more specialized in terms of targeting specific fisheries. That may expose the vessels to more fluctuations of catch and revenue if those fisheries decline.

“This year’s report is very useful,” said Council Chair Dorothy Lowman. “We’re looking forward to working with the science centers to find ways to integrate this information into management.”

Scientists produced the report as part of NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Program, which tracks conditions across coastal ecosystems to provide insight into environmental and human trends and support decisions on fisheries and other activities. The California Current Ecosystem is one of seven U.S. ecosystems monitored by the program.

“We’re seeing some major environmental shifts taking place that could affect the ecosystem for years to come,” said John Stein, Director of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “We need to understand and consider their implications across the ecosystem, which includes communities and people.”

In recent years the California Current Ecosystem enjoyed highly productive conditions, with strong upwelling of deep waters from the north flush with energy-rich copepods that supported high salmon returns and high densities of juvenile rockfish, sanddabs and market squid. In 2014 waters off Southern California and in the Gulf of Alaska turned unusually warm, and these so-called warm “blobs” have since grown and merged to encompass most of the West Coast.

The coastal warming includes an influx of warmer southern and offshore waters with leaner subtropical copepods that contain far less energy and are often associated with low productivity and weaker salmon returns. Overall the warm conditions off the West Coast are as strong as anything in the historical record. The tropical El Niño recently declared by NOAA could extend the warm conditions and reduced productivity if it persists or intensifies through 2015.

“We are in some ways entering a situation we haven’t seen before,” said Cisco Werner, Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif. “That makes it all the more important to look at how these conditions affect the entire ecosystem because different components and different species may be affected differently.”

For example, warmer conditions in the past often coincided with increases in sardines and warmer-water fish such as tuna and marlin and drops in anchovy and market squid. Salmon also fare poorly during warm conditions. Cooler conditions in contrast have often driven increases in anchovies, rockfish and squid. Anchovy and sardines have both remained at low levels in recent years, the report notes.

NOAA researchers will continue tracking how species respond to the shifting temperatures and conditions.

Salmon face the potential “double jeopardy” of low snowpack in the Northwest and rivers and streams shrunk by drought in California, plus reduced ocean productivity when juvenile salmon enter the ocean this year looking for food, Harvey said. However the impacts on salmon may not become apparent until a few years from now when the fish that enter the ocean this year would be expected to be caught in fisheries or return to the Columbia and other rivers as adults.


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