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Action Required - Help Safeguard the Future for “Protected” Rockfish

RockfishNeah Bay (Marine Area 4B) offers some of the state’s most popular bottomfishing opportunities for Lingcod, Cabezon, and rockfish.  For three months in 2011 the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) conducted a test recreational fishery in Neah Bay to evaluate what impact the current recreational bottomfishing regulations have on protected rockfish (Quillback, Copper, Canary, Yellowtail, China, Vermilion, and Tiger Rockfish).

The Problem

The raw field data from WDFW’s 2011 test fishery reveal a major problem: an unacceptable amount of "protected" rockfish by-catch occurs during recreational bottomfishing trips:
•    For each legal Lingcod caught, thirty-five “protected” rockfish were caught.  
•    For each legal Cabezon caught, twenty-two “protected” rockfish were caught.

Due to their unique physiology, all caught rockfish are Rockfish Barotraumaextremely susceptible to barotrauma – the often fatal expansion of air in their swim bladder that occurs when they are reeled in by anglers.  The majority of the rockfish encountered during the test fishery were caught between depths of 60 to 120 feet, depths known to cause barotrauma in rockfish.  Released rockfish have a low survival rate even if they appear to be in good health when released (WDFW, 2012).

The Solution

Avoiding encounters with "protected" rockfish is the best solution (SeaGrant). In the absence of an effective network of marine reserves to truly protect sensitive rockfish populations, reductions in Lingcod and Cabezon angling are necessary to reduce protected rockfish bycatch encounters.

How You Can Help

WDFW is currently accepting comments on proposed changes to their recreational fishing regulations via a web page:

Two relevant changes currently under consideration by WDFW (#69 and #65) are steps in the right direction, but based on WDFW’s own test fishery data they do not go far enough to reduce “protected” rockfish bycatch.  

Please use the proposed language below as a basis for your own comments, and submit via the WDFW web page (links provided below for each proposed rule, comment field is at the bottom of that web page). Comments must be received by December 15th, 2012.

Proposed Rule #69 - Reduce lingcod season in Marine Area 4B

I support proposed change #69 which reduces the Lingcod season in Area 4B to align with the rest of Puget Sound.  This is a necessary step due to the significant "protected" rockfish bycatch associated with the Area 4B Lingcod season in July, August and September documented in the WDFW 2011 Area 4B test fishery.  Data from the test fishery document that for every legal Lingcod caught during the test fishery, thirty-five ‘protected’ rockfish were caught and likely killed or damaged due to barotrauma.

To more effectively address the WDFW-documented high rate of "protected" rockfish bycatch associated with the Lingcod fishery at Neah Bay, I believe you should change daily Lingcod limit there from two (2) to one (1) Lingcod per person per day.

Proposed Rule #65 - Cabezon minimum size requirement

I support proposed change #65 which provides a minimum size limit on Cabezon.  WDFW data show that Puget Sound’s Cabezon population is a fraction of its historical abundance and will benefit from reduced fishing pressure.

Because of the reduced abundance of Cabezon in Puget Sound, and also because of the high "protected" rockfish bycatch associated with the Cabezon fishing (WDFW 2011 Area 4B test fishery), I further request you consider:

    • Adding a maximum size limit on Cabezon to protect older, more fecund females.
    • Reducing the daily limit of Cabezon within Puget Sound from two (2) to one (1) per person per day, and
    • Shortening the Cabezon season in Puget Sound to six weeks to align with the Lingcod season.

Doing so will not only improve the status of the Cabezon population and improve rule enforceability, but also help rebuild sensitive rockfish populations by reducing rockfish encounters.

Questions? Please contact Jamie Glasgow.

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