West Coast’s Pacific Ocean Perch Stocks Declared Rebuilt, Will Lead to Higher Groundfish Catches

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Seafood News] by Susan Chambers – December 12, 2017

The National Marine Fisheries Service on Monday formally approved Pacific ocean perch rockfish as rebuilt, giving West Coast shoreside and at-sea groundfish fleets a little breathing room for what has been a constraining species.

“There will be quite a bit more fish available, and that’s good,” Oregon Trawl Commission Director Brad Pettinger said.

As Seafood News reported in July, Pacific ocean perch — or POP — was decimated by foreign fleets off the West Coast prior to implementation of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 that created the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. While Russian and Japanese fleets harvested more than 15,000 mt of POP in some years, the highest domestic fishery landings were less than 10,000 mt annually. It was listed as overfished in 1999.

Fishery managers recognized POP was in trouble in the 1980s and began restricting catches. Subsequent management actions included the creation of Rockfish Conservation Areas that were off-limits to fleets. By 2016, only 65 mt was landed. At-sea whiting fleets were limited to extremely low POP bycatch levels, forcing fleets to move off of POP “hot spots” at times and requesting managers allow modifications to management rules.

Two other species — darkblotched and bocaccio rockfish — were declared rebuilt earlier this year as well. Darkblotched also was a constraining species for shoreside and at-sea trawl fleets.

“We are pleased to see that our management strategies have been successful in rebuilding this important groundfish stock, and want to acknowledge the industries’ cooperation and sacrifice in this effort,” Pacific Fishery Management Council Chairman Phil Anderson said in a press release. “We also want to recognize NMFS for committing the resources to monitor and research groundfish stocks to improve the science used to sustainably manage these stocks.”

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 Council said in a press release.

“It is remarkable that the rebuilding of Pacific ocean perch was accomplished 34 years ahead of schedule,” NMFS West Coast Region Administrator Barry Thom said in the press statement.

Eight groundfish stocks have been rebuilt since 2000, including Pacific whiting, bocaccio rockfish, darkblotched rockfish, lingcod, canary rockfish, widow rockfish, petrale sole, and Pacific ocean perch.

Canary rockfish, an important species to both commercial and recreational fleets, was declared rebuilt in 2015. Only two overfished stocks—cowcod and yelloweye rockfish—continue to be managed under rebuilding plans. Both have shown dramatic rebuilding progress, with cowcod projected to be rebuilt by 2019 and yelloweye rockfish as soon as 2027. Improvements in the status of these two stocks, coupled with the successful rebuilding of the other eight groundfish stocks declared overfished in the past, will lead to increased fishing opportunities beginning in 2019, the Council statement said.

Pettinger said the increase in these rockfish species will help with an ongoing effort to rebuild the domestic rockfish market that disappeared under limited harvest opportunities. 

“As these markets open back up, we won’t have enough fish if things go the way we want,” Pettinger said. “Rockfish one of the more underappreciated species on this coast.”

The Pacific ocean perch assessment was developed by NMFS scientists at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and was reviewed in the Council’s stock assessment review process with a final endorsement by the Council Scientific and Statistical Committee.

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