New Year, Renewed Effort to Conserve Fisheries

Tamara Mautner from Garibaldi Charters with a large lingcod taken from a deep reef out of Garibaldi on October 12, 2016

Photo: Tamara Mautner from Garibaldi Charters with a large lingcod taken from a deep reef out of Garibaldi on October 12, 2016

Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d wake to a welcoming ocean on January 1st; it was truly a metaphor for the possibilities that lie ahead. I think I may have even seen Moses parting the seas out there for us, as we made our way to the bottomfishing grounds just off Oceanside, Oregon.

It was the perfect scenario for a sport angler; bottomfishing had been closed since September so the fish were hungry and unmolested. The commercial crabbing fleet had yet to set their pots; between poor meat recovery rates and price disputes, they remained dockside. And finally, calm seas with an overnight soak was sure to bring a bounty of seafood for me and five of my closest friends. And that’s exactly what happened.

I had some talent on board: Rob, a local charter boat skipper who works for Garibaldi Charters, knows these waters better than I, and Stevie, the fisherwoman who always catches more than anyone else on board. I already knew my crab pots were seething with fresh Dungeness crab since I set them the night before, and it was hard passing them up on our way to the fishing grounds.

Well, much to no one’s surprise but to everyone’s pleasure, we limited out on lingcod (2/person, 12 total), sea bass (5/person – new limit in 2017 by the way! – 30 total) and of course a 60-crab limit (one person didn’t bring his shellfish license) for a great haul in the New Year. The feeling of heading back to port with a boat load of fresh fish and crab for our friends and family to enjoy is unexplainable for someone who hasn’t ever done it. That’s probably why so many in our general population don’t fish or understand the value these fisheries have for our society.

Of course, the resource could never tolerate the pressures of all of society catching this kind of haul. It’s also likely a good thing that the ocean is upside down for much of the winter months. It’s an incredible resource and needs to be managed as such.

West coast fisheries have had their hard times. It wasn’t but 25 years ago when a massive federal buy-back program swept up many in the Pacific groundfish fleet, as catches plummeted and managers were still oblivious to the damage that was being done to groundfish habitat by bottom trawlers raking nets over rocky reefs and other sensitive areas. We now know better what we have to do to protect this resource, and there’s still new science emerging. We can’t plead ignorance any longer.

The fact of the matter is, we’ve learned these lessons long before the crash of the groundfish stocks just a few short decades ago. The same thing happened with sturgeon, salmon, halibut and crab. Regulations have been enacted, largely based on science that shows how to better manage these stocks of fish to provide a wide range of benefits to both the sport and commercial fleets. Those paying attention to our successes would say it’s running like a well-oiled machine. That doesn’t mean that all is fine on the western front.

Well, it kind of IS well on the western front, but it’s the rest of the country we have to worry about. HR 200 is at play on the House side of Congress, and although it better recognizes the benefits that the sportfishing community contributes to our micro-economies, it does so at the possible cost of compromising the integrity of the population. Why, oh why, in this day and age, would anyone endorse this type of legislation? I don’t see Oregonians supporting this mentality, but the reality is, if it passes in Congress as a federal law, it opens up the door here in our own backyard to potentially overfish the resource.

Now would be a good time to write your Congressman or Congresswoman to let him or her know you want to keep all fisheries healthy. Go here to find out who represents you at the FEDERAL level, and write your representative a note asking him or her NOT to support HR 200. (See sample letter below.) Now is not the time to play politics with our rebuilding groundfish stocks.

It’s a new year and we all have new ambitions, and hopefully one of those ambitions is to go fishing more! There are more opportunities for families to go fishing than ever before. It’s going to be a great year to get out and explore all the nooks and crannies that our wonderful region has to offer and if there’s one piece of advice that I can offer you right now, it’s to schedule your fishing and camping trips RIGHT NOW. As we all know, our calendars get filled up quicker and quicker each year. Now is the opportune time to carve out your family time, so make it happen.

Let’s also make a commitment to reach out to our legislators more this year. There are some good things, and there are some bad things happening, so let’s make sure our elected officials know we have their backs when it comes to conservation.

Sample Letter

Dear Representative (Insert your Federal Representative here):

The House Committee on Natural Resources reported out H.R. 200, Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act on December 13, 2017. The current version of this bill will weaken a number of critical conservation measures and lacks bipartisan support.

I urge you to vote against H.R. 200 when it comes to the floor.

America’s oceans provide the social and economic foundation for countless communities. Congress should be focused on strengthening and improving our laws, not weakening them. The 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) passed with broad support from both sides of the aisle. That bipartisan support of the 2006 reauthorization of Magnuson-Steven Act is a testament to responsible fisheries management. The results are undeniable. Fish stocks across the country have made remarkable recoveries in the last ten years. Now is not the time to weaken a law that has worked so well.

When groundfish stocks crashed in the early 90’s, so did our coastal economies. The 2006 bi-partisan provisions were inserted into MSA to ensure a future for our coastal communities, but HR 200 seeks to compromise the gains we have made from lessons learned from earlier times.

H.R. 200 rolls back many of the mechanisms that have rebuilt fish stocks. Removing catch limits and creating loopholes in rebuilding timelines will reduce, not sustain our nation’s fisheries. We want our children and grandchildren to have the same or better fishing opportunities than we experienced. Please consider future generations of fishermen and responsible fisheries management. Vote “no” on H.R. 200.


About Bob Rees

Bob Rees is a professional fishing guide and executive director of the Association of NW Steelheaders.

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