Federal restrictions designed to protect Pacific ocean perch from overfishing have worked well enough for the Pacific Fishery Management Council to consider the fishery “rebuilt,” meaning it will relax restrictions.
Once the new rules take effect in 2019, it could boost the coast’s economy, experts say.
“It’s a big deal for fisheries along the coast,” said Phil Anderson, who works with Ocean Gold Seafood in Westport and serves as chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council. “It’s another one in the line of species that were determined to be overfished here about a decade ago that has since been rebuilt.”
Pacific ocean perch have been overfished since the mid-1960s when foreign fleets targeted groundfish stocks, particularly Pacific ocean perch, off the U.S. West Coast. The mandates of the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing U.S. fisheries management, eventually ended foreign fishing within 200 miles of the coast. The first federal trip limits to discourage targeting and to conserve a U.S. West Coast groundfish stock were implemented for Pacific ocean perch in 1979. Rebuilding plans for Pacific ocean perch were adopted in 2000 and 2003.
Pacific ocean perch is one of many species of groundfish managed and regulated by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Protection of the fish, which live near the bottom of the ocean, has constrained West Coast trawl fishing for decades.
“(Ocean perch) are what we call a choke species,” Anderson said. “We had restrictions in rockfish areas and closures intended to protect species like perch.”
Whiting, another groundfish species also known as a Pacific hake, have recovered as well, and this year trawlers have had a very good season.
“Having another species of fish that had been overfished rebuilt to a healthy population is going to have a real positive effect on commercial groundfish fishing off the coast,” Anderson said.
Local seafood processors could see a significant increase in groundfish taken starting in 2019, when a new two-year fisheries management plan will be drafted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Anderson said quotas will likely rise significantly and more productive groundfish waters will be open to commercial fishing.
“The biggest benefit is going to be because the ocean perch are no longer a choke species, which restricts fishermen from targeting stronger populations like dover sole and whiting and thorny head,” he said. “The quotas and allowable catch limits are going to be much higher, like 18 times higher.”