The California Fish and Game Commission rejected a proposal today to stop the spot prawn bottom trawling fishery from destroying ocean habitat and harming overfished rockfish populations. The Commission failed to heed the evidence in a California Department of Fish and Game observer report that revealed high levels of bycatch (the catch and discard of marine life) in the spot prawn trawl fishery, including bycatch of severely overfished rockfish that live in the same habitat as spot prawns.
In July 2002, the federal government closed a large portion of the California continental shelf to bottom fishing to protect overfished rockfish populations. Federal efforts to rebuild these severely depleted rockfish stocks will be undermined by the Commission’s action to allow continuation of the California spot prawn trawl fishery. “We are very disappointed by the Commission’s short-sighted decision today that allows bottom trawling for spot prawns to continue,” said Tim Eichenberg of Oceana. “Bottom trawling kills excessive numbers of non-targeted fish, destroys ocean habitat that provide vital feeding, shelter and nursery areas for ocean life, and undermines federal efforts to rebuild depleted fish populations. It is about time California followed the lead of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia in closing this destructive fishery,” he added.
The Commission was requested to phase out bottom trawling for spot prawns in 1999. Instead, the Commission required fish excluder devices on trawls and an observer program funded by the trawl and trap fleet to obtain scientific data on the impact of the fishery. The data, released in July 2002, estimated that the total bycatch of overfished rockfishes, even with the fish excluder devices, was high enough to be a problem and incompatible with the low catch levels established by the federal government.
The northern California spot prawn trawl fishery had a total fish bycatch ratio of 7.5 to 1. In southern California, the ratio was 17.7 to 1. This means that for every pound of spot prawns caught in trawl nets, between seven and seventeen pounds of fish are thrown overboard. "The spot prawn trawl fishery is outrageously wasteful," said Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Stopping these trawl nets is critical to protect our vulnerable rockfish populations."
The Commission refused to turn to a less- harmful alternative, the spot prawn trap fishery. The trap fishery has minimal bycatch and habitat damage, and shows every indication of being sustainable if managed properly. According to the observer report, the relative amount of bycatch for all fish was 50 to 80 times greater in the trawl fishery than the trap fishery. “Given the availability of cleaner and less damaging alternatives to trawls and the dire situation of groundfish, we believe that the long-term closure of the prawn trawl fishery is the soundest course of action,” said Karen Reyna of The Ocean Conservancy. “Fishery allocations of overfished rockfish species will be so low next year that continuing the spot prawn trawl fishery risks shutting down far cleaner and more sustainable operations,” she added.