Faced with 2002 fishing data that showed higher than expected discards of short spine thorneyheads, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to maintain the 2003 commercial fishing regulations for Nov. and Dec. rather than shut down all commercial fishing activity from Canada to Mexico. But in an unprecedented move, the Council adopted new buffers in the groundfish catch limits for the 2004 fishing season.
“Oceana supports management decisions based on the best available science, but understands that te Pacific Council had to continue to provide fishermen and fish workers the opportunity to earn a living,” said Phil Kline, fisheries manager at Oceana. However, it's not the best way to manage the fishery.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council is the federal agency responsible for management of fisheries in U.S. waters off the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts. Oceana is calling upon the Pacific Fishery Management Council to invest in better fishery observer programs. Fishery observers are scientists who collect important information that cannot be obtained from landings data by accompanying commercial fishermen at sea.
“The Pacific Council needs to join the 21st century and invest in the technology and infrastructure that will allow them to track fishing performance regularly and avoid any surprising mid-season changes,” Kline said. “Modern technology can help give our coastal communities the stability they deserve.”
The current level of observer coverage in the West Coast groundfish fleet is less than 10 percent. Oceana is working to increase federal funding for observers so fishery management councils have the tools and information to make good management decisions. Both houses of U.S. Congress have included additional funding for fishery observer programs in their appropriations bills, which will be considered later this fall.
Federal funding for fishery observer programs could be used to put more scientists on boats, but also for investment in equipment to compile and provide observer program data to the fishery management councils in a timely basis. For example, in Alaska, fishing log book and landing receipts information are recorded electronically and information can be uploaded through satellites. This regular flow of usable data helps the fishery management council anticipate management concerns and gives fishermen time to prepare for needed changes.
“Oceana recommends that the Pacific Council explore these kinds of technologies as ways to obtain better data and information, which is critical in promoting sustainable fishing,” Kline said.