Fighting to save the Rockfish – Your input needed!

Want to take action to help save our dwindling population of rockfish? Send in your comments on the EIS to the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. They have extended the comment period to January 17th, 2010. My thanks to Norm Baker for forwarding this along. People For Puget Sound, Sierra Club, and many others will be taking a stand on this issue. Here’s the facts…

Puget Sound Rockfish Conservation Plan (PSRCP).

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Fish Program.

Natural Resources Building, 6th floor, 1111 Washington St. SE. Olympia, WA98501-1091

 

Date Issued. The DEIS is available for review and download beginning October 19, 2009 at http://www.wdfw.wa.gov/hab/sepa/sepa.htm.

Mail comments. Theresa A. Eturaspe; SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, 600 capital way north, Olympia WA 98501-1091. E-mail comments to SEPA desk2@dfw.wa.gov or through the WDFW SEPA website comment link at http://www.wdfw.wa.gov/hab/sepa/sepa.htm or fax to (360)902-2946. Make sure the title to your comments includes “Puget Sound Rockfish Conservation Plan DEIS”.  The comment period has been extended from Nov. 19th through to Jan 4th, 2010.

Date of Final Action Plan. The final environmental impact statement will be released in 2010.

Future phase: Agency actions are anticipated as detailed regulations are developed for specific water basins. The plan applies to the entire Salish Sea (i.e. Puget Sound, Straits of Juan De Fuca, San Juan Islands and Hood Canal) north to the US-Canadian border and west to the mouth of the Sekiu River. Due to oceanographic, biological, bathymetric and geographical differences, the area of the plan is broadly divided into North Puget Sound and the South Puget Sound.

Plan Support. Environmental groups need to show strong support for the Puget Sound Rockfish Conservation Plan and the creation of a network of marine reserves. No actual marine reserves are proposed in the PSRCP plan. The Coastal Conservation Association, representing recreational fishermen, is aware of the benefits of marine reserves but is taking a cautious but positive proactive approach. Due to the enormity of the problem, many environmental organizations are starting to partner as PACs for legislative reform of our fisheries management. Implementing marine reserves, amongst other issues, is believed by fisheries scientists to be absolutely essential to fisheries management reform and ecosystem restoration.

Purpose of the PSRCP. Restore and protect Puget Sound Rockfish populations, ecosystem and provide opportunities for sustainable fishing. Four alternatives are being considered. Alternative 1 will provide the greatest in-depth benefits to all rockfish species. However, the WDFW PSRCP prefers a mix of the four alternatives based on the professional judgment of the fisheries biologists. Of the 15 elements reviewed for potential impact on the environment, the most significant is that recreational fishing opportunities could be reduced or severely modified apparently on a case by case implementation of each marine reserve. There is no mention of any impact or curtailment of commercial or tribal fishing and this is a significant and serious criticism. Thirty two endangered or threatened species endemic to Puget Sound are listed with known food web interactions with rockfish species. Sixteen of the endangered or threatened species are Rockfish species (Sebastes spp.). Currently, 47 species are listed as endangered or threatened for the Salish Sea. Currently, Washington has 62 endangered or threatened species state-wide.

 

Governing Environment. Implementing this plan will be difficult because of the number of governing agencies – ten in all. Each marine reserve proposed in the future will be accomplished on a case by case basis asking for public input and support.

 

Rockfish Biology. In Puget Sound, there are 28 species with very diverse biology’s, habitat requirements, depth requirements and life spans – as short as 5 years but commonly 50 years and up to 200 years.  Some are not sexually mature until they are 20 years old. All rockfish species have live-birth of young and exhibit low reproductive potential and erratic infrequent successful yearly reproduction. Rockfish have swim bladders and suffer extremely high mortality when released after being caught by fishermen. Most are associated with rocky habitats which are relatively few and easily disturbed. These factors make effective management and protection difficult and complex. Artificial reefs made from deconstruction materials have proven very useful for reestablishing rockfish.

 

Management. Traditional fisheries management tools have not helped restore rockfish. Commercial overharvest between 1970 the early 1990’s led to declines in rockfish populations, which have been further impacted by recreational fishing since the early 1990’s. Several forms of commercial fishing are no longer allowed. Currently, ghost nets and derelict gear are killing numbers estimated to be almost twice the recreational harvest. Incidental recreational catch while fishing for other species (salmon, halibut and lingcod) is also a problem. Juvenile rockfish in particular are significantly affected by disruption of aquatic vegetation and armoring shorelines. Due to the large number of rockfish species, the current conservation plan utilizes a “Key Species” concept to simplify management and restoration. Seven representative “key” species are identified in the plan.

Management decisions that impact recreational fishing could be negative and substantial. Season and area closures and gear limits are anticipated. In particular, marine reserves will be a particularly contentious point. Marine reserves are generally defined by the scientific community has “no take” areas of suitable habitat. A common attitude amongst commercial fishermen, recreational fisherman and the tribes is that fish stocks are already depressed and that marine reserves means that they will be losing extremely desirable fishing spots. Consequently, they oppose all marine reserves since livelihoods can be affected. This will be a very difficult problem to circumvent and will quickly become the most polarizing issue that modern fisheries management must face.

Points to be Made Supporting this Plan:

  • Over all, this draft of the EIS for the restoration of rockfish and the Salish Sea is quite sound and is clearly based in solid science. It continues the Washington Department of Fish and wildlife’s tradition of excellence in fisheries management and the implementation of marine reserves. In fact, Sobel and Dahlquist (1) compliment the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on a particularly incisive application of marine reserve science.
  • The EIS is also a significant positive science based step toward resolving a difficult and complicated problem of multi-species fish management in an effort to reestablish sustainable population levels for all species.
  • A review and consensus policy statement by the American Fisheries Society found several species of Salish Sea Rockfish (Sebastes spp.) to be particularly vulnerable.
  • Over harvest, especially commercial over harvest, is the principal cause for decline of rockfish. Current recreational harvest and incidental by-catch of commercial operations has kept populations suppressed.
  • Puget Sound has the distinction of being the second most threatened complement of fish stocks in North America. Only Chesapeake Bay is worse.
  • Current academic treatises on marine reserves (1) and marine conservation biology (2) recommend scientifically designed marine reserves and advocate 20% of the management area be established and regulated as “no take” fishing zones. Washington State currently has 0.02% of its fisheries management area designated as marine and aquatic reserves and those reserves only qualify as small research projects.
  • Total marine reserves on the West Coast currently contain less than 1.5% of ocean waters in protected habitat. Also, only 0.04% of the west coast Exclusive Economic Zone is protected. In contrast, 13% of global land areas are protected as parks, reserves and refugia.
  • Recreational, commercial and tribal fishermen are currently harvesting all fish species and populations endemic to the Salish Sea at less than 1% of historic levels. Hatchery production alleviates that production problem. Marine reserves will restore and help make our fisheries sustainable. Unfortunately, fisheries scientists have also shown that hatcheries contribute to genetic drift and harm wild fish populations. They have also shown that net pen farming harms wild fish populations by acting as centers for parasite dispersal to smolts.
    • Around the world 23 nations have established marine reserves to protect biodiversity, ecosystems, manage important fisheries and restore depleted populations of marine plants and animals. Restoration results are generally outstanding if the reserves are large enough and old enough. In a global review of marine reserves, biomass increased 413%, density increased 200%, fish size increased 82% and species diversity increased 71%. Additionally, the global average increase in fish biomass for many different reserves showed a range of 20% to 800% (1,2).
    • Of all the states with significant marine fisheries, Washington has the smallest and least effective system of marine reserves. Coincidentally, it also has the most severely degraded fish stocks and one of the largest lists of endangered and threatened species.
    • Marine reserves have been shown to be the best, most cost effective, fisheries management technique to combat genetic drift due to overfishing and combat ecosystem degradation.
    • Marine reserves, if well designed, large enough and given sufficient time, nearly always reestablish the natural biodiversity and functioning ecosystems within five to eight years.
    • Many environmental organizations, (for example – Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Wild Fish Conservancy, Coastal Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, People For Puget Sound, American Fisheries Society, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, National Research Council and many others) all have policy and position statements dedicated to marine fisheries reform and the establishment of marine reserves.  Additionally, President Obama established the Interim Report of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force “…in order to meet our nation’s stewardship responsibilities…..”
    • The Ocean Conservancy has published A Scientific Consensus Statement Supporting Marine Reserves where 1900 leading marine scientists and experts advocate more marine reserves and more research.
    • Marine reserves have been shown to be the key to establishing protected areas that allow large old fish to produce more offspring and higher-quality offspring than exist in fishing zones. Those larvae and juveniles have been shown to be the principal source of fish outside the marine reserves.  For example, a 50-pound female halibut can produce about 500,000 eggs, while a female over 250 pounds can produce four million eggs – an increase of 800%. Halibut can grow to nine feet long and weigh from 500 to 700 pounds and the oldest on record was 55 years old. World record is 459 pounds. Clearly, marine reserves create successful trophy fisheries for recreational fishermen.
    • Acceptance of the Marine Reserve concept and the restrictions on recreational, commercial and tribal fishing will require a truly exceptional education and outreach program. The one outlined in the Rockfish Conservation Plan is wholly inadequate. We suggest the Department of Fish and Wildlife, especially the Fish Program, develop a special contact form on their website to secure in-house WDFW speakers for fishing clubs, environmental organizations, and sport shows. Every major sport show should have a speaker discussing marine reserves. That seminar should be preceded by considerable advertising and marketing to marinas, boat dealers, fishing tackle manufacturers, marine trade shows, etc. The speaker should come armed with an amazing amount of information and many successful examples of marine reserves and the benefits to all forms of fishing and fisheries management. This is the only way to effectively inform the public at large about the benefits of marine reserves as a necessary step toward sustainable fisheries.
    • The plan makes no mention of curtailing commercial or tribal harvest of any fish species that incidentally takes rockfish. To gain acceptance of this plan amongst the fishing community and have a positive impact on Puget Sound rockfish, curtailment of commercial and the tribal catch must be discussed in the revised plan. We suggest that strong provisions be added to the conservation plan that discuss selective harvest measures for tribal and commercial fishermen. Selective harvest should be aimed at hatchery fish while catch and release is applied to wild fish. Recreational fishermen would be far more receptive to the idea of marine reserves if they knew closures and restrictions impacted all fishermen more or less equally.
    • Marine reserves have a revolutionary potential that is becoming a mainstream fisheries management tool. Sustainable fishing cannot be accomplished without the ecosystem based management that marine reserves offer. Consequently, the goals of fisheries management and environmental conservation have become one and the same.

 

 

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