Soapbox Update: An Incredible Opportunity to Wind Back the Clock by Bob Rees September 21, 2017

An Incredible Opportunity to Wind Back the Clock

Following the abrupt closure of Oregon’s nearshore bottomfish fishery will resonate for the next several months since this is hay-making time for most small coastal ports as we transition to winter downtime. It’s critical that charter companies build a winter nest egg, not just for their families, but they also spend a lot of that revenue on boat and gear repairs and running the circuit of trade shows for next year’s clientele. The decision to close bottomfishing is not made lightly, but necessarily, especially on the heels of a detailed black rockfish stock assessment made recently that indicated a downward trend. Black rockfish are the backbone of the ocean sportfishing industry on the Oregon Coast.

I heard today that pending stakeholder input, the fleet may have some access to the deep reef fishery that has become so popular in recent years. This fishery, held outside of 30 fathoms, is only open from October 1st – March 31st, a time frame that doesn’t allow for many fishable days due to weather. This also, is a fishery many have come to depend on, and although it may not be as liberal a season as we’ve historically seen, something is better than nothing for this gem of an opportunity.

Most of us take for granted these abundant populations of rockfish and lingcod, but as many of us know, it wasn’t that long ago when lingcod limits were just one per person and just a few years ago, you could keep 7 black rockfish instead of the current 6. It’s a dynamic fishery to manage, thankfully, we have competent biologists doing it.

Most of the work of deciding who gets how much is done at the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, made up of competent stakeholders and knowledgeable biologists. They are the guardians of this galaxy and dedicate an incredible amount of time to make sure their decisions are sound. The reading assignments alone are enough to blow anyone’s mind.

It’s not the council, the agencies or even the fish stocks that has me worried about the future of this resource however, it’s Congress. In the coming weeks, members of the house will be hearing potential legislation that could indeed roll back the conservation gains we’ve made in recent decades, that have actually allowed us to pursue these fish for our families and communities. What an incredible opportunity to roll back the clock, and sensible legislation that has gotten us to a good spot after much sacrifice by our working waterfronts.

The first piece of semi-sensible legislation is being vetted in draft form. Titled “Strengthening Fishing Communities through Improving Science, Increasing Flexibility, and Modernizing Fisheries Management Act,” it still has some elements that throw up red flags for most stakeholders. Compromising the rebuilding timeline would be one of those problematic areas. But compared to some of the other sand traps out there, such as Representative Don Young’s (Alaska) HR 200, or Representative Garret Graves’ (Louisiana) Modern Fish Act, we at least have a starting point for a conversation.

In short, HR 200 and the Modern Fish Act throw caution to the wind by eliminating Annual Catch Limits (ACL’s) and taking management of some fisheries out of the hands of the federal fisheries managers, who have strict guidelines to adhere to under Magnuson Stevens. Most appalling, these measured roll-backs are largely being driven by some prominent sport groups in the gulf states. Compromising the future of our fisheries for short-term gain is just not how we do it here in Oregon. Just imagine, a sportfishing free-for-all for bottomfish off the Oregon Coast. I think we all know how that would end.

Oregon’s angling community continues to impress me. Even when fishery managers have opened up opportunity for stocks of fish that have historically been compromised, our community has cautiously approached these opportunities with scrutiny, making sure we weren’t compromising the future recovery efforts of the species. We’ve been put on the sidelines many-a-time here in the Northwest, and many of us believe it was for good reason. The fishery is monitored and managed more intensively now than ever before, to minimize those closures and ensure we don’t fall back into draconian regulations that further plummet rural communities into despair.

2 big lings caught outside of the Columbia River

When the Magnuson Stevens Act was first drafted in the 70’s, it was to rebuild depleted stocks of fish, and prevent what was happening in other parts of the world from happening in US waters. Well, mission accomplished, but apparently the Congressmen of the present weren’t paying attention to the lessons we’ve learned from the Congressmen of the past. Our fisheries aren’t in dire peril, but in the face of climate change and an acidifying ocean, small incremental roll backs can have a compounding impact on our fish stocks in the very near future. It’s us as stakeholders that are responsible for taking Congress to task to make sure that doesn’t happen.