A plan to buy back boats from groundfish fishermen has moved to Congress, said Brookings commercial fisherman Ralph Brown, but he was not optimistic that the bill will pass this year.
Brown told members of the Port of Brookings Harbor Fisheries Committee Thursday that the buyback bill was introduced in the Senate two weeks ago.
It was designed to reduce the fishing capacity of the West Coast groundfish fleet by half, so that the remaining fishermen can survive.
The bill was supposed to be introduced in the House this week, said Brown, but the problem was trying to find West Coast Republican representatives of districts with ports in them to co-sponsor it. He said there arent many.
Brown, a member of the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council, said he will attend a congressional briefing on the bill next week in Washington.
He said the council is working on its own remedy for the collapse of the groundfish industry: a permit-stacking program.
If instituted, captains could buy groundfish permits from other boats so they could catch enough to make a living.
Brown said one of the problems with that approach is that not all boats with permits go out every month.
If the permits were purchased, they would probably be used, resulting in more total trips. The total harvest allowed in the fishery would then have to be cut.
Another problem, said Brown, is that owners of the boats who sold the permits might take them into other fisheries, like shrimping.
He said with the buyback bill, the boats could never be used in any commercial fishery again.
He said, however, getting the bill through Congress would be a long-shot.
Fisheries committee Vice Chairman Roger Thompson said if something wasnt done, some of the fishermen would go out of business anyway.
Fisherman Jim Welter said the salmon and logging industries were reduced by that kind of attrition, but it hurt.
The groundfish industry crisis was caused by steep cutbacks in harvests mandated by rebuilding plans designed to restore historic populations.
Some of what biologists know about groundfish, however, is being challenged by new discoveries, said Brown.
He said traditional belief held that the females of some species lived as long as 25 years. Most people thought the older females were larger, and laid more eggs.
The absence of large, old females was taken to mean a species had been overfished and needed rebuilding.
Recent studies, said Brown, may indicate females dont live as long as males, due to the stress of spawning. There may have never been 25-year-old females in some species.
As for the idea that groundfish keep growing until they die, Brown said the theory now is that they grow until they are adults, then stop. Size simply means a fish is big, not necessarily old.
Also, said Brown, older females may lay more eggs, but they dont seem to hatch, so older females may not be more productive.
He said all the new biological information is important for productivity statistics.