Recommendations to reduce the capacity of the commercial groundfish fishing fleet by at least 50 percent were explained at a public hearing in Brookings Tuesday morning.

Brookings commercial fisherman Ralph Brown, a member of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and Patty Wolf, from the California Department of Fish and Game, narrated an overhead presentation of the findings of the councils groundfish fishery strategic plan development committee.

The committees recommendations to the council will include a voluntary permit-stacking program, or even mandatory, if need be, and a buy-back program to take permits and boats out of action.

The council will begin to make decisions on the committees recommendations at its September meeting in Sacramento. The council will also meet again Aug. 24-25.

Public comments from nine meetings like the one held in Brookings will be factored into final decisions, as will written comments.

Mail comments to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, 2130 S. W. Fifth Avenue, Suite 224, Portland OR 97201, or fax them to (503) 326-6831, or e-mail them to The council will direct comments to the committee.

The councils stated goal for a strategic planning process on groundfish is to move beyond short-term crisis management and develop a longer-term vision and strategies.

Wolf said it would take a five year plan, or a longer plan that would be reviewed every five years.

She said the decline in groundfish stocks has required severe harvest reductions. The council has insufficient data and funding for research.

Status quo management isnt working, said Wolf.

She said the strategic plan paints a very optimistic picture of the future of the groundfish fishery, assuming the recommended actions are fully implemented and given time to work.

The path to the future will be painful, said Wolf, Many people in the fishery now may not be there in the future.

The plan envisions stocks rebuilding with a diverse, stable, sustainable, and profit-driven fishery.

Wolf said in the short term, there needs to be a reduction in the capacity of the fleet. Medium and long term fixes may include individual quotas and area management.

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Brown said fishery management recommendations were designed to achieve that optimistic vision. He said the status quo will not solve the problems facing the fishery.

The council is charged with preventing overfishing, minimizing the bycatch, and maintaining year-round harvesting and processing.

With current management policies, said Brown, the capacity of the fleet is too great to allow year-round fishing for everyone. The goal is to get back to year-round fishing for some.

Brown said people arent making a living fishing now. We need to get over who gets to catch the fish, he said.

Protection of overfished species may include a ban on fishing for neighboring species. Brown said fishing on yellowtail rockfish may have to be restricted to protect canary rockfish.

He said overfishing should be avoided at all costs, because rebuilding plans can take up to 98 years.

Overcapacity is the big problem the fleet faces, he said, Why people cant make a living.

Brown said current restrictions and lack of fish have left the fleet with a small fraction of what it is capable of catching, compared with what it harvested in the late 1980s.

The council determined that a fleet reduction of at least 50 percent of the current boats would not be unreasonable.

Brown said those left would not be just the minimum number of of boats needed to catch the fish.

He said fleet reduction should leave a diversity of gear types and leave boats based throughout the coast. It should also leave opportunities to join or leave the fleet.

Strategies for reducing fleet capacity could include market-based programs, like individual transferable quotas that could be bought or sold, and regulatory solutions that could tell who could be in the fleet or not. Boat or permit buy-back programs could also be used.

Brown said the council is recommending a voluntary permit-stacking program in which fishermen could buy enough permits from other fishermen to make fishing worthwhile and profitable. That could transition into an individual fishing quota program.

The permit-stacking program wont go far enough in reducing capacity, said Brown, but it may be the only tool the council can legally use now.

An alternative would be mandatory permit-stacking, which is not legal now, and would not be desirable, according to Brown.

All fishing sectors and gear types would have to share the burden of conservation goals. There may no open access commercial fisheries, said Brown.

Other fisheries that take groundfish incidentally would be limited to only what was needed to harvest their target species. Brown said that may require gear changes. Shrimpers may have to use fish excluders.

The committee recommended that economic impacts be fairly distributed among all ports along the coast.

The committee said an observer program is critical to decrease bycatch and prevent overfishing.

Brown said enough fish are being discarded so that no one knows how many fish are being caught. Five species have been identified as overfished so far.

Marine reserve areas could also be a part of fishery management. Wolf said the council is considering marine reserves right now, separate from the groundfish issue.

She said reserves could help rebuild the stocks of groundfish that are long-lived and stay in one place.

Wolf said all components of the plan must be implemented as a package to be effective.

She warned that the problem didnt develop overnight, and wont be solved overnight.

Better science, data, monitoring and analysis is the easiest part of the plan to support, she said, but the hardest to accomplish.

She said the quality of the science will determine how good the decisions are and how well they are accepted.

Wolf said the big challenge is building trust and credibility, something currently missing.