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The Big-Mouths are Back: Another West Coast Win for the Magnuson-Stevens Act

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© NOAA

Preliminary results for this year’s West Coast stock assessments are in—and it’s good news. An important rockfish, bocaccio, has rebounded to healthy levels. Updated models, several classes of strong young fish and conservative catch limits are responsible. The Magnuson-Stevens Act is working to rebuild critical stocks, and good management implemented by forward-looking fishermen has realized success. This is yet another successfully rebuilt species on the West Coast, where managers and fishermen have worked together to restore stocks and expand fishing opportunities.

Bocaccio rockfish, a classic yet handsome fish with a Latin name that means “magnificent” and a common name derived from Italian for “big-mouthed,” has long been a staple of West Coast fishermen. Catch is recorded as far back as the early 1850s, and through the years bocaccio has been prized by commercial fisherman and recreational fishermen alike.

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The author Sunday morning at the Santa Cruz harbor. Although “fishing” was exactly and all that happened, bocaccio could have been on the menu. © Corey Ridings
In the 1970s, catch levels took-off, peaking in 1974 with over five times the amount caught just ten years before. Subsequently, catch levels began to decrease and it became apparent that bocaccio were getting harder and harder to find. A stock assessment in 1996 showed severe decline in the stock, and in 1999 it was declared overfished by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Because of conservation provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the law that governs how we manage our ocean fish, managers put bocaccio in a rebuilding plan. This plan laid out a 34 year timeline for restoring the stock. Managers used science-based catch limits and management measures designed to help nurse the stock back to productive levels.

Since then, periodic stock assessments along the way shed light on how the stock was doing and helped managers adjust catch limits. The plan was working at reducing fishing levels, which let favorable environmental conditions and strong years of reproduction grow the population.  Last week, when an update to the 2015 stock assessment was presented at the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting, it became public that the stock was fully rebuilt ahead of schedule. Although not official until NMFS formally reviews the update, a final declaration is expected soon.

This is great news. Although adaptive management by the Council allowed catch to grow with the recovering stock, formalizing the recovered stock and ending the rebuilding plan will allow even more fishing and validates the sacrifices made by fishermen in the 2000s to ensure a healthy and stable stock down the road. Charter boat operations, having to avoid bocaccio for years, can now fish where they want with higher limits and offer better opportunities for clients.

Council member Buzz Brizendine, a charter boat operator out of San Diego, noted that “A rebuilt bocaccio stock will provide considerable opportunities for both the commercial and recreational fleets. This is another example of the stocks we’re brought back to healthy levels in last decade. I’m proud to have been part of it. ”

And Bocaccio isn’t the only good news. Populations of darkblotched rockfish and blackgill rockfish have also increased, close to their rebuilt levels, and a catch report for cowcod showed it’s on track to be healthy in 2019.

Congratulations to the Council and the fishermen who made this possible. Let’s go fish.

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