A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article that warned of the potential for upcoming changes to recreational lobster regulations. Well, it looks like I was a little behind the times because on November 20th the California Department of Fish and Wildlife already began the process by creating a Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) that could eventually affect those changes.
Though still in it’s preliminary stages, this FMP and others like it will determine the future of California’s fisheries.
According to the report, “This FMP prescribes a harvest control rule for the California spiny lobster fishery. The harvest control rule serves as the foundation for managing the fishery in the future as well as the primary mechanism to prevent, detect, and recover from overfishing as required by the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA). The rule is a type of adaptive management framework that identifies potential conservation problems and prescribes appropriate management responses.
The harvest control rule consists of three parts:
1) Reference points
2) A control rule toolbox
3) A control rule matrix
Reference points are the metrics used to gauge the status of the fishery. The three CA lobster reference points are: 1) Catch, 2) Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE), and 3) Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR)” If you’re interested in reading all 177 pages of the report, you can find it here, but I have to warn you, it’s a very dry read.
Let’s take a look at the reason the FMP is being created. In 2011, the DFW stock assessment indicated that the California lobster stock was stable under current management practices. Then in 2012, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) was implemented. The 50 Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) were designed to create safe zones for species such as lobster to reproduce without fishing pressure. But in doing so, they shifted and compressed fishing effort into the non-protected areas.
With less water open to fish, and lobster selling for more than they ever have (the price per pound has tripled in the last 10 years to over $20), commercial fishermen are fishing harder than ever. This increase in fishing effort has raised questions about the long-term sustainability of the fishery. The same is true on the recreational side of things. Since 2008, the rise in popularity of hoop net fishing has increased to the point where during the last six years, recreational fishermen have accounted for between 28 and 38% of the total yearly lobster catch. That’s a significant amount of additional fishing pressure.
Now that the DFW has identified this potential conservation problem the MLMA specifies that it prescribe the appropriate management responses. The first step in doing so is to gather reference points, for California lobster they are; Catch, Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) and Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR).
“Catch” refers to the total catch per season and serves as an alternative to actual stock assessments. While yearly catch can vary greatly due to conditions that affect the fishery, any major change in total catch can be an indicator that an impact is occurring. “Catch Per Unit of Effort” defines how much effort it takes to make the catch. Commercial fishermen are tracked by how many traps they pull vs the number of legal lobster caught and recreational fishermen are rated on lobster per trip basis. “Spawning Potential Ratio” refers to the reproductive output of a population and is used to gauge a fished stock’s ability to replenish itself.
These reference points are determined using harvest control rule tools, which are basically equations that compare yearly results over a ten year period and are used to set minimum catch thresholds. Once set, fluctuations (either up or down) in these reference points are plotted on the control rule matrix. Once plotted, the matrix interprets the fluctuations and recommends courses of action. The matrix can be found on page 59 and 60 of the publication.
So what does all this mean to fishermen?
Well, not much as of right now because the FMP still has a ways to go before going into effect. The next step will be an introduction to the Fish and Game Commission during the first quarter of 2015. Once the Commission has made its recommendations for regulation changes (if any), the FMP will go through a period of formal public review and then be put into effect.
Mike Conroy of West Coast Fisheries Consultants has been following this process closely and reported on potential regulations changes. “This process started two or three years ago with creation of the Lobster Advisory Committee; which met a number of times. That group came up with certain consensus items, which will be presented to the Commission. They also discussed other changes that were not agreed upon and could not be presented as consensus items. To say there was infighting between the commercial and recreational sectors would be an understatement. The environmentalists got to sit back and let the pieces fall where they may.”
In regards to the Committee’s recommendations, Conroy had this to say. “At present, no catch quotas have been determined for either sector; but implementation of trap limits (300/permit with an ability to stack two permits) is on the table. This represents an industry consensus; but is by no means what the entirety of the commercial sector wanted. There was no consensus on an annual limit for the recreational sector – a few numbers were thrown out that ranged between 24 and 96 for an annual limit. The big problem is that there is no hard data on how much the recreational sector takes in a given year. I’m no doctor; but I’d imagine consuming more than 25 lobster in a year would not be good for your health. Other recreational items, which didn’t get consensus involved use of mechanical pullers (some commercial guys down south have had their gear robbed in deep water), banning conical hoop nets, etc.”
We’re going to have to wait and see what the Commission has to say about the recommendations, but it looks like change is coming. If you feel strongly one way or the other about lobster regulations, I recommend you plan to attend one of the public meetings and make comments when the process gets to that point. I will continue to follow this process and keep you notified of any progress.
Since this is my last article before the holiday, I’d like to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas!