By: Parimal M. Rohit
SANTA ROSA — Southern California anglers are on the verge of facing strict regulations when fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna, although the state’s Fish and Game Commission expressed a desire to shut down the fishery entirely because of its dwindling population.
The California Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to conform to a federal recommendation to reduce the Pacific bluefin tuna catch by 20 to 45 percent for commercial and recreational anglers. According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), the proposed rule was published this month and made available for public comment during the next 15 to 30 days. The final rule is expected to take effect in May.
An Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) report estimated the stock biomass for Pacific bluefin tune to be less than 4 percent of its unfished abundance. A 20 to 45 percent reduction in catch could help restore the fishery, according to IATTC. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) voted in November 2014 to reduce the sportfishing bag limit for bluefin tuna to two per day (down from 10) in order to meet the proposed reduction and help restock the Pacific bluefin tuna population.
Fish and Game commissioners Richard B. Rogers and Michael Sutton both said the Pacific bluefin tuna is on pace to suffer a similar fate as its Atlantic Ocean cousin. Sutton added it was tempting to adopt stricter limitations in California, but he was not certain doing so would be productive.
“I have no desire to see the Pacific bluefin tuna go the same way as its Atlantic cousin. If it were up to me, with a 4 percent biomass left, we would shut this fishery down,” Sutton said. “If I were on the Pacific Council, I’d be saying the same thing.”
The capture of Atlantic bluefin tuna was prohibited in the Gulf of Mexico more than 30 years ago. A plan was adopted in 1998 to rebuild the fishery by 2019, according to NOAA, though the plan had reportedly been amended several times.
Under the new regulations in the Pacific Ocean, all tuna species must be filleted aboard a boat or brought ashore as fillets south of Point Conception to be individually bagged. The bag must be marked with the species’ common name; each fish must be cut into six pieces with all skin attached.
Anglers must follow strict rules of how to cut the fish. Specifically, when cutting a tuna, the following must be preserved: its four loins; the collar with pectoral fins attached and intact; and, the belly fillet, with vent and both pelvic fins attached and intact.
“The department has done a wonderful job working the PFMC down to this [final policy]. Four percent of the unfished biomass is startling. We don’t know if this is going to be a passenger pigeon event. Any other fishery where we have control … we’d shut it off,” Rogers said. “I’d surely watch it like a hawk. Frankly, I think this is going the way of the Atlantic.”
Commissioners approved the federally conforming regulation April 8.