The summer fishing season has finally begun, proclaimed boldly this week by barracuda slashing through schools of anchovies from Newport Beach to Oxnard.
Yellowtail, which showed up a few weeks ago at the Coronado Islands, are now making waves at San Clemente and Santa Catalina islands. White seabass are prowling coastal and island waters and albacore are beginning to show at the outer banks.
Exciting news? Sure.
But even more exciting, for many landing operators, captains and crews, are greatly improved prospects for the 2004 rockfish season -- and perhaps to an easing of restrictions as early as July 1. This is because of a recent study that says there are a lot more bocaccio in the ocean than previously believed by scientists.
The flagging bocaccio fishery, by and large, was responsible for severe restrictions placed on the fleets last year, among them an eight-month total rockfish closure in the southern half of the state, which went into effect last Nov. 1.
The highly controversial measures were imposed as a result of a stock assessment that did not take into account a strong rebounding of bocaccio in 1999, because those fish were reportedly too small to factor into the study.
A new assessment was carried out over the last several months because of what John DeVore, a groundfish specialist with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, called “critical uncertainties” over the issue.
“And it revealed the strength of the 1999 year class purportedly seen by the fishermen all along,” DeVore said. “This year they did pick up on the strength of the 1999 year class and it was shown to be about as strong as the 1984 year class, which carried the fishery for so many years.”
In essence, DeVore concluded, “Instead of taking 110 years with no fishing to rebuild the fishery, it can rebuild in 25-30 years with some fishing.”
The PFMC will take up the issue at its meeting June 16 in Foster City, Calif. That probably will be the first step in a process that will ultimately lead to an easing of restrictions on federal and state levels in 2004.
The California Fish and Game Commission, which is meeting June 19-20 in Mammoth Lakes, has not put the issue on its agenda. However, the state agency works closely with the federal group and will follow with interest the proceedings at Foster City.
“We have requested in writing that the Fish and Game Commission does address the issue at Mammoth, but if nothing else we’ll be there to raise a ruckus during the public-input portion of that meeting,” said Tom Raftican, president of the United Anglers of Southern California, one of the groups that led opposition last year to what it called unjust restrictions.
Sportfishing groups, claiming they were victimized by poor science, misguided environmentalists and a governor who was sympathetic to the environmentalists, are pushing for the resumption in 2004 of a 12-month rockfish season and perhaps an increase in the bocaccio bag limit from zero to one, as well as the right to fish in waters deeper than 120 feet.
That depth restriction, taking the fleets out of prime rockfish habitat, was imposed by emergency ruling last July 1 and will remain in effect when the rockfish season resumes this July 1. More immediately, the sportfishing groups are trying to persuade the PFMC and Fish and Game Commission to pursue another emergency ruling enabling the resumption of fishing in waters up to 240 feet deep when the season reopens.
That would give the fleet access to other white-fleshed species of rockfish that share habitat with bocaccio, such as red rock cod and chili peppers. While incidental catches of bocaccio would occur, skippers say they can minimize those catches by moving to other areas when bocaccio are encountered.
“What does it mean? It means we won’t have to sleep in our cars anymore,” said a hopeful Bruce Williams, manager of Port Hueneme Sportfishing, which was hit especially hard by the rockfish restrictions.
DeVore, while anticipating some relaxing of restrictions in 2004, did not predict any changes for this season. But neither did he rule them out -- and that in itself has many within the recreational fishing industry smacking their lips.
Said Marina del Rey Sportfishing owner Rick Oefinger, “I bet everybody is hungry for a big chunk of deep-fried rock cod about now.”
Meanwhile for saltwater fishermen, all eyes are on the more exotic summer arrivals. With his boat, the Enterprise, in a wide-open barracuda bite Thursday morning just north of Newport Beach, Pierpoint Landing owner Don Ashley said waves of the silver bullets were coming in every few days.
“It’s starting a bit late, but I guess you can say it’s starting,” he said. So it seems: www.976-tuna.com called Thursday the most productive day of 2003, with most boats from Long Beach to Dana Point hauling up more than 100 fish.
The Santa Monica Bay is holding barracuda too -- the New Del Mar out of Marina del Rey Sportfishing also went over the 100 mark -- and Williams at Port Hueneme Sportfishing reported catches off Carpenteria.
At the islands, the spotlight is on yellowtail. Having put on a weeks-long show at the Coronado Islands just south of the border, the strong-swimming jacks are now foraging on squid and sardines at San Clemente and Catalina islands.
Eight anglers aboard the Phantom out of Long Beach Sportfishing on Wednesday struggled to land 20 yellowtail out of about 40 hookups on the backside of Catalina. The fish ranged from 15 to about 30 pounds, with most of the bigger ones breaking off in the rocks.
As for the ever-popular albacore, they’re still slightly out of range of the day boats, more than 100 miles southwest of San Diego, but grouping up and slowly moving northward.
The Legend out of Seaforth Sportfishing on Wednesday logged 62 albacore for 16 anglers, and the Pacific Queen out of Fisherman’s Landing on Thursday called in 70 fish for 14 anglers before noon. Both boats were on 1 1/2-day trips and the fish ranged from 12-20 pounds.
Call to Arms
Raahauge’s annual Shooting Sports Fair, scheduled June 6-8 at its Norco facility, is a rite of pre-summer expected to attract hundreds of hunters and sports-shooting enthusiasts.
Manufacturers of pistols, shotguns, rifles, air guns, paintball guns and even Gatling guns will be on hand to demonstrate their wares.
Also, representatives from most major wildlife conservation groups will be on hand to peddle memberships, but also to discuss habitat projects and forecasts for the coming hunting seasons.
Details: (909) 735 -7981 or at www.turners.com.