Targeting Abundant Fish Stocks while Avoiding Overfished Species: Video and Fishing Surveys to Inform Management after Long-Term Fishery Closures
Historically, it has been difficult to balance conservation goals and yield objectives when managing multispecies fisheries that include stocks with various vulnerabilities to fishing. As managers try to maximize yield in mixed-stock fisheries, exploitation rates can lead to less productive stocks becoming overfished. In the late 1990s, population declines of several U.S. West Coast groundfish species caused the U.S. Pacific Fishery Management Council to create coast-wide fishery closures, known as Rockfish Conservation Areas, to rebuild overfished species. The fishery closures and other management measures successfully reduced fishing mortality of these species, but constrained fishing opportunities on abundant stocks. Restrictive regulations also caused the unintended consequence of reducing fishery-dependent data available to assess population status of fished species. As stocks rebuild, managers are faced with the challenge of increasing fishing opportunities while minimizing fishing mortality on rebuilding species. We designed a camera system to evaluate fishes in coastal habitats and used experimental gear and fishing techniques paired with video surveys to determine if abundant species could be caught in rocky habitats with minimal catches of co-occurring rebuilding species. We fished a total of 58 days and completed 741 sets with vertical hook-and-line fishing gear. We also conducted 299 video surveys in the same locations where fishing occurred. Comparison of fishing and stereo-video surveys indicated that fishermen could fish with modified hook-and-line gear to catch abundant species while limiting bycatch of rebuilding species. As populations of overfished species continue to recover along the U.S. West Coast, it is important to improve data collection, and video and fishing surveys may be key to assessing species that occur in rocky habitats.