SAN FRANCISCO — New restrictions that keep halibut gill nets farther from shore have the fishing industry wondering how it will make its catch and wildlife conservation groups cheering over potentially fewer wildlife drownings.
The state Department of Fish and Game on Tuesday issued an order that forbids the use of gill nets and trammel nets for the next 120 days in the shallow ocean waters near Monterey Bay and Morro Bay – prime halibut fishing areas that had been the last left accessible to gillnetters on the coast.
David Bunn, deputy director of the department, says fish and game officials issued the order after seeing the last week’s results of a year-long survey of fishing impacts on coastal animal populations.
The 120-day restriction may expand to a permanent ban after a public hearing in Seaside next week, Bunn said.
That’s great news to Carol Fulton Yates, former executive director of the Monterey-based conservation group Friends of the Sea Otter.
“We’re not against fishermen or fishing but they need to use a method that doesn’t drown marine birds or mammals,” Fulton Yates said. “We are very grateful to the director for putting these closures into place.”
Fishermen view the order as “another nail in the coffin” for the industry, says James Mauney, a wholesale fish buyer in Morro Bay.
“If you go out past 60 fathoms you won’t affect the marine mammals or the birds but the fish aren’t there, either,” Mauney said. “This is completely out of the blue.”
Not so, says Bunn. The department did meet with some of the affected fishermen last week, Bunn said. He said the decision was hard to make, but that the study showed that the nets were killing species that the state has pledged to protect such as the southern sea otter and the common murre, which dives to great depths in search of food.
In Monterey Bay, for example, Bunn says national Marine Fisheries Services observers noted that gill nets and trammel nets caught and drowned 5,200 of the birds. Bunn said more than 100 sea otters a year are killed by the nets.
Gill nets are mesh nets similar to a volleyball net, that are buoyed and weighted on the edges and are left in the water to catch fish for around 12 hours. The mesh is sized to catch the desired fish and allow smaller fish to escape.
But the nets have proved deadly to marine mammals and shore birds who are too large to avoid the nets.
The order goes into effect Wednesday and bans gill net and trammel net fishing in ocean waters which was 360 feet or less in depth between Point Reyes in to Yankee Point and from Point Arguello to Point Sal.