Rockfish season open with lurking changes

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BY MERIT McCREA

SACRAMENTO— The California Fish and Game Commission approved a new regulatory package that opens up close to 4,000 square miles of waters previously closed to rockfish fishing for over two decades. The action also provides for sweeping changes to our rockfish seasons this year. It provides for an earlier opening to the rockfish seasons for the waters north of Pt. Conception, Santa Barbara County. It updates the vermilion bag limit to keep angler catches below levels established by NOAA fisheries scientists to prevent overfishing.

The daily sub-bag limit for vermilion drops to 2 fish, quillback rockfish are no-take.

These changes are driven by the need to reduce vermilion catches to keep our fishery under an annual quota of 210 metric tons and reduce quillback to zero.

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The complicated seasons and a closed area between 20 and 50 fathoms up north were needed to provide anglers with as much opportunity to target other rockfish as possible while staying under the total recreational catch limits for year.

While many may claim commercial fishermen take more that recreational, the opposite is true. For vermilion, recreational anglers bagged an estimated 297 tons last year, while commercials logged a third of that – 97 tons.

This table shows a summary of this year’s seasons by region.

Managers had to come up with a way to shave 100 tons off that vermilion total for 2024, while providing as much fishing opportunity as possible.

Watch for notice of these changes in coming days. CDFW Environmental Program Manager Marci Yaremko said her staff will be working diligently to move these new management measures into full implementation as soon as possible.

There are yet some processes that will need to happen, including approval by the Office of Administrative Law. However, they have had advance notice of the regulatory package already.

Once official public notice goes out there is a required 10-day period before those changes can take effect.

While SoCal waters will open to all-depth access April 1 under existing regulations, waters out of Morro Bay and Avila are likely to open sometime mid-April, all-depth, under the new regulations – as soon as they officially come into effect.

For waters out of Monterey and north, the season will open similarly, but to access beyond 50 fathoms, then starting May 1 transition to inside of 20 fathoms only. The dividing line between the south seasons and north will be at 36˚ North latitude – near Point Lopez in Big Sur.

As for the opening of the former Cowcod Conservation Area waters (CCA), it comes with 8 caveats, and as above, opens for recreational anglers 10 days after the official notice of the regulation change.

Within that CCA space there are 8 deepwater areas that remain closed. The points that describe those areas are available via this link, and can be seen in a map here in gold.

For the seasons in the north there will be months with access only outside of 50 fathoms and others with access only inside of 20 fathoms.

The coordinates for the new 20-fathom lines can be found here. The coordinates for all the rest of the depth lines including the 50-fathom lines can be found here, scroll down until you see the lists of Lat-Lons.

Note that there are new 50-fathom lines around the Tanner and Cortes banks, San Nicolas and Santa Barbara Islands. These will be important in the summer and fall.

 

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