CDFW Seeks Input on 2021 Recreational Pacific Halibut Season Dates

California anglers who are interested in the recreational Pacific halibut fishery are invited to participate in an online survey to help inform the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) about angler preferences for open fishing dates during the upcoming 2021 season. Results of the survey, which is open until Feb. 17, will be used to develop recommended season dates that will be provided to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Pacific halibut fishery takes place off northern California. The 2021 quota will be 39,000 net pounds, the same quota as in 2019 and 2020.

For more information on the Pacific halibut fishery in California, please visit CDFW’s Pacific Halibut web page.

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Media Contacts:
Melanie Parker, CDFW Marine Region, (831) 649-2814
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

CDFW Approves Restoration Project for Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has certified the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a project to restore the largest coastal wetlands complex in Los Angeles County and increase public access to outdoor recreation and natural spaces in one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve (BWER) project will enhance and establish native coastal wetlands and upland habitat on 566 of the reserve’s 577 acres south of Marina del Rey and east of Playa del Rey. It will restore ecological function to currently degraded wetlands, preserving sensitive habitat for future generations and build climate resilience on a coast vulnerable to sea level rise.

The project also advances the Newsom Administration’s Executive Order of October 7, 2020, focused on harnessing California’s vast network of natural and working lands to fight climate change and protect biodiversity. See a summary of the approved project. A more detailed project description is found in the final EIR.

CDFW is advancing the most restorative alternative in the final EIR – with a significant commitment to phasing the restoration work. This alternative offers the most restoration, which is important because of the huge degradation at BWER from a history of human impacts. The most restorative alternative also provides more climate resiliency buffer, because without this restoration sea level rise will overcome the remaining portions of BWER that have functioning wetlands and flood local roads more frequently, more severely and much sooner.

CDFW, in partnership with the State Coastal Conservancy and The Bay Foundation, has spent years working with the public and envisioning a plan for the revitalization of BWER, which once encompassed an approximately 2,000-acre expanse of marshes, mud flats, salt pans and sand dunes that stretched from Playa del Rey to Venice and inland to the Baldwin Hills. Today, the reserve’s 577 acres are all that remains of the former wetlands. The state acquired the reserve in 2003 with the use of $149 million in Proposition 50 funds.

The ecosystem at BWER is considered one of the last remaining opportunities for major coastal habitat restoration in Los Angeles County. Ecological components of the project include enhancing and restoring 200 acres of coastal wetlands, relocating existing levees to reconnect Ballona Creek to its historic floodplain, improving tidal circulation into the reserve, and restoring estuarine aquatic and upland habitats.

In addition to combating climate change and protecting biodiversity, the project will help achieve equity and access to natural spaces for all Angelenos, consistent with another Newsom Administration priority. It is estimated that well over 90 percent of wetlands in the region have been lost to development and human alteration. Once restored, BWER will be one of the largest natural open spaces available to the public in the City of Los Angeles, second only to Griffith Park. The project will now proceed toward final design. CDFW will work with the Los Angeles County Flood Control District in securing a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and completing a federal environmental review document, a process expected to take approximately two and a half years. In addition, approvals from the Coastal Commission, Regional Water Quality Control Board and possibly other agencies are required, and the timing of those approvals depends on the permitting agency’s process. As CDFW continues through the next steps of these processes, CDFW’s vision for BWER will remain the same – a restored, healthy wetlands that provides greater sea level rise buffer and climate resiliency, with equity and access to natural open spaces for all Angelenos.

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Media Contacts:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

New Recreational Groundfish Regulations For 2021

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announces that multiple changes to the recreational groundfish regulations will take effect in the new year.

CDFW worked closely with recreational stakeholders to develop the following changes, effective January 1, 2021. See CDFW’s summary of recreational groundfish regulations for Management Area boundary definitions.

  • Elimination of sub-bag limits for black rockfish, canary rockfish and cabezon within the 10-fish Rockfish, Cabezon, Greenling (RCG) complex daily bag limit.
  • A new sub-bag limit of five vermilion rockfish within the 10-fish RCG complex daily bag limit.
  • The Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) boundary will increase to 30 fathoms (180 feet) in the Mendocino Management Area during the regular open season (May 1-October 31).
  • The RCA boundary will increase to 50 fathoms (300 feet) in the San Francisco Management Area during the open season (April 1-December 31).
  • The RCA boundary will increase to 100 fathoms (600 feet) in the Southern Management Area during the open season (March 1-December 31).
  • For consistency with federal regulations, the legal method of take for California scorpionfish has been updated such that no more than two hooks and one line may be used when angling for this species.
  • The ‘All Depth’ fishery in the Northern and Mendocino Management Areas will continue each November and December, unless modified by an in-season action.

The new regulations were adopted by the California Fish and Game Commission in mid-October and the Pacific Fishery Management Council in July. Anglers should check CDFW’s website for the current regulations before fishing for groundfish and are advised that regulations printed in the 2020-21 ocean regulations book will be out of date starting January 1, 2021.

The 30, 50 and 100 fathom depth contours are defined by straight lines connecting the waypoints as adopted in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 50, Part 660, Subpart C.

Many of these changes were made in response to the outcomes of recent stock assessment science. Populations of yelloweye rockfish and cowcod, which were declared overfished in 2002 and 2000 respectively, are increasing faster than anticipated and the cowcod population was declared rebuilt based on the 2019 stock assessment.

“The good news for 2021 is groundfish populations are rebounding,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Caroline McKnight. “Of the eight stocks that were declared overfished in the early 2000s, all but one, yelloweye rockfish, has been declared rebuilt today. The improved status of these species allows fishery managers to recommend management measures that provide additional fishing opportunity, including access to deeper depths that have been off limits to anglers for more than a decade.”

The implementation of a new five-fish sub-bag limit for vermilion rockfish within the 10-fish RCG complex daily bag limit may come as a surprise to some anglers. Recreational catch of vermilion rockfish has increased significantly in recent years, but stock status information is dated. While a new stock assessment for vermilion rockfish is planned for 2021, the results won’t be available for use in management until 2023. In the interim, the new five-fish vermilion rockfish sub-bag limit has been implemented as a precautionary measure to slow catches.

Take and possession of bronzespotted rockfish, cowcod and yelloweye rockfish remain prohibited statewide.

For more detailed information on the new 2021 recreational groundfish regulations and to stay informed of in-season changes, please call the Recreational Groundfish Hotline at (831) 649-2801 or visit CDFW’s summary of recreational groundfish fishing regulations for 2021. For background information on groundfish science and management, please visit CDFW’s Marine Region Groundfish webpage.

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Media Contacts:
Melanie Parker, CDFW Marine Region, (831) 649-2814
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Commercial Dungeness Crab Update

Proving that the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program is successfully striking a balance between the needs of the commercial Dungeness crab fleet and protection of marine life, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will open the commercial season statewide on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, allowing the fleet a chance to get Dungeness crab on California tables before the holiday season ends.

This statewide opener ends delays in place due to meat quality in the northern management area (NMA) and the potential for whale entanglement in the central management area (CMA). It also gives the fleet ample time for planning and gear preparation and promotes an orderly start to the fishery. For the NMA Fishing Zones 1 and 2, the pre-soak period will begin Sunday, Dec. 20 at 8:01 a.m. and for the CMA, Fishing Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6, the pre-soak period will begin Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 6:01 a.m.

map of California ocean fishing zones

Available data indicates some whales remain in the fishing grounds but risk is declining and CDFW supports a balanced approach to managing risk and providing opportunity for the commercial fishery that is grounded in expert science.

Whale entanglement risk still exists, but it is low. Thus, the opening declaration is accompanied by an notice to the fleet to use best fishing practices and avoid areas where whales may be congregating including around the canyon edges of Monterey, and between the Farallon Islands and Point Reyes. Crabbers are encouraged to review the Best Practices Guide and remember to minimize knots and line scope when fishing.

Recent survey data indicate most whales have started their annual migration out of the fishing grounds. Based on these data, CDFW made a preliminary recommendation to open the fishery statewide on Wednesday, Dec. 16. The Whale Entanglement Working Group evaluated all available data and did not provide a consensus recommendation to open or delay. After the Working Group meeting, the majority of ports requested further delay of the opener.

“Our recommendation was to open this Wednesday,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “But after hearing from parts of the fleet expressing a variety of views, and review of additional scientific information provided by Working Group experts, we decided on an additional seven-day delay. This gives the fleet extra time to get ready and get their gear in the water, certainty in that we’re opening statewide, hopefully the chance to get part of the holiday market and an additional seven days for any remaining whales to migrate. We support any additional measures the fleet or specific ports wish to take to minimize entanglements and also understand the additional hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. CDFW staff, collaborators and partners have worked hard to collect data to inform a unified statewide opener.”

Since late October, CDFW in partnership with researchers, federal agencies and the fishing industry has conducted surveys from the Oregon state line to the Channel Islands to observe marine life concentrations. Based on recent aerial surveys and observation data, whales have begun to migrate out of California waters to their winter breeding grounds, which in turn reduces the risk of entanglement when the commercial fishery opens.

Through the course of the crab season, CDFW will engage regularly with the Working Group to review scientific information and advice efforts to minimize the risk of whale and sea turtle entanglements while maximizing fishing opportunity. Based on that process, CDFW may take additional management actions in response to future risk assessments. For more information related to the risk assessment process or this delay, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page. For more information related to the risk assessment process or this delay, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page or for more information on Dungeness crab, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/crab.

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Media Contact:
Ryan Bartling, CDFW Marine Region, (415) 761-1843
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

California Fish and Game Commission Meets

At its December 9-10 meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission acted on several issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from this week’s meeting.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) presented its annual report on the progress of its statewide Marine Protected Areas Program. The report highlighted research and monitoring efforts, outreach and education, enforcement and compliance statistics, policy, permitting and Tribal engagement.

Fish and Game Commission logo

The Commission voted to extend the recreational red abalone fishery closure sunset date by an additional five years to April 1, 2026.

The Commission adopted new regulations for the recreational crab fishery intended to provide additional whale and turtle protections. These changes will take effect at the start of next season scheduled for November 2021.

The Commission also adopted new regulations regarding recreational take of sea urchins in Caspar Cove and Tanker Reef to evaluate mechanisms to promote kelp recovery.

The Commission authorized staff to publish a notice of intent to amend regulations for Klamath River Basin sport fishing, Central Valley sport fishing, waterfowl hunting, and deer and antelope hunting tags. As part of the mammal hunting notice, the Commission also authorized the inclusion of a temporary regulation that would allow hunters to receive a refund and restore preference points if they were unable to fill their tags for specific elk, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep hunts during the September 2020 statewide forest and public land closures due to fires.

At its September 2020 meeting, the Commission determined that listing western Joshua tree as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) may be warranted, making it protected under CESA as a candidate species. On Dec. 10, the Commission unanimously adopted regulations to authorize conditional take of western Joshua tree during its candidacy for CDFW, the town of Yucca Valley, the City of Palmdale and San Bernardino County. The decision will authorize take of western Joshua tree under strict criteria related to hazard trees, public works projects, and single family residences and accessory structures. This emergency rulemaking is conditioned upon mitigation measures and a limited total number of trees that can be taken, and is a result of discussions and consultation between CDFW, the local governments and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The full commission – President Eric Sklar, Vice President Samantha Murray and commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Peter Silva – was present on Wednesday, Dec. 9. On Thursday, Dec. 10, Vice President Samantha Murray and commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Peter Silva were present, and President Sklar was absent. There is one vacant seat on the commission.

As a reminder, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting budget gap in California, Commission meetings through June 2021 will be held via webinar and teleconference.

The agenda for this meeting along with supporting information is available at www.fgc.ca.gov/meetings. An archived audio file will be available in coming days. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the full Commission is scheduled for February 10-11, 2021. In addition, the Commission has scheduled a meeting for January 12, 2021 to hear only two agenda items.

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The California Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, predating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. There is often confusion about the distinction between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Commission. In the most basic terms, CDFW implements and enforces the regulations set by the Commission, as well as provides biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision-making process.