The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is limiting fishing depths in the Southern Groundfish Management Area to reduce interactions with cowcod. The DFG's action follows a recommendation made by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) at its September 2012 meeting.
The DFG has determined that the cowcod take is projected to exceed the federal limit established for recreational and commercial fixed-gear fisheries in 2012, unless in-season action is taken. So the DFG has opted to limit recreational groundfish fishing depths to 50 fathoms (300 feet) in the Southern Groundfish Management Area (34°27' north latitude to the Mexico Border) effective on Novomber 1, 2012. The previous depth limit was 360 feet, except in Cowcod Conservation Areas where no bottom fishing is allowed in depths of more than 120 feet. The recreational rockfish season will close entirely in Southern Californria as January 1, 2013, and re-open on March 1, 2013.
Cowcod are one of the largest rockfish species, reaching a length of 37 inches and weight of 29 pounds. They range in color from orange to pale pink/white. Cowcod cannot be taken or possessed by sport anglers in California. Possession was prohibited to facilitate rebuilding the stock when it was declared overfished in 1999. However, they are incidentally taken on occasion when anglers are targeting other species. By limiting bottom fishing activity for target species to shallower depths, the DFG hopes that the incidental take of cowcod will be reduced.
"Allowable take limits for cowcod are the lowest of all the West Coast groundfish managed by PFMC, and these low limits pose the greatest constraint to Southern California anglers and a significant challenge to fishery managers," said Paul Hamdorf, acting DFG marine region manager. "Implementing a 50-fathom depth constraint is expected to keep cowcod impacts within allowable limits and maintain conservation goals, while still providing anglers with fishing opportunities through the end of the year."
From the time that the cowcod was declared as an overfished species, the state of California has worked closely with PFMC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to implement protective measures for cowcod, including closing critical habitat (Cowcod Conservation Area) and prohibiting retention in most fisheries. Cowcod primarily occur in depths greater than 50 fathoms in Southern California, and are slow-growing and long-lived.
Full color illustrations of cowcod are available in the California Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet to help anglers identify and release this fish. For more information regarding recreational groundfish regulations and to stay informed of in-season regulation changes, please call the Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulation Hotline at 831-649-2801, or visit the DFG Marine Region website at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine.