Conservation community applauds decision to protect fish and ocean habitat from destructive bottom trawling. - Oceana USA

Conservation community applauds decision to protect fish and ocean habitat from destructive bottom trawling.

Press Release Date: February 18, 2003

Location: Sacramento, California


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: | tel: 954.348.1314


The California Fish and Game Commission took unprecedented action today to protect overfished rockfish populations and preserve ocean habitat by voting unanimously to close the destructive spot prawn fishery to bottom trawling. The Commission was prompted to take action after a California Department of Fish and Game observer report revealed high levels of bycatch (the catch and discard of dead and dying non-targeted marine life) in the spot prawn trawl fishery, including bycatch of severely overfished rockfish that live in the same habitat as spot prawns.

In July 2002, the federal government closed a large portion of the California continental shelf to bottom fishing to protect overfished rockfish populations. Federal efforts to rebuild these severely depleted rockfish would have been undermined by the continuation of the California spot prawn trawl fishery. “We commend the Commission for its decision to protect the long-term health of the ocean,” said Tim Eichenberg of Oceana. “Bottom trawling kills excessive numbers of non-targeted fish, destroys vital ocean habitat, and undermines federal efforts to rebuild depleted fish populations. It is about time California followed the lead of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia and closed this destructive fishery,” he added.

The Commission was requested to phase out bottom trawling for spot prawns in 1999. Instead, the Commission allowed the fishery to continue with fish excluder devices on trawls, and an observer program funded by the trawl and trap fleet to obtain scientific data on the impact of the fishery. The data released in July 2002 estimated that the total bycatch of overfished rockfishes, even with the fish excluder devices, showed significant adverse impacts on catch levels established by the federal government.

The northern California spot prawn trawl fishery had a total fish bycatch ratio of 7.5 to 1. In southern California, the ratio was 17.7 to 1. This means that for every pound of spot prawns caught in trawl nets, between seven and seventeen pounds of fish are thrown overboard. “The spot prawn trawl fishery is outrageously wasteful,” said Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Stopping these trawl nets is critical to protect our vulnerable rockfish populations.”

The Commission also voted to convert the spot prawn trawl fishery to traps, a much less-harmful alternative. Trap fishing has minimal bycatch and habitat damage, and shows every indication of being sustainable if managed properly. According to the observer report, the relative amount of bycatch for all fish was 50 to 80 times greater in the trawl fishery than the trap fishery. “Given the availability of cleaner and less damaging alternatives to trawls and the dire situation of groundfish, we believe that the long-term closure of the prawn trawl fishery is the soundest course of action,” said Karen Reyna of The Ocean Conservancy. “Fishery allocations of overfished rockfish species will be so low next year that continuing the spot prawn trawl fishery risks shutting down far cleaner and more sustainable operations,” she added.

Oceana is a non-profit international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education. Founded in 2001, Oceana’s constituency includes members and activists from more than 190 countries and territories who are committed to saving the world’s marine environment. In 2002, the American Oceans Campaign became part of Oceana’s international effort to protect ocean eco-systems and sustain the circle of life. Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has additional offices in California and other key U.S. coastal areas, and will open offices in Latin America and Europe in 2003.

The Ocean Conservancy strives to be the world’s foremost advocate for the oceans. Through science-based advocacy, research, and public education, we inform, inspire and empower people to speak and act for the oceans. Headquartered in Washington, DC, with more than 900,000 members and volunteers The Ocean Conservancy has regional offices in Alaska, California, Florida, and New England and field offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, CA, Florida Keys, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the office of Pollution Prevention and Monitoring in Virginia Beach, VA.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.