Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Fixed Gear

Sector Description

The observer program divides the fixed gear groundfish sector into four major components: the limited entry (LE) sablefish-endorsed fleet, the limited entry (LE) non-sablefish-endorsed fleet, the federal open access fleet, and the state-permitted nearshore fleet. The first three components are addressed below. Information pertaining to the nearshore fleet, which generally fishes in depths less than 60 fathoms can be found here.

A federal groundfish permit is required to participate in both the LE fixed gear sectors. Permits are either sablefish-endorsed or non-sablefish-endorsed. In addition, all LE fixed gear permits have gear endorsements (longline, pot/trap, or both). The open access (OA) fixed gear sector does not require federal or state permits. Therefore, the total number of participants in the OA fixed gear sector varies widely from year to year. Open access vessels can use any type of hook-and-line or pot/trap gear, including longline, fishing pole, and vertical longline.

Regulations for the fixed gear groundfish sector are set by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). The PFMC sets harvest guidelines for groundfish species. Trip limits are used to maintain year-round fishing, processing, and marketing opportunities. Cumulative trip limits specify the amount of fish (by weight) that can be landed during a particular time period.

Limited Entry Sablefish-Endorsed Fixed Gear

Vessels participating in the LE sablefish-endorsed fleet range in size from 33 to 95 feet and operate primarily out of ports in Oregon and Washington. Fishing generally occurs in depths greater than 80 fathoms. Nearly all of the vessels deliver their iced catch to shore-side processors. Catch in the LE sablefish-endorsed fleet is composed mostly of sablefish, with bycatch primarily composed of spiny dogfish shark, Pacific halibut, rockfish species, and skates. Vessels retain the portion of catch that is marketable and permitted to be landed. The portion of their catch which is not marketable or for which regulations prohibit landing is discarded at-sea. In addition to market and regulatory discard, smaller fish may be discarded, as fishermen seek to maximize the value of their landed catch allowances.

LE sablefish-endorsed permits provide the permit holder with an annual share of the sablefish catch. Sablefish-endorsed permits are assigned to Tier 1, 2 or 3. Each Tier 1 permit receives 1.4% of the sablefish allocation, with Tiers 2 and 3 receiving 0.64% and 0.36%, respectively. Each year, these shares are translated into amounts of catch (in pounds), or “tier limits”, which could be caught during the primary season.

Regulations allow for up to three LE sablefish-endorsed permits to be “stacked” on a single vessel. Permit stacking was implemented to increase the economic efficiency of the fleet and promote fleet capacity reduction. Stacking more than one sablefish-endorsed permit on a vessel allows the vessel to land sablefish up to the sum of the associated tier limits. However, permit stacking does not convey additive landing limits for any other species.

LE sablefish-endorsed primary season fishing takes place over a seven-month period from April 1 to October 31. The seven-month season was first implemented in 2002. Permit holders land their tier limits at anytime during the seven-month season. Once the primary season opens, all sablefish landed by a sablefish-endorsed permit is counted toward attainment of its tier limit. Vessels that have LE sablefish- endorsed permits can fish in the LE non-sablefish-endorsed fleet under different trip limits once their quota of primary season sablefish is caught or when the primary season is closed, from November 1 through March 31. These vessels are only included in the WCGOP sampling frame for the LE sablefish- endorsed primary season (April-October). When observed vessels in the LE sablefish-endorsed fleet meet their tier quota, they are no longer observed when they begin fishing under LE non-sablefish-endorsed trip limits.

Limited Entry Non-Sablefish-Endorsed Fixed Gear

Vessels in the LE non-sablefish-endorsed fixed gear fleet range in size from 17 to 60 feet, with an average length of 34 feet. Vessels primarily operate out of southern California ports. The fleet typically fishes in depths greater than 80 fathoms. This fleet operates year-round, but the majority of fishing activity occurs during the summer.

Nearly all of the vessels in this fleet deliver their iced catch to fresh fish markets. For example, vessels operating out of Newport Beach, California fish in the early morning hours and arrive back to port around 6:00 AM to sell their fish to local restaurants or markets. Vessels catch a variety of groundfish species, including thornyheads, sablefish, rockfish, and flatfish. LE non-sablefish-endorsed fixed gear permits are subject to trip limits for groundfish species. These vessels retain only the portion of their catch that is marketable and permitted to be landed. The portion of catch that is prohibited or not marketable is discarded at-sea. Fishers might also discard certain size classes or certain species to maximize the value of their landed catch allowance.

Open Access Fixed Gear

The open access fleet of the fixed gear groundfish sector does not require federal or state permits. Vessels range in size from 10 to 97 feet, with an average length of 33 feet. Vessels operate out of all three states and generally fish in waters from 35 to 600 fathoms. Vessels catch a variety of groundfish species, including sablefish, spiny dogfish, and skates. Open access fixed gear vessels are subject to trip limits for sablefish, spiny dogfish shark, and other species. The trip limit amounts are dependent on area and the time of year fishing occurs. These vessels retain only the portion of their catch that is marketable and allowed to be landed. The portion of catch that is prohibited or not marketable is discarded at-sea.

Selection Process

Limited Entry Fixed Gear Selection

LE fixed gear permits are selected for observation using stratified random sampling. First, the WCGOP determines the amount of time (based on available resources) it will take to observe a fleet; this is termed the selection cycle. Selection cycles varied in length due to changing priorities and observer resources The WCGOP has two selection lists for the LE fixed gear fleet: sablefish-endorsed and non-sablefish-endorsed.

WCGOP sampling strata consist of groups of ports along the U.S. West Coast. Vessels with LE fixed gear permits are assigned to a port group based upon the location of the previous year’s landings. Within each port group, vessels are randomly selected for coverage. LE sablefish-endorsed permits are selected for all trips that land sablefish against their tiered sablefish quota during the primary season. LE non-sablefish-endorsed permits are selected for a two-month period. After the entire fleet has been selected, a new selection cycle begins. This selection process is designed to produce a logistically feasible sampling plan with observations throughout the entire geographic range.

Complications in Selecting LE Sablefish-Endorsed Permits

LE sablefish-endorsed permits can be transferred to any other fixed gear vessel with a sablefish- endorsed permit at any time during the year. This flexibility, combined with the benefits from permit stacking, results in inter- and intra-year movement of permits between fixed gear vessels. As mentioned previously, LE fixed gear vessels participating in the sablefish-endorsed primary fishery can have up to three ‘stacked’ tier permits.

While permit owners are initially contacted before the season begins regarding their selection for coverage, their permits can still be transferred to different vessels, potentially introducing bias into the WCGOP sampling process. The observer program has therefore adopted a policy of observing the vessel on which the selected permit is eventually fished, even though that vessel might fish and land its catch in a different port group.

Additional complications occur when tier permits are stacked. Prior to 2007, vessels with multiple permits were not required to associate their landings with a specific permit. Consequently, if a vessel had a mix of selected and unselected permits, all tier-limit trips had to be observed to ensure that the landings of selected permits had been covered. This led to the following two complications: 1) unselected permits received coverage and 2) permits were selected a second time before other permits were covered a first time.

In circumstances where a permit has been previously covered, though not selected, the WCGOP has adopted the following policy:

In subsequent selection cycles, tracking of permit movement between vessels and permit landings are facilitated by additional regulations under Amendment 14 to the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP, January 1, 2007), which requires a permit owner to certify the cumulative amount of sablefish taken on any sablefish endorsed permit transferred during the season. The majority of permit transfers occur before any fishing occurs against the permit, and thus most permits are transferred with zero cumulative pounds of sablefish. The tracking of specific permit landings will be aided by an additional requirement to record the federal groundfish limited entry sablefish-endorsed permit number on state fish ticket landing receipts.

Open Access Fixed Gear Selection

The open access fixed gear fleet is selected for observation using stratified random sampling. First, the WCGOP determines the amount of time (based on available resources) it will take to observe a fleet; this is termed the selection cycle. Most often the length of an open access fixed gear selection cycle is one year, but cycle length can vary due to changing priorities and observer resources. Although the open access fixed gear sector in California has been observed by the WCGOP since 2004, coverage did not extend to Oregon and Washington until the beginning of 2007. Since 2007, open access fixed gear vessels from all three states are combined into a single sampling population.

Because the fishery is not federally permitted, a list of active open access fixed gear vessels is generated differently than the permit lists for the limited entry fixed gear fleets. The open access fixed gear vessel list is based on fish ticket landing receipt information from the Pacific Fisheries Information Network (PacFIN) database. The active list includes all fixed gear vessels with landings in Washington, Oregon, or California that do not have federal limited entry groundfish permits and meet the following criteria:

Once the final open access fixed gear vessel list is generated, vessels are assigned to port groups and sampled randomly. Vessels are selected for a two-month period. After the entire fleet has been selected, a new selection cycle begins. This selection process is designed to produce a logistically feasible sampling plan with observations throughout the entire geographic range.

Coverage/Waivers

LE sablefish-endorsed vessels are selected for all trips during their primary sablefish season while fishing for tier quota sablefish. Thus, all trips in which a selected vessel lands quota against a tiered sablefish permit are required to have observer coverage. For the LE non-sablefish-endorsed and the open access fixed gear sectors, vessels are selected for a two-month period.

In some cases, vessels whose permits are selected for a specific period are not covered by an observer during that period or are not covered on all trips during that period. A trip could be waived from observer coverage due to observer availability, a safety issue that can be fixed in a relatively short period of time, or vessel space issues that arise when an extra person is aboard. A longer selection cycle waiver allows the vessel to fish without an observer during all trips taken during the selection cycle. Selection cycle waivers are given when a vessel has a serious safety concern that cannot be easily remedied or if vessel space is too limiting to safely carry an observer.

Some vessels might receive a coverage period waiver, which allows a vessel to fish all trips during that period without an observer. Coverage period waivers are given for a variety of reasons including observer availability and vessel safety. If a vessel is given a coverage period waiver for a specific two- month period or sablefish season, the vessel is added to the selection list for the next year (LE sablefish-endorsed) or two-month period (LE non-sablefish-endorsed). Vessels continue to be added to subsequent selection lists until either an observer covers them or until the selection cycle ends, whichever comes first.

Fixed Gear (Non-Nearshore) Reporting

Year of data Year of release Description Format
2010 2011 Data from the fixed gear (non-nearshore) sector Excel
2009-2010 Oct-10 Data Report and Summary Analyses of the U.S. West Coast Non-Nearshore Fixed Gear Groundfish Fishery full report (pdf)
2008-2009 Oct-09 Data Report and Summary Analyses of the U.S. West Coast Non-Nearshore Fixed Gear Groundfish Fishery full report (pdf)
2007 Oct-08 Data Report and Summary Analyses of the West Coast Non-Nearshore Fixed Gear Fishery full report (pdf)
2006-2007 Sep-07 Data Report and Summary Analyses of Non-Sablefish-Endorsed Fixed-Gear Permits full report (pdf)
2006 Sep-07 Data Report and Summary Analyses of Sablefish-endorsed Fixed Gear Permits full report (pdf)
2004-2006 Oct-06 Data Report and Summary Analyses of Non-Sablefish-Endorsed Fixed-Gear Permits full report
2005 Sep-06 Data Report and Summary Analyses of Sablefish-endorsed Fixed Gear Permits full report
2002-2004 Feb-05 Data Report and Summary Analyses of Non Sablefish-endorsed Fixed Gear Permits full report
2004 Feb-05 Data Report and Summary Analyses of Sablefish-endorsed Fixed Gear Permits full report
2001-2003 Feb-04 West Coast Groundfish Observer Program Data Report and Summary Analyses for Sablefish-endorsed Fixed Gear Permits full report