LONG BEACH — Commercial fishermen who have come to rely on the Pacific mackerel as their chief source of income have won yet another battle over how many of the fish should be taken from Southern California waters.
At the urging of the fishermen, California Department of Fish and Game commissioners have voted 3 to 0 to boost the annual state-imposed quota on the fish from 26,000 tons to 41,000 tons. The decision marks the third time the quota has been raised since it went into effect last July.
"I can tell you this, a lot of us have been facing bankruptcy," said Mike Trama, president of the 30-member, San Pedro-based Fisherman's Cooperative Assn. "The increase will keep us alive. It will keep us solvent."
The commissioners' action here Feb. 1. came about five weeks after local fishermen had reached the previous 26,000-ton quota established last fall by the department. The department, which monitors the mackerel's spawning season and continually reevaluates data to determine if quotas should be increased or decreased, had initially set the quota at 16,000 tons, but raised it twice, to the 26,000-ton level, after fishermen protested.
Reason for Raise
Commissioner Al Galletti said Wednesday that the vote to raise the quota came after new evidence was presented that previous department estimates of the number of mackerel in local waters were simply too low.
"Basically, the marine biologists came to us with information that for the last seven years the (mackerel) biomass has been grossly underestimated," Galletti said. "In the opinion of state and National Marine Fisheries Service biologists, there is an abundance of the resource out there."
Pacific mackerel has been fished off the Pacific Coast since the 1930s. It was considered commercially extinct by the mid-1960s, however, and the state established a moratorium on commercial landings of the species in 1970. In 1980, the state allowed purse seiners to again fish for the mackerel under a quota that varies from year to year.
At the same time, San Pedro fishermen have come to depend on Pacific mackerel for much of their livelihood as other local fisheries have dwindled. Warmer waters in recent years have apparently displaced the jack mackerel and squid populations, and the market for anchovies, a fishery also controlled by state quotas, has dwindled as other sources of high-protein meal such as soybeans have become readily available.
Rick Klingbeil, a biologist with the Department of Fish and Game, said that while the Pacific mackerel had poor spawning seasons in 1982 and 1983, preliminary data recently compiled by the department has shown that the 1984 season may have been more successful.
Trama said the 35 or so San Pedro mackerel fishermen have been idle since the last quota limit was reached in late December. Some of the purse seiners, who typically troll coastal waters stretching from the Mexican border to Monterey Bay, resumed fishing for mackerel immediately after the quota increase became effective Monday night, he said.
Under the quota increase approved by the commissioners, the fishermen will be allowed to net up to 5,000 tons of mackerel a month for the next three months. Mackerel caught north of Point Buchon near Morro Bay are not included in the quota.