In a decision that could help the beleaguered Newport Beach dory men, federal regulators have canceled restrictions for two types of fish the historic fleet has depended on for years.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has lifted a West Coast ban on thornyhead, as well as size limits for sablefish caught south of Point Sur, near Monterey Bay. Both fish have been a staple of the dory fleet's rustic market off Newport's McFadden Square.
Federal regulators said fishing for thornyhead was mistakenly prohibited in June when the government took emergency action to halt commercial fishing for popular varieties of rockfish commonly sold as red snapper. The ban was lifted July 25 for thornyhead, a species of groundfish, or bottom-dwelling fish, covered with long and short spines.
On Thursday, the Fisheries Service also lifted a size restriction of 22 inches or greater for sablefish, also known as sea trout.
Officials said catching thornyhead and smaller sablefish in southern waters would not interfere with efforts to restore rockfish populations, particularly bocaccio, which has been devastated by overfishing.
"The restrictions have been lifted and the corrections made. This will help the dory men, big-time," said John DeVore, a groundfish manager for the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, a coalition of government and industry that helps set fishing policy.
The fleet, based at the foot of Newport Pier, has been in decline for more than a decade. As late as 1990, 15 to 20 men regularly operated out of the group's headquarters and fish market. Now there are no more than six.
The remaining dory men and their families had feared the new rockfish regulations would eventually destroy their unique lifestyle, which has been a part of the Newport Beach waterfront since 1891.
"If the changes allow the six or seven families to continue their livelihoods, it will benefit the city tremendously," said Newport Beach Mayor Tod W. Ridgeway. "The dory fleet has economic and historic value. It is critical to our image."
Last month, the city met with the dory men and sent a letter on their behalf to the Fisheries Service and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.