By Molly Bogeberg, marine conservation coordinator
In many ways, fishermen are scientists. They must study fish behavior to be successful. To catch a fish, you must get inside its head — learn what it likes to eat, where it seeks shelter and how it hunts.
If you’re fishing for a lingcod, you know that they are voracious predators that will eat just about anything, including shrimp, squid, pelagic fishes and soft-bottom fish like sandlance. Lingcod are also territorial and usually live solitary lives in rocky habitats from shallow waters to depths of 1,000 feet.
Commercial fishermen in Oregon and Washington state typically fish for lingcod with bottom-trawl nets. But the consequence of using bottom trawl gear is also the capture of unintended species, or bycatch. Some bycatch species are considered threatened or endangered, and to ensure their recovery, very few can legally be caught. Because of the bycatch limitations, fishermen have only been able to land about 14 percent of their quota for lingcod in recent years, even though lingcod populations are healthy.
Is there a better way that fishermen can target lingcod, without accruing high amounts of bycatch so that they can reach their lingcod quota and, thus, sustain their livelihoods?
We teamed up with fishermen and the University of Washington to develop a fishing pot that traps lingcod and allows bycatch like yellow-eye rockfish to escape. In 2014 and 2015, we tested the initial pot designs and were successful in almost eliminating bycatch. However, there were still some kinks to work out.
In March, we called together a group of local lingcod experts in Newport, Ore., to workshop ideas for additional fishing-pot designs. Recreational and commercial fishermen, a gear-design expert, a representative from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and agency employees from the Northwest Fishery Science Center and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife comprised our expert advisory group. Together, we considered lingcod behaviors, from habitat preferences to predation strategies, to decide what tactics may be best suited for capturing lingcod in pot traps. We discussed different bait types, from olfactory cues to visual and auditory lures that may attract lingcod, but not rockfish. Participants even had the chance to illustrate their “dream lingcod pot” including methods to draw multiple antisocial lingcod into a single pot, and featuring imaginative baiting techniques and creative bycatch-exclusion devices.
Next we’ll take the ideas generated at our workshop to refine pot designs and test the updated gear off Oregon's and Washington's coasts later this year. By combing the equally valuable knowledge of fishermen and scientists, our hope is that these pot designs will contribute to the culture of sustainable seafood in the Pacific Northwest.