California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Depth Restriction Change in Southern Groundfish Management Area Protects Cowcod


Cowcod, Sebastes levis

by Mary Patyten, Research Writer

DFG reminds anglers that effective November 1, 2012 the depth limit is changing from 360 ft. (60 fm) to 300 ft. (50 fm) in the Southern Groundfish Management Area, from the California-Mexico border to Pt. Conception (34°27' North latitude).

This adjustment in depth limit was necessary to protect cowcod. DFG projects that the amount of cowcod caught this year will exceed the federal limit unless in-season action is taken.

"Allowable take limits for cowcod are the lowest of all the West Coast groundfish managed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and these low limits pose the greatest constraint to Southern California anglers and a significant challenge to fishery managers," said Paul Hamdorf, Acting DFG Marine Regional Manager. "Implementing a 50-fathom depth constraint is expected to keep cowcod impacts within allowable limits and maintain conservation goals, while still providing anglers with fishing opportunities through the end of the year."

While cowcod cannot be taken or possessed by sport anglers in California, they are incidentally taken on occasion when anglers are targeting other species. By limiting bottom fishing activity for target species to only shallower depths it is anticipated that incidental take of cowcod will be reduced.

Cowcod range in color from orange to pale pink. They are slow-growing and long-lived, as are most rockfish. This species is found primarily in depths greater than 50 fathoms in Southern California.

Cowcod are one of the largest rockfish species, reaching a length of 37 inches and weight of 29 pounds. When it was declared overfished in 1999, possession of cowcod was prohibited to facilitate rebuilding the stock. Since being declared overfished, DFG and the Fish and Game Commission have worked closely with the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to implement protective measures for cowcod, including closing critical habitat (Cowcod Conservation Areas) and prohibiting retention in most fisheries.

For more information about cowcod, the groundfish fishery and groundfish fishery management practices, visit DFG's Groundfish Central website. Up-to-date sport fishing regulations are available on the Recreational Groundfish Hotline at (831) 649-2801 and on the DFG Marine Region website.

Return to the October 2012 Issue