Experimental Fishing Permit Program in Discussion

The Experimental Fishing Permit program is a replacement of the previous Experimental Gear Permit program.

CALIFORNIA— At their Aug. 18 meeting the California Fish and Game Commission took the first step to re-establish the experimental fishing permit program which was halted in 2019 due to a change in the law.

The commissioners voted to unanimously authorize the publication of a notice of intent to establish the Marine Fisheries Experimental Fishing Permit Program, this is a notice that informs the public of the proposed regulations and starts the public review and comment period.

The permit program will allow commercial and recreational marine fishing activities that would normally not be permitted under the current state fishing laws.

The EFPs would allow for research, fishing gear testing, data collection that could be used to support marine fisheries, and exploratory fishing.

“For example, there has been some interest in the past to explore… a targeted trap fishery for octopus,” said Tom Mason, senior marine environmental scientist, and supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Current law only allows for octopus to be caught incidentally in some of our trap fisheries so if someone was interested in exploring a targeted fishery for octopus, they would apply for an experimental fishing permit that exempts them from incidental take law. So, they could target them and in the course of doing the research, the data collected during that experimental fishing permit program would inform whether or not a targeted fishery could be developed for octopus. That is an example of exploratory fishing. Or EFP for the purpose of exploring a fishing opportunity.”

Using the EFP would allow research, data collection, commercial and sport fishing activities to occur on the same trip and would allow the anglers to retain and sell the catch to offset the cost of the research trips.

“It allows for on the water experimentation and collaborative research between fishermen and researchers,” said Mason in an Aug. 26 email. “Whether it be research on new gear types or gear innovations to reduce environmental impacts of fishing (for example reduce by-catch or incidental catch) or exploratory fishing to inform the development of new fisheries.”

The EFP is a replacement of the Experimental Gear Permit program that was repealed, the program initially only covered commercial fishing activities for the purpose of testing new gear types.

The new program is more expansive, it goes beyond commercial fishing and gear types to include data collection, sports fishing, exploratory fishing, etc.

There is a three-part meeting process for the Fish and Game Commission to consider adopting the proposed regulations.

“The three-meeting process ensures that the public has ample time to review and comment on the proposed regulations be-
fore the Commission makes a decision,” said Mason.

During the October meeting, the public will be able to provide written and verbal comments, and adoption of the regulation will take place in the December meeting.

To review the proposed documents, see the California Game and Fish Commission’s website at https://fgc.ca.gov/Regulations/2021-New-and-Proposed.

The CDFW is currently developing a website for the EFP program that will include an FAQ section. If the program is adopted its anticipated start will be April 1, 2022.

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