A new dawn for Pacific whiting fishery

photo credit: willapalens via photopin cc

photo credit: willapalens via photopin cc

Yesterday, a federal court in California upheld the parameters that govern what fishing history is used to set allocations in the Pacific whiting fishery, one sector of the West Coast Groundfish IFQ Program

The decision in the Pacific Dawn litigation on pacific whiting quota share allocation is a win for the fishery and fishermen alike, and protects the integrity of management changes designed to provide for the long-term health of the fishery.

Control dates are established by NOAA to alert fishermen that fishing activity after the control date may not be taken into account when quota allocation decisions are made. As EDF legal staff argued at the hearing in early November, control dates are used to determine historic participation in the fishery, and help fishery managers allocate quota fairly amongst fishermen with a stake in the fishery.  If fishery participants believe that the control dates will not be adhered to, they have an incentive to fish harder and more often as a catch share plan is considered, exacerbating overcapitalization just as managers are moving to reduce it.

Overturning the control dates would have destabilized the fishery at the same time the new management system is producing tremendous benefits.

In 2011, the first year of the Pacific Groundfish catch share program  West Coast whiting fishermen landed 40% more fish than in 2010 and earned more than twice their average profit in the past (2011 NOAA Report). Already a low-bycatch fishery, in 2011 the whiting fleet bycatch of rebuilding groundfish decreased by almost 100% in some species. Although the 2012 whiting quota was lower than 2011 (which had been a banner year), the whiting fishery continued its trend toward extremely low bycatch (2012 NOAA Report).

The court’s decision keeps the fishery on the path to environmental and economic success and protects control dates as an important tool to prevent further overcapitalization as catch shares are developed.  The court’s decision also aligned with the opinion of many groundfish fishermen and processors who have testified in support of the catch share program and would have suffered if the control date had been struck down. Read the full decision here.

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