Author Archives: Johanna Thomas

Long Term Restoration of NE Groundfishery Requires Careful Use of Disaster Fund Dollars

New Bedford, MA Fishing Boats I recently co-authored an op-ed in the Bangor Daily Times entitled “’Disaster’ Funds Must be Used to Improve Groundfishing in the Long Term,”  in which we discussed the importance of thinking about both the short and long term challenges facing the New England groundfishery. The Obama Administration recently declared the fishery a federal disaster.

The deep decline in the numbers of cod and other groundfish in New England waters has created this critical need to help local fishermen and fishing communities. But any support to the fishing industry needs to be more than a simple transfer of money. We need to ensure that there are fish for the fishermen to catch in years to come.

By making smart investments now, we can do more than help fishermen through this crisis. We can take care of fundamental needs to provide assurance against potential future disasters. The op-ed outlines several steps that can be taken to ensure that these ‘disaster’ funds are utilized for the long term health and survival of NE fishermen, coastal communities and the fish that sustain them.

Read my full op-ed in the Bangor Daily Times or in the New Bedford Standard Times.

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Seattle Times Cites Benefits of West Coast Catch Share Program

Winona J Docked in Newport, Oregon

"This is a really big deal," said Will Stelle in a Sunday Seattle Times story which highlights the benefits of the groundfish catch share program on the West Coast. "It is restructuring the architecture of the fishery, building in very real and powerful incentives to do the right thing," said the Northwest regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service. The article cites several benefits that West Coast fishermen are seeing, including dramatic reduction of regulatory discards, fishing gear innovations and improved revenues. To read the full article, click here.

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Ending the “Immoral” Waste of Groundfish Bycatch on the West Coast

As catch shares come to the West Coast, many fishermen are relieved that the end of wasted trawl bycatch is finally in sight. Under the existing “trip limit” groundfish management structure, fishermen for years have been required by regulation to shovel uncounted tons of dead fish overboard – a practice they find appalling. John Pennisi, a Monterey fisherman who will operate under the new catch shares policy after January 1st calls the shoveling of fish “immoral,” and reflects on what it was like to fish under a broken regulatory system in the Monterey County Weekly.

Still, opponents have filed a lawsuit to stop the program, and in discussing their lawsuit with the media have repeatedly made unsubstantiated assertions. Brent Paine, a West Coast trawl industry leader, recently pushed back on some of those claims.

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West Coast Fishermen Prepare for Transition to Catch Shares

On the West Coast, catch share management of the groundfish trawl fishery will take effect on January 1, 2011. The culmination of a seven year process, catch shares represent a major shift in the ways that West Coast trawlers – and other fishery stakeholders – will conduct their business.

Fishermen who will operate under the new system have benefited from hearing from their counterparts in British Columbia, where catch shares were established for the groundfish trawl fishery 13 years ago. Some of the province's leading trawl fishermen shared their perspectives at a recent industry workshop held in Santa Rosa, CA.

This type of information exchange is just one example of how West Coast fishermen are gearing up for the new program.  A reporter for the Half Moon Bay Review recently talked with a few of those fishermen, including Steve Fitz.

“Under the new program, there is 100 percent accountability, meaning every pound of catch is accounted for against your quota. This forces people to think of more innovative ways to be intelligent about the way they fish. Environmentally and over the long run, this will be a good program,” says Fitz.

Read the full article in the Half Moon Bay Review.

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Pacific Groundfish Catch Shares Approved, Slated to Start Jan 1, 2011

Johanna Thomas, EDF Oceans - Pacific Coast Regional Director

Johanna Thomas, EDF Oceans - Pacific Coast Regional Director

After seven years of planning, the catch share program for the Pacific groundfish trawl sector has cleared one of its final regulatory hurdles. On Tuesday, NOAA's Fisheries Service approved the plan submitted by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to revitalize the multi-million dollar fishery. The new system joins a spate of other new catch share programs around the country, including one for the iconic New England groundfish fishery and the grouper and red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the West Coast groundfish sector, fishermen have struggled to make a living under the current management system and have been plagued by increasingly strict regulations to address the incidental catch (bycatch) of depleted fish species. Landings for West Coast trawlers had plummeted 70 percent in the last two decades, and since 1998 revenues have dropped from $47.3 million to $22.2 million.

The new system provides fishermen with a guaranteed percentage of the overall catch, based on the size of their vessel and their fishing history. Under catch shares, fishermen will have much greater freedom to fish when they want, and will also be able to sell or lease their shares to other fishermen. Based on results from other fisheries that have transitioned to catch shares, bycatch is expected to drop dramatically for the West Coast trawl fleet, allowing fish stocks and the industry to recover from years of decline.

We applaud both NOAA and the Pacific Fishery Management Council for taking this important step. This is a new day for a fishery that was declared a disaster just ten years ago. From now on, West Coast trawlers will not be in a rush to fish and deliver their catch. Instead, they will time their trips in accordance with both weather and market forecasts, maximizing their profits while fishing in a safer, more efficient, and sustainable way.

The approved plan includes precedent-setting provisions aimed at protecting coastal communities and the environment. There are several features in the plan that makes it stand out as a model for sustainable and adaptive fisheries management. The Council and NOAA have seen to it that fishermen and coastal communities have a real say in how they adopt new practices and adapt to the catch share system.

Years from now, when we look back on this moment, we’ll see that this was a turning point for West Coast trawlers and the groundfish species they harvest.

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Oregon Trawl Commission Poll Shows Strong Support for Keeping the IFQ Program on Track

A recent survey of trawl fishermen in Oregon is a good yardstick for the present outlook of West Coast trawl fishermen who will be moving to a catch share program in January 2011. The poll shows strong support for keeping the IFQ program on track for implementation:

  • 40 supported actively working to ensure implementation in 2011, while 16 preferred a delayed implementation date. 
  • There were only 17 votes in opposition to the program out of a total of 73 who responded to the poll.

The significance of this vote is that even in the face of uncertainty about this new catch share program, the trawl fishermen of Oregon believe that the program is a significant improvement over status quo management, and a vital step to saving the groundfish fishery from its continued downward spiral.

In response to questions about the upcoming change in management of the Pacific groundfish trawl fishery, the Oregon Trawl Commission (OTC) conducted a membership poll asking the Oregon fleet to respond to three questions related to support for the Pacific groundfish trawl catch shares program.  This new management program has been designed to generate millions of dollars more income at the fleet level, get rid of wasteful regulatory discards, and reward those fishermen who are best able to avoid sensitive overfished species. Since Oregon has the majority of trawl fishermen of all three affected West Coast states, the poll is a good measurement of fishermen sentiment.

The Oregon Trawl Commission is a state agency that works to support the trawl industry in Oregon, and is supported by assessments on all trawl-caught fish landed in Oregon.

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