Author Archives: Shems Jud

Gear Workshop Highlights Innovators in West Coast Fishery

IMG_1389-1 New

 

“The best way to get something done is to tell a fisherman it can’t be done.”

– Bob Dooley, veteran fisherman and industry leader

With support from a Saltonstall-Kennedy grant and the Packard Foundation, EDF’s Pacific team joined with an all-star Steering Committee this month to convene a Gear Modification Workshop in Newport, Oregon. More than 70 fishermen from the West Coast and Alaska, along with scientists, net manufacturers, fishery managers, electronics experts, NGO representatives and others came together for two very enjoyable days of intensive information sharing.

The West Coast groundfish trawl fishery is a laboratory of gear innovation these days because the catch share management system requires fishermen to account for every fish caught. Having operated under catch share systems for many years, Alaska fishermen and researchers brought their experiences to bear. Since unwanted or undersized fish count against a fisherman’s overall quota, the incentive to “fish clean” is much higher than in less-accountable fisheries. Fishermen are deploying underwater cameras and working with net manufacturers to design nets that fish more selectively, reduce bottom impact and save on fuel costs.  Likewise, Alaska fishermen and researchers have long been leaders in gear innovation, and they brought their perspectives and expertise to share with their West Coast counterparts.

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Pacific Council Decisions Provide Greater Flexibility for Fishermen

Pacific.Sascha BurkardPotential is for higher catches and increased profitability per trip

Last month’s Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting broke a logjam that has frustrated fishermen for years.

When the West Coast catch share program “went on the water” in 2011, many of its new regulations were overlaid on existing  – but no longer practical or applicable – regulations from the fishery’s pre-catch shares past. This had the effect of hamstringing fishermen. They were unable to fully adapt their business plans, their nets and their fishing methods in order to leverage many of the advantages of the new management program.

A workshop we co-sponsored in Portland in February gave fishermen a platform to air their grievances on these matters, and those sentiments were echoed at the Council meeting last week. At that meeting, the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel (GAP) brought a detailed set of recommendations to the Council, and then, one after another, fishermen testified persuasively that the GAP’s common-sense recommendations were not only overdue, but critical in order for them to maximize catch and profitability in a fishery that has already proven a remarkable conservation success.

Although the specifics of the GAP recommendations adopted by the Council are a fish-wonk’s cornucopia, I’d like to draw out a couple key takeaways:

  • Significant new flexibility in net design and mesh-size requirements will enable fishermen to target both flatfish and rockfish while trawling on the continental shelf. This will increase fishermen’s access to rich fishing grounds, expand the overall catch of certified-sustainable fish species, and improve per-trip profitability.
  • Allowing fishermen to switch between a bottom trawl and a midwater trawl during a fishing trip will allow for much more efficient use of fishing time, reduce fuel and observer costs, expand overall catch and increase per-trip profitability.

Council members I spoke with stressed repeatedly that it was the quality and credibility of testimony presented by fishermen that gave them the confidence they needed to green-light these positive changes. Through that testimony the Council came to appreciate that fishermen truly want to do what’s right, but need a regulatory structure that makes sense in order to do so.

This is a great step forward and we applaud the Council for its actions. In effect, they have aligned regulations a bit more closely with the real world that fishermen operate in, and that’s a good thing. Additional improvements are needed to enable the catch share program to meet its economic goals – and we’ll continue working to advance those improvements – but last month was a good one here on the West Coast.

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Portland workshop focuses on how to make management work better for fishermen

Photo credit: John Rae

Photo credit: Corey Arnold

Last week, EDF joined with a broad array of stakeholders to convene the 3rd Pacific Groundfish Quota Program Workshop in Portland. Following on similar conferences we helped organize in 2010 and 2012, the workshop provided fishermen, processors, Council members and staff, NMFS officials and others involved in the fishery with an opportunity to acknowledge the successes and address the challenges of the West Coast catch share program.

In order for fishermen, processors and management personnel to work together toward their common goal of “getting it right,” the workshop steering committee felt it was important to hold this event ahead of the agency’s upcoming 5-year program review.

Fittingly, a number of workshop speakers began by looking back at conditions in this fishery in the 2000’s: too many boats chasing too few fish; multiple species identified as overfished; unreliable catch and discard data; and finally, a federal disaster declaration. Several of those problems have been remedied. Concurrent with full accountability in the fishery – which produces extremely high-quality data – the West Coast is seeing a historic resurgence of groundfish, and the Marine Stewardship Council now certifies the entire trawl fishery as sustainable. Meanwhile, recent upgrades from Seafood Watch brought 39 groundfish species up to either Green (Best Choice) or Yellow (Good Alternative) rankings.

Nevertheless, this program was designed to improve economic performance as well as conservation performance, and we heard loud and clear from fishermen and processors that the economic potential of the program is not fully being met. The agency’s process for clearing regulatory backlog is glacially slow; program-related costs are rising – even stranding some fishermen at the docks; and most of the total allowable catch is going un-harvested. NMFS heard from multiple speakers on these topics.

What they did not hear was anyone calling for a return to the bad old days. The groundfish quota program on the West Coast can and must be fixed. With over 160 attendees, the Portland workshop clearly showed that there is no lack of interest in doing so.

A final report from the workshop will:

  • Highlight potential actions that the Council, NMFS, and industry members can take to increase the value of the fishery;
  • Clarify why timely action on program refinements currently being considered are key to improving the economic performance of the fishery; and
  • Identify issues and potential solutions that should be explored during the program’s five-year review.

Our processor and fishermen-allies have been responsible for the program improvements we have seen to date, and have borne the costs of the failure to make additional, critical changes. We will be with them every step of the way in advocating for a fishery with enormous upside potential.

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Fishing smarter can save lives

fishing safetyNPR’s Planet Money recently featured the Alaska Halibut fishery in a compelling story of how the commercial catch share system has dramatically improved safety for fishermen while preventing overfishing, ensuring a higher quality product, and allowing fishermen the time to invest in their fishing businesses.

Before the catch share, seasons were increasingly shortened until fishermen were forced to race against each other in 24 hour derbies—often risking their lives and their equipment.  After the new rules were put in place, fishermen were given a total number of fish they could catch, rather than being constrained by a short time window. The catch share program is part of the reason why the Coast Guard reported zero operational related commercial fishing fatalities in Alaska in Fiscal Year 2015.

Fishing is inherently dangerous but it’s still important to look at the several ways to make it safer. Inspections, the use of safety gear and training all make a difference. So can the way fishing regulations attempt to address overfishing. Read More »

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Canary rockfish rebound dramatically: 40 years ahead of schedule

CanaryRF

Photo credit: Noëlle Yochum

At this week’s meeting in Spokane, WA, the Pacific Fishery Management Council made the good news official. Canary rockfish – a long-lived species declared overfished in 2000, has been “rebuilt.”

At the same meeting, Petrale sole, one of the marquee species on the West Coast, was also declared rebuilt. “Rebuilt” status simply means that the population of the fish has increased to a level above what is needed to sustain a healthy population. This target is set by the Council and aims to support maximum sustainable yield in the fishery.

Under the initial rebuilding plan, populations of the bright orange and pink Canary rockfish were not expected to be rebuilt until 2057, so this rapid progress – attributed to a combination of favorable ocean conditions and strict conservation measures enacted under the West Coast’s catch share fishery management system – comes as particularly welcome news.

Canary are one of the so-called “choke species” on the West Coast, meaning that assigned catch quotas of these fish are so small that fishermen have been effectively prevented from accessing large swaths of fishing grounds where plentiful target species co-mingle with Canary.

In adapting to those low quotas and avoiding Canary rockfish in the first four years of the catch share program, fishermen have been instrumental in this major conservation win. When quotas for Canary are adjusted to reflect the six-fold increase in their population, fishermen will be less constrained in fishing those areas, and larger quantities of certified-sustainable fish will hit the docks in Washington, Oregon and California.  EDF will continue working with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Pacific Fishery Management Council to see that those quotas are adjusted as soon as possible.

 

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End of 2014 Brings More Good News for West Coast Fishermen

Photo  by Corey Arnold

Photo by Corey Arnold

Followers of this blog have already heard about major milestones that West Coast groundfish trawl fishermen achieved during 2014. In June, the Marine Stewardship Council recognized the remarkable progress made in this catch share fishery over the last decade, and certified 13 trawl-caught species as sustainable. In October, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program upgraded 21 trawl species to sustainable status, helping to change perceptions and opening up potential new market opportunities for West Coast trawlers.

While supply-chain and consumer perceptions gradually adjust to recognize those positive realities, many groundfish fishermen are still struggling to hang on and make a living. Helping reduce their operating costs so that fishing can become more profitable has been a primary focus of our West Coast team, and now we can celebrate a win on that front with the passage of S. 1275, the Revitalizing the Economy of Fisheries in the Pacific Act, also known as the REFI Pacific Act. Read More »

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