EDFish

West Coast fishermen are having their fish and protecting habitat too

Decisions about protected areas can be contentious. It isn’t often that fishermen and environmentalists find ourselves celebrating new protected areas together, but on the West Coast we’re doing just that.

This week, I had the pleasure of being present as the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to support a collaborative effort to reopen thousands of square miles of previously-closed West Coast fishing grounds, much of it in the Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) while at the same time protecting 140,000 square-miles of highly valuable fish habitat. That’s bigger than the state of New Mexico! Read More »

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Two more rockfish species declared "rebuilt"

Photos: Vicky Okimura

Rapid comebacks mean greater fishing opportunities, more sustainable seafood for U.S. markets

EDF’s Pacific team is pleased to share the news that stocks of both Bocaccio and Darkblotched rockfish have been declared rebuilt on the West Coast, well ahead of schedule. Commercial fishermen – who have worked for years to avoid catching the species – will soon be much freer to harvest them and to supply consumers with these beautiful, delicious, sustainable rockfish.

Previously declared overfished, Bocaccio and Darkblotched are among several species that have been under strict rebuilding plans in recent years.  As such, they’ve been among the “constraining species” that fishermen have intentionally avoided catching since 2011, when the trawl fishery’s quota-based catch share management system was implemented. (Fishermen sought to avoid them prior to 2011 also, but under less effective management systems.) Read More »

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Fishing gear innovations creating great results for fish, fishermen and habitat

Trawl gear modifications produce reductions in bycatch, fuel use and seafloor contact – all with increased catching efficiency.

Over the past couple of years EDF’s Pacific team has been privileged to work with fishermen, scientists, fishing net manufacturers and many others on a three-stage project to demonstrate the feasibility of improved trawl net designs on the West Coast. The video shown here describes the amazing progress we’ve made together and indicates a path-forward for disseminating our results to fishermen everywhere.

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West Coast Fisherman Brad Pettinger Honored at White House as ‘Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood’

brad-pettingerOn October 7, in a first-of-its-kind event honoring Champions of Change for Sustainable Seafood, our friend Brad Pettinger was honored for helping to turn around a fishery that was declared a federal disaster in 2000. Brad serves as director of the Oregon Trawl Commission and was a driving force behind the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) landmark 2014 certification of the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery as well managed and sustainable.

Brad’s recognition as a Champion of Change is an acknowledgement of the tough times that he and many other West Coast fishermen endured as their fishery failed and they struggled to bring it back. Brad often recalls when it hit rock bottom, and his wife suggested one day that maybe it was time to sell their boat. “Honey, I said to her, there’s nobody to sell the boat to!” remembers Brad. “You see, nobody wanted to buy the boats, because they couldn’t see a future for the fishery. It was a rough, rough time for everyone involved.”

From that point forward Brad put his shoulder to the wheel, attending every meeting of the Pacific Fishery Management Council for years, helping to hammer out the framework for a catch share fishery management program. That program – which launched in January of 2011 – allocated specific annual quota amounts to trawl fisherman based on their catch history, eliminated the “race for fish” culture of the groundfish fleet, dramatically reduced bycatch, and ushered in a new era of accountability and cooperation among fishermen and regulators. Read More »

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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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