Author Archives: Shems Jud

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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Monitoring with an eye towards cost-effectiveness in the Pacific Groundfish fishery

In the Pacific, electronic monitoring (EM) research is currently focused on individual accountability of both catch and bycatch in the trawl catch share fishery.  Since 2011, vessels in this fishery have been required to carry an on board observer.  Additionally, the crew of each vessel operates a vessel monitoring system (VMS), submits logbooks, and reports 100% of landings. This comprehensive program, along with individual fishing quotas (IFQs), has proven to be an effective approach to managing the fishery.  This success is evidenced by a decrease in catch of overfished and rebuilding species, as well as a significant reduction in unwanted catch, or “discards.” 

Why Electronic Monitoring?

The West Coast Groundfish monitoring program is working well, but its high costs could push some of the smaller vessels out of the fishery, especially those that operate out of remote locations where it is difficult to deploy fisheries observers.  EDF’s Pacific Ocean team, along with many other stakeholders, is working with the Pacific Fishery Management Council to identify and approve appropriate electronic monitoring options.  The integration of EM into the Pacific groundfish monitoring program is expected to help reduce costs and increase operational flexibility while maintaining high levels of accountability.

 

Preliminary EM Research Results:

Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSFMC) has overseen EM research with various portions of the groundfish fleet since March 2012.  Results of the 2012 research from whiting (midwater trawl) and shoreside groundfish (longline, pot and trap) vessels were released at the Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting in June 2013, highlighting key factors to be considered to ensure successful deployment of EM, including:

  1. Hardware makes a difference.  Digital cameras (as opposed to analog cameras) facilitate the accurate identification of fish species.  Vessels will also need to have an adequate power supply to avoid situations necessitating powering down an EM system during a fishing trip.
  2. Communication is key.  Feedback between data analysts/program managers and the captain/crew is needed to ensure: catch handling protocols are appropriate for the vessel and the camera locations; equipment is properly maintained; and that cameras are not obstructed during fishing operations.  This collaboration is essential for developing vessel-specific monitoring plans.
  3. Define your terms.  A clear definition and expectation of what constitutes “catch” and “discard” is necessary to accurately compare EM and observer collected data.
  4. Data drives it.  The duration of a fishing trip and fishing activities will determine the amount of data to be recorded and stored.  Knowing data storage needs in advance will ensure hard drive capacity is not exceeded, which can result in the inadvertent loss of data.
  5. Size matters.  Knowing the dimensions of the vessel and fishing gear can assist data reviewers in calculating volumetric estimates of catch.

 

Next Steps:

PSMFC and Archipelago Marine Research are currently working with 14 fishing vessels to continue EM research.  Likewise, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is on track to tackle regulatory aspects of implementing EM in the groundfish fishery.  Starting this week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting to adopt a range of alternatives for EM regulations, with the goal of implementing electronic monitoring for major segments of the groundfish catch share fishery by January 1, 2015.  To accomplish this work, the Council established two ad-hoc EM advisory committees, one of which I serve on along with stakeholders from the Pacific Groundfish fishery.  A calendar of the Pacific Council’s EM-related work can be found here.

Although a timeline has been established, much work remains to complete the Pacific regional implementation plan and resolve some of the logistical and political challenges to putting a fully operational EM program in place.  Given the importance of fishery-dependent data to fishery management, and the need for cost-efficient means to monitor fishing activities, EDF will continue to support the adoption of EM and other technological solutions in the Pacific and nationally.

 

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Maintaining fishery accountability while reducing costs for fishermen

No Overfishing Guaranteed LabelThe Pacific Fishery Management Council took a significant step last week when they voted for the first time to move forward with a formal process to scope, set performance standards and eventually implement electronic monitoring for the West Coast Groundfish Individual Fishing Quota (catch share) fishery.  Why is that important?

The West Coast catch share program is now in its third year of operation, and one of its chief characteristics is that it is “100% Federally Monitored – No Overfishing Guaranteed.” An authorized third-party observer who tracks the catch and ensures that all fish are accounted for accompanies each groundfish trip. West Coast fishermen are committed to the full accountability provided by observers, but they are struggling under the added costs that the federal monitoring requirement places on them. Electronic monitoring is seen as a way to save on costs, increase fishermen’s ability to time their trips to weather conditions and market opportunities, and improve safety.

That’s why EDF has been working with fishery managers, fishery enforcement personnel and NMFS to encourage development of cost-effective ways to gradually replace human observers with onboard cameras and supporting software systems. Last week’s Council vote was a milestone, and EDF joins with West Coast fishermen in thanking Council members for taking this well-considered and vital step.

 

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Turning “Full Accountability” Into Dollars and Cents: New Label Recognizes Value of 100% Monitored Catch on West Coast

The conservation and economic benefits of the Pacific groundfish catch share program are steadily coming into focus. In the first year of the program, those benefits included higher revenues and dramatic reductions in the number of discarded fish (See NOAA’s first year report here). With catch shares, fishermen are taking advantage of a year-round, flexible fishing season, the ability to “fish to the market,” and new incentives to use the most selective fishing methods possible.

These economic and conservation gains would not be possible without a strict requirement of the new catch share program: 100% monitoring. An impartial federal observer now observes fishing operations on board West Coast groundfish boats and accounts for every fish caught. As Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, put it:

The fishery observers that trawlers are now required to have onboard take up scarce space and mean another mouth to feed, but they provide the assurance of 100% catch accountability – no fishery in the world has a higher standard – along with the reliable scientific data that fishery managers will need in order to adjust allowable catches in the future. Read More »

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Catch Shares Address Community Impacts in Ways Conventional Fisheries Management Cannot

All fishing communities have one thing in common: they depend on healthy, productive fish stocks. Catch share management programs benefit fishing communities by helping to stabilize fisheries.  Fishing is inherently unpredictable, because it depends so much on ever-changing conditions in the oceans.  Since well-designed catch share systems give fishermen more flexibility to time their fishing activities, they are significantly better than traditional management methods at helping fishermen cope with negative fluctuations in barometric readings or in dock prices paid for the fish they deliver.

Well-designed catch share systems also include tools and mechanisms that benefit communities, things you won’t find under traditional management.

Over the years, thousands of fishing jobs have been lost due to declining fishing opportunities. Under conventional management, fishermen face ever-increasing limits on harvest levels, and shorter and shorter fishing seasons.  When fishing is allowed, conventional management often forces fishermen into a dangerous and inefficient race for fish.

One example; in the days before catch shares, the West Coast trawl fishery was on a downward economic spiral.  Processing plants were shuttered, infrastructure was lost, and ports became shadows of their former selves.  It was death by a thousand cuts – with extended fishery closures, a federal disaster declaration, dwindling trip limits, and ever-decreasing annual catch limits, fishermen were leaving the industry and the coastal communities that relied on groundfish landings were spiraling downward.   Under status quo management in place at the time, a handful of major players bought up permits and consolidated ownership. This meant even fewer owner-operators on the water. Read More »

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Court Upholds West Coast Catch Share Program

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the ninth Circuit this week upheld a prior court's ruling that the West Coast Groundfish individual transferable quota system—a form of catch share—complies with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The court found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had adequately considered  the impacts of the program and taken  the proper steps to accomplish its goals, including environmental conservation, increasing economic benefits and holding fishermen accountable for staying within catch limits.

In dismissing the plaintiff’s arguments challenging inadequate consideration of environmental impacts, the court held that the program "may actually decrease trawling's dominance by consolidating the trawling fleet, allowing trawlers to switch to fixed gear, and allocating more fish to non-trawlers than they have caught in recent years." In fact, according to a mid-year update from NMFS on the status of the fishery, the IFQ program continues to generate significant conservation benefits. To read more about the decision click here.

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NOAA Cites West Coast Trawl Fishery Improvements

Winona J Docked in Newport, Oregon

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest regional administrator William Stelle had an op-ed in the Portland Oregonian on Saturday that discussed progress in the West Coast groundfish catch share program during its first year of implementation.

The op-ed, Managing the Pacific fishery: Catch share system recasts commercial fishing, discusses how the fishery was managed and carried out prior to 2011. “Fishermen would fish hard, regardless of weather or market conditions, resulting in safety issues and a boom-and-bust supply of fish,” Stelle wrote. “The result: shorter seasons, potentially unsafe conditions, high levels of bycatch and sharply limited marketing opportunities, which depressed prices, profits and wages.”

Under the new program, landings stayed strong; revenues shot up to $54 million for the fleet in 2011, versus an annual average of $38 million over the previous five years; and discards in the non-whiting groundfish fleet plummeted from 17% in 2010 to less than 5% in 2011.

To read the full op-ed click here. 

Posted in EDF Oceans General, NOAA, Pacific | 1 Response, comments now closed

NOAA Releases Report on First Year of West Coast Groundfish IFQ Program

Catch Monitor Ian Cole (left) inspecting catch as it is offloaded. Photo courtesy Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today released a report on the results from the first year of catch shares in the West Coast Groundfish Trawl Fishery. With the positive and transformational changes the fishery has seen, EDF is proud to have worked closely with fishermen and fishery managers to see the IFQ program developed and put into place.

The 2011 report’s findings were remarkable, citing dramatic reductions in bycatch and discards after catch shares implementation. Before catch shares, the non-whiting fleet had a discard rate which ranged between 20-25% and in 2011 after implementation discards plunged to 4.8%.

Improved conservation also means better outcomes for fishermen. According to the report, retention rates were significantly higher in 2011 than 2010 which means fishermen were able to keep more fish and profit from their sale. “I had some big reservations about the catch share program prior to implementation,” said Rex Leach, a fisherman and member of the Oregon Trawl Commission. “However, after the first year, I’m happy to say I was wrong. Now my discards are almost non-existent and I can plan my groundfish landings when it’s convenient to my operation.”

Groundfish trawl fishermen deserve positive recognition for their efforts to make the new system work. Still, a suite of costs associated with the program – along with the fleet’s debt from a 2003 vessel and permit buyback – warrant swift action.  Specifically, fishermen are required to pay an increasing share of the cost of onboard observers, ultimately paying 100% of those costs by 2015. They are also required to pay up to 3 percent of ex-vessel revenues as required under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to pay for the catch share program’s administration and operation.  At the same time, the overhanging buyback debt absorbs 5% of their ex-vessel revenue. Together, these costs amount to between 10 and 20% of a fisherman’s gross income – a burden that could undermine all of the investment and benefits from this new program.

EDF has been working with fishermen, with Council staff and with leaders at NOAA Fisheries to find solutions that will reduce costs for the trawl fleet while maintaining critical program components like 100% accountability.  Finding those solutions will be essential to achieving the long-sought stability and profitability of the fleet, and for helping fishermen and processors continue to provide healthy, delicious, sustainable seafood.

To read the full report, click here.

Posted in Catch Shares, NOAA, Pacific | 1 Response, comments now closed