A year ago this week, West Coast trawlers who fish for over 90 species of groundfish – including cod, sole and rockfish – started operating under a catch share management system. The shift for the $40 million-a-year fishery has been called the biggest change in commercial fishing regulations on the West Coast in 50 years.
So far, results have been impressive, particularly a near end to wasteful, so -called “regulatory discards” – fish that traditional regulations required fishermen to toss overboard, often dead.
Fisherman Geoff Bettencourt from Half Moon Bay, California reflected in an opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News: “Under the old system, fishermen had little or no incentive to avoid overfished species or to behave like the natural conservationists that we are… As someone who remembers 2000, when the West Coast groundfish fishery was formally declared a disaster, I'm feeling better than I have in a long time about its future.” Read More
EDF has been working for years – and continues to do so – with a wide range of industry stakeholders to develop and implement a successful catch share program in the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery. As of January 11th, West Coast trawlers have been operating under their new system for one full year, and early assessments are starting to come in. In a recent op-ed in the Portland Oregonian, the director of the Oregon Trawl Commission provided his impressions of the program.
On November 28th, the New York Times published an article about some of the powerful changes underway in the Pacific groundfish fishery.
With the first year of that fishery's new catch share program coming to a close in January, early results are impressive: wasted bycatch has dropped from approximately 20 percent of overall catch to an astonishing one percent, and fishermen are fundamentally changing how, when and where they fish.
The West Coast catch share program holds fishermen individually accountable to an annual quota for each species and requires them to stop fishing when they reach their limits. This new accountability is driving an innovation boom in the fishery. Fishermen are developing entirely new approaches to avoiding over-fished species, while catching their more plentiful target stocks.
One example of such innovation is the "risk pool" approach mentioned in the New York Times article, which was developed on the West Coast by fishermen working closely with the Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy. In risk pool arrangements a group of fishermen agree to put their over-fished species quota into a common pool based on an understanding that they will have access to the quota pool to cover any unexpected catch of those species. To ensure the group stays within its overall allotment, participating fishermen establish where, when and how they will fish in order to avoid over-fished stocks. This kind of cooperation is almost unheard of in non-catch share fisheries where competition – not communication – is the rule. Read More
Almost one year ago, the West Coast's largest commercial fishery by volume transitioned to a catch share management system. The new system:
- Enables fishermen operating in the multispecies groundfish trawl sector to fish when they want, rather than forcing them into a series of two-month "use it or lose it" fishing time-frames;
- Enables them to lease or trade quota for specific species and adapt their fishing practices to both market and weather conditions; and
- Ends the universally-despised "regulatory discards," which, under the previous management system, compelled fishermen to throw uncounted tons of perfectly good fish overboard, dead. Read More
Earlier this year, EDF joined with two West Coast fishing industry organizations (United Catcher Boats and Midwater Trawlers Cooperative) in an amicus brief requesting dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA). PCFFA had filed suit to halt the West Coast groundfish trawl program.
Late last week, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled in the case, dismissed PCFFA's claims in their entirety and granted summary judgment to the federal defendants (the Secretary of Commerce, NMFS and NOAA). This is an excellent outcome for a program with real potential to transform a failed fishery into a profitable and sustainable one for years to come.
Please see the news release on the ruling below and download the court's decision on the West Coast Trawlers' Network website. Read More
On January 11th, the new catch share program took effect for Pacific Ocean trawl-caught groundfish. The new management system was developed over a period of six years by fishermen, regulators and policymakers who recognized that the West Coast’s largest fishery was headed for the rocks.
As reported in the San Jose Mercury News, there is nervousness but also a cautious optimism that both fish and fishermen will win under the new system, just as they have in British Columbia and Alaska.
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Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River, is one of the West Coast's most storied fishing ports. When Lewis & Clark set up their winter camp in 1805, the people of this storm-tossed corner of Oregon had been sustaining themselves with seafood for hundreds of generations. In recent years, however, earning a living from the sea has been tough for Astoria-based fishermen.
In an editorial about the new groundfish catch share program that goes into effect on January 11th, The Daily Astorian weighs the challenges inherent in this change against the certain failure of the status quo – and comes down squarely for change. The conclusions they have reached are shared by many fishery stakeholders and fishery managers, as well as the Environmental Defense Fund.