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. Read More
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. Read More
The 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.
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
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
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.