Author Archives: Shems Jud

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. 

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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.

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One Year In: Catch Share System Shows Significant Promise For Improving the West Coast Groundfish Fishery

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 »

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Oregon Trawl Commission Director Reflects on Anniversary of Pacific Groundfish Catch Share

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.

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