At this week’s meeting in Spokane, WA, the Pacific Fishery Management Council made the good news official. Canary rockfish – a long-lived species declared overfished in 2000, has been “rebuilt.”
At the same meeting, Petrale sole, one of the marquee species on the West Coast, was also declared rebuilt. “Rebuilt” status simply means that the population of the fish has increased to a level above what is needed to sustain a healthy population. This target is set by the Council and aims to support maximum sustainable yield in the fishery.
Under the initial rebuilding plan, populations of the bright orange and pink Canary rockfish were not expected to be rebuilt until 2057, so this rapid progress – attributed to a combination of favorable ocean conditions and strict conservation measures enacted under the West Coast’s catch share fishery management system – comes as particularly welcome news.
Canary are one of the so-called “choke species” on the West Coast, meaning that assigned catch quotas of these fish are so small that fishermen have been effectively prevented from accessing large swaths of fishing grounds where plentiful target species co-mingle with Canary.
In adapting to those low quotas and avoiding Canary rockfish in the first four years of the catch share program, fishermen have been instrumental in this major conservation win. When quotas for Canary are adjusted to reflect the six-fold increase in their population, fishermen will be less constrained in fishing those areas, and larger quantities of certified-sustainable fish will hit the docks in Washington, Oregon and California. EDF will continue working with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Pacific Fishery Management Council to see that those quotas are adjusted as soon as possible.
Followers of this blog have already heard about major milestones that West Coast groundfish trawl fishermen achieved during 2014. In June, the Marine Stewardship Council recognized the remarkable progress made in this catch share fishery over the last decade, and certified 13 trawl-caught species as sustainable. In October, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program upgraded 21 trawl species to sustainable status, helping to change perceptions and opening up potential new market opportunities for West Coast trawlers.
While supply-chain and consumer perceptions gradually adjust to recognize those positive realities, many groundfish fishermen are still struggling to hang on and make a living. Helping reduce their operating costs so that fishing can become more profitable has been a primary focus of our West Coast team, and now we can celebrate a win on that front with the passage of S. 1275, the Revitalizing the Economy of Fisheries in the Pacific Act, also known as the REFI Pacific Act. Read More »
Astoria, Oregon fisherman Kevin Dunn is familiar to EDF’s Pacific Ocean team because we worked with him closely to redesign fishing nets and reduce bycatch. Now he’s becoming familiar to millions of others through a Whole Foods Market commercial that debuted during the World Series.
The Whole Foods ad is a great illustration of a simple but powerful idea: well-designed fishery management systems can not only result in conservation gains and a healthier environment, but also economic gains for the people that rely on the ocean for their livelihood.
This has been a big year for fishermen in the West Coast groundfish catch share program. It received a sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council and an upgrade in sustainability ratings from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program for many of the fish they catch. When the MSC certified the fishery sustainable, it noted that this was the most diverse and complex fishery ever considered for certification, and emphasized the important role that catch shares played in recovering the fishery.
The fact that Kevin and his crew now represent the very best in sustainable seafood sourcing is remarkable, and very hopeful. In 2000, the fishery was formally declared a disaster due to decades-long mismanagement. EDF worked with fishermen and seafood suppliers to turn this fishery around by advancing new management solutions, including catch shares. We also provided tools to help fishermen and suppliers through the transition — such as innovative new lending mechanisms like the California Fisheries Fund. Today their trawl catch is “independently rated for sustainability; traceable from dock to store” and they are part of a durable industry that supplies about 250 million pounds of sustainable seafood every year.
Kevin and his boat the Iron Lady are also featured in a 3-minute YouTube video with Whole Foods supplier Bornstein Seafoods, the company to which Kevin delivers his catch. It’s a nice glimpse of what our West Coast fishermen friends do for a living and the positive relationships that often emerge after catch shares go into effect. In traditionally managed fisheries it’s unusual to see fishermen partnering closely with seafood processors. But with improved fishery management comes closer cooperation and new possibilities for partnerships between fishermen and seafood buyers.
In addition to forming partnerships, fishermen are able to spend more time innovating with their gear and carefully planning their businesses. The net you see spilling its catch onto the Iron Lady’s deck is one we helped Kevin test. It has a built-in excluder device that allows halibut – a non-target species for Kevin – to escape unharmed. Another example of a solution that works for fish and fishermen!
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, considered by many to be the ultimate arbiter of sustainability for the U.S. seafood market, has released five new reports on the West Coast groundfish fishery. In these new assessments they concluded that almost 40 types of rockfish, sole and other fish species – representing virtually all groundfish caught on the West Coast – are now considered sustainable seafood choices.
This was not always the case. The fishery was declared a federal disaster in 2000. After years of overfishing and declining productivity, the fishing industry began working with Environmental Defense Fund experts and federal regulators to design a new management system that better aligned the interests of fishermen and fish populations. Read More »
Yesterday, the New York Times featured a story about the new Morro Bay Community Quota Fund. With the help of a loan from EDF’s California Fisheries Fund (CFF), the Quota Fund was able to acquire fishing quota and five fishing permits from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which the Quota Fund will lease to local fishermen to support a sustainable local fishing industry. Here at CFF we are excited to be involved in California’s first community purchase of fishing quota, contributing to the groundfish fishery’s continued environmental stewardship.
Several years ago, TNC bought these fishing permits and boats from fishermen who were interested in leaving the trawling business. TNC then leased trawl permits to fishermen who agreed to use non-trawl or low-impact trawl gear to catch the same fish with less habitat impact. This effort combined with EDF’s role in helping to get catch shares implemented for the rest of the West Coast groundfish trawl fleet has aided the fishery in bouncing back. In fact, the fishery was recently certified as sustainable and recognized by the Marine Stewardship Council as “the most diverse, complex fishery ever to enter assessment against MSC standard anywhere in the world.” Read More »
When we launched the California Fisheries Fund in 2008, it was unique and untested: a public-private partnership with the mission to make capital available to a growing sustainable commercial fishing industry. Since then, we’ve provided more than $2.5 million in loans to fishermen, fish buyers, processors and distributors enabling them to transition to or continue more sustainable fishing business practices. Many people and institutions have reached out to ask questions about our experience and story. Some organizations are considering establishing similar funds and they’ve asked for advice on how to get started.
In response to those and a growing number of requests, we’ve developed several resources that describe our experience establishing and managing the CFF: Read More »