Selected tags: Discards

‘Doing it for the Halibut: How a discard ban saved my fishery’

By: Wes Erikson

Fisherman Wes Erikson shares his experiences fishing under strict Canadian discard legislation to demonstrate how the Common Fisheries Policy landing obligation can result in sustainably managed and economically viable European fisheries.

Photo: Wes Erikson

Photo: Wes Erikson

 

My story:

I have not missed a fishing season since I was five-years old. At that time, anyone could go fishing commercially; all you needed was a boat and a strong back (my grandfather used to say a weak mind helped!). Fishing with my father and grandfather at age 16, I skippered a 14-metre salmon troller and at 20, in 1987, I purchased my first vessel – a 15 metre halibut/salmon vessel. When I became a vessel owner, I decided it was important to get involved in the fisheries advisory process, and I remain involved to this day.

My fishery has evolved and matured as a result of concerns that fishermen have regarding safety, illegal activities, and price. Managers, scientists, and ENGOs have added to this with issues surrounding monitoring, accountability, discards, MPA’s, seabird avoidance, and more. Sometimes change was forced upon us, and it is worth noting that fishermen can navigate cannily around any rule. We are natural problem solvers. We have to be, because lost lives and financial ruin are a very possible outcome of problems that arise in our field. This is one of the reasons why “only fishermen can talk to fishermen.”

Co-management gave us the opportunity to be involved in decision making and regulation changes; real co-management, not just talking to fishermen. This requires time, trust, and allowing both parties to make mistakes and learn from them. The industry was given the chance to grow and mature, but growing up is not easy. None of this was easy. In fact, many changes seemed impossible.

In 2002, the Canadian government asked the participants of the groundfish fishery to integrate and account for all rockfish – 7 sectors, 4 gear types. The fear here was that if we could not figure out how to achieve these objectives, they would. The system we designed had to be affordable and workable for both the smallest boat in the fleet (5m) and the largest (60m), and seven fisheries, all with various catches, needed to combine and become fully accountable. Some species–of which there were over 72 to manage with up to 5 management areas per species– were jointly managed between Canada and the USA.

What we did:

We began by selecting an independent professional facilitator and developing guiding principles for how the process would work. As we started this new pilot fishery, I was terrified. The annual individual vessel allowance of some bottleneck species were less than I had discarded on any given day. On top of that, the quota for these species were owned by less than 80 individuals, one of whom speculated on quota just before this initiative was implemented, owned ten percent, and was planning on leasing these scarce species for a premium.

In light of this seemingly unworkable situation, we went fishing anyway. We’re fishermen. It’s what we do. In the first year, we left over fifty percent of those bottleneck species in the water, and the quota owners were left holding onto over half of this so-called valuable quota. Fishermen began cooperating and communicating almost immediately in order to avoid species with low TACs, and if you are a fisherman, then you will understand that this is revolutionary. Since 2006, we have under-harvested every species as a fleet, including the bottleneck species.

Over 300 Canadian vessels participate in the integrated groundfish fishery, under one management plan, with catch shares, an allocation based management tool, for all species and vessels; although each sector had a very different catch share design. Each vessel is accountable for all of its catch, regardless of whether it is retained or released, with logbooks being audited against video footage and compared to the offload. Now that we can trust the data, our logbooks are being used in science and management studies, because the data provides information on total catch mortality– retained and released.

How we did it:

The most important guideline in fisheries management design is to clearly define your objectives, before you identify your participants and begin a consultative process. With enough incentive, any problem can be solved. The four most important components of this fishery are:

  1. The removal of competition, or, preventing the race for fish
  2. Individual accountability
  3. Transferability
  4. Monitoring

Transferability is an important feature of this management system. It supports selective fishing, staying within allocations, staying safe, and allowing industry to adjust to resource and market dynamics. Vessels are allowed to carry over some level of quota underages and overages from one year to the next, which encourages vessels to fish below their allocation.

There is no guarantee of success here. However, I do know that without these elements in my fishery, we were headed for failure. Many of us now will survive and thrive because the system gives us the flexibility to adjust, take measured risks, and gather the support we need to execute new plans. This has allowed for better working relationships with everyone involved, and we will continue to evolve and mature over time, because this system allows us the flexibility to innovate.

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New management plan continues to yield conservation & economic benefits in Pacific groundfishery: NOAA report

fishery observer

WCGOP Observer
Photo Credit: NOAA Report, supplied by Sean Sullivan

On September 24, NOAA Fisheries released their report on the second year (2012) of the West Coast Groundfish Catch Shares Program, a program that EDF has been instrumental in helping to develop, implement and improve. The report notes the spirit of partnership that helped bring a catch share management system to the Pacific Coast, and praises the program's conservation and economic performance. Mostly, however, NOAA credits fishermen for using the flexibility afforded under catch shares to improve their long-term economic prospects and avoid overfished species.

 

 

Here are some highlights:

  • Conservation: The report notes “a significant reduction in the amount of bycatch,” of overfished species, and concludes that the program “is actively rebuilding several groundfish stocks.”
  • Catch: Harvest of target stocks continues to improve—up 5% from 2011.
  • Business Flexibility: Transfers of quota between fishermen increased dramatically in comparison with 2011, and were relatively constant throughout the year. This increase indicates better understanding among fishermen of how to leverage their allotment for efficient business planning.

NOAA’s report also reflects the strong and growing interest among West Coast fishery stakeholders in transitioning from 100% observer coverage on groundfish boats to lower cost alternatives, like cameras, that will still ensure 100% accountability for all catch.

The West Coast catch shares program is still a work in progress, but NOAA’s analysis is very encouraging.

“The report from the second year reinforces what we’re seeing. There are a lot of positive things happening that provide a solid foundation for building on,” said Shems Jud, Deputy Director of EDF’s Pacific Ocean team. “By working with fishermen now to help lower their operating costs and expand fishing opportunity, we think this program can be made durable for the long-term, and eventually turn into a real economic success story.”

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Pacific Catch Shares are Working to Reduce Discards and Improve Business


The November issue of Fishermen’s News includes in-depth look at the transformation of fishing for almost 100 species along the West Coast since catch shares were introduced last year.

The West Coast Groundfish Catch Share Program was first proposed by fishermen who realized that their fishery was on an unsustainable course. Design and development of the program took about seven years, and required a collaborative approach among diverse stakeholders: small-boat fishermen, large “mothership” trawlers, environmental groups, state officials, regional Council members and NOAA officials, just to name a few.

From the article by reporter Terry Dillman:

“Coos Bay-based trawler Rex Leach said he had ‘some pretty big reservations’ about catch shares, but after the first year, he’s ‘happy to say I was wrong.’ Discards are nearly non-existent and he can now plan groundfish landings when it’s convenient for his operation.”

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West Coast Fishermen Adapt to Catch Shares and End Wasteful "Regulatory Discards"

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 »

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