Selected tag(s): NMFS

Portland workshop focuses on how to make management work better for fishermen

Photo credit: John Rae

Photo credit: Corey Arnold

Last week, EDF joined with a broad array of stakeholders to convene the 3rd Pacific Groundfish Quota Program Workshop in Portland. Following on similar conferences we helped organize in 2010 and 2012, the workshop provided fishermen, processors, Council members and staff, NMFS officials and others involved in the fishery with an opportunity to acknowledge the successes and address the challenges of the West Coast catch share program.

In order for fishermen, processors and management personnel to work together toward their common goal of “getting it right,” the workshop steering committee felt it was important to hold this event ahead of the agency’s upcoming 5-year program review.

Fittingly, a number of workshop speakers began by looking back at conditions in this fishery in the 2000’s: too many boats chasing too few fish; multiple species identified as overfished; unreliable catch and discard data; and finally, a federal disaster declaration. Several of those problems have been remedied. Concurrent with full accountability in the fishery – which produces extremely high-quality data – the West Coast is seeing a historic resurgence of groundfish, and the Marine Stewardship Council now certifies the entire trawl fishery as sustainable. Meanwhile, recent upgrades from Seafood Watch brought 39 groundfish species up to either Green (Best Choice) or Yellow (Good Alternative) rankings.

Nevertheless, this program was designed to improve economic performance as well as conservation performance, and we heard loud and clear from fishermen and processors that the economic potential of the program is not fully being met. The agency’s process for clearing regulatory backlog is glacially slow; program-related costs are rising – even stranding some fishermen at the docks; and most of the total allowable catch is going un-harvested. NMFS heard from multiple speakers on these topics.

What they did not hear was anyone calling for a return to the bad old days. The groundfish quota program on the West Coast can and must be fixed. With over 160 attendees, the Portland workshop clearly showed that there is no lack of interest in doing so.

A final report from the workshop will:

  • Highlight potential actions that the Council, NMFS, and industry members can take to increase the value of the fishery;
  • Clarify why timely action on program refinements currently being considered are key to improving the economic performance of the fishery; and
  • Identify issues and potential solutions that should be explored during the program’s five-year review.

Our processor and fishermen-allies have been responsible for the program improvements we have seen to date, and have borne the costs of the failure to make additional, critical changes. We will be with them every step of the way in advocating for a fishery with enormous upside potential.

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Canary rockfish rebound dramatically: 40 years ahead of schedule

CanaryRF

Photo credit: Noëlle Yochum

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.

 

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Sharing the catch means more for everyone

It may seem counter-intuitive that sharing the catch yields more fish and economic benefits for fishermen and coastal communities, but that is exactly what catch shares are proven to do.

NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) recently released its first national report assessing the economic performance of catch share programs in the United States. This report further validates the findings outlined in a 2011 Marine Policy Paper,  “Assessing Catch Shares’ effects evidence from Federal United States and associated British Columbian Fisheries (Grimm et. al),  which examined 15 catch share programs in the U.S and British Columbia before and after catch share implementation.

While these two studies differ slightly in selected fisheries, variables and time frame, they both conclude that catch shares consistently outperform conventional management systems across the board. Graduating to catch shares yields a robust return on investment: longer seasons, fewer risks, higher revenues, less waste and more full time jobs. An overview of the findings from Grimm et al. is presented in the table below.

[Chart summarizing catch share benefits. Data adapted from Grimm et.al ]

Read More »

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Letter: Fishing Regulations Shouldn’t Imperil Safety

USCG Boat, Oregon

photo credit: Tidewater Muse via photopin cc

Regulations to restock fisheries and keep fishermen safe ought to go hand in hand. Unfortunately, in an effort to control how many fish are caught, regulators frequently impose rules that end up putting fishermen in harm’s way. For instance, if fishermen are limited to a set number of days on the water, there is pressure to go out and stay out, no matter the weather conditions.   This time constraint also makes it less likely that captains and crew will take safety precautions and get enough rest.

EDF Oceans has joined safety advocates and families of commercial fishermen who have lost their lives at sea in signing a letter urging the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to ensure that rules to control overfishing do not result in unsafe conditions for fishermen.

The letter, signed by members of the Safe at Sea Network, as well as other fishing safety advocates, says, “When it comes to fishing safety, management plans should ‘first do no harm.’” Read More »

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Maintaining fishery accountability while reducing costs for fishermen

No Overfishing Guaranteed LabelThe 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.

 

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New England Catch Shares Ruled Legitimate by 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals

1st Circuit Court of Appeals logoIn a long-awaited decision, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a 2011 lower court ruling confirming the legality of the NE sector program.

Ruling on a suit brought by the ports of New Bedford and Gloucester, as well as fishermen and fishing groups, the justices determined that the NE sector program 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 impact 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.

The three judge panel noted that, rather than destroying smaller business, many believe the new rules provide better protection. The judges also said federal regulators installed the law properly. "The Secretary (of Commerce's) judgments here were derived from the record, rational, and not based on any error of law," the court wrote. Read the full opinion here.

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