Potential is for higher catches and increased profitability per trip
Last month’s Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting broke a logjam that has frustrated fishermen for years.
When the West Coast catch share program “went on the water” in 2011, many of its new regulations were overlaid on existing – but no longer practical or applicable – regulations from the fishery’s pre-catch shares past. This had the effect of hamstringing fishermen. They were unable to fully adapt their business plans, their nets and their fishing methods in order to leverage many of the advantages of the new management program.
A workshop we co-sponsored in Portland in February gave fishermen a platform to air their grievances on these matters, and those sentiments were echoed at the Council meeting last week. At that meeting, the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel (GAP) brought a detailed set of recommendations to the Council, and then, one after another, fishermen testified persuasively that the GAP’s common-sense recommendations were not only overdue, but critical in order for them to maximize catch and profitability in a fishery that has already proven a remarkable conservation success.
Although the specifics of the GAP recommendations adopted by the Council are a fish-wonk’s cornucopia, I’d like to draw out a couple key takeaways:
Significant new flexibility in net design and mesh-size requirements will enable fishermen to target both flatfish and rockfish while trawling on the continental shelf. This will increase fishermen’s access to rich fishing grounds, expand the overall catch of certified-sustainable fish species, and improve per-trip profitability.
Allowing fishermen to switch between a bottom trawl and a midwater trawl during a fishing trip will allow for much more efficient use of fishing time, reduce fuel and observer costs, expand overall catch and increase per-trip profitability.
Council members I spoke with stressed repeatedly that it was the quality and credibility of testimony presented by fishermen that gave them the confidence they needed to green-light these positive changes. Through that testimony the Council came to appreciate that fishermen truly want to do what’s right, but need a regulatory structure that makes sense in order to do so.
This is a great step forward and we applaud the Council for its actions. In effect, they have aligned regulations a bit more closely with the real world that fishermen operate in, and that’s a good thing. Additional improvements are needed to enable the catch share program to meet its economic goals – and we’ll continue working to advance those improvements – but last month was a good one here on the West Coast.
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!
Last year I had the privilege of sharing some good news from the sustainable seafood world, that the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery had finally shed its perpetual red list status. Today I get to do something similar, by applauding the U.S. West Coast Groundfish IFQ Trawl Fishery for its landmark turnaround and the announcement by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that they have certified 13 species to their standards for sustainable fishing.
In their announcement, MSC noted that the West Coast Groundfish IFQ Trawl Fishery is “the most diverse, complex fishery ever to enter assessment against the MSC standard anywhere in the world.” The fishery includes west coast favorites like sablefish and petrale sole, along with first-of-their-kind species in the MSC program like lingcod, thornyheads, and several varieties of Pacific rockfish.
The MSC’s 400-page Final Report highlights several strengths of the West Coast Groundfish Trawl Fishery, which include:
The strong link between [stock] assessments and management actions
The management plan establishes individual accountability on the part of fishermen and delivers more complete data for fishery managers
Sensitive habitats are protected in areas of “essential fish habitat,” and additional areas deemed off-limits to bottom trawls
The management system is transparent and open to the public
The catch share program provides incentives for sustainable fishing Read More »
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 »
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. Read More »
Steve Fitz, captain of the F/V Mr. Morgan, will continue his family tradition operating the only commercial fishing operation in the United States that uses Scottish Seine gear, a selective and eco-friendly way to catch groundfish. Steve’s loan from the CFF helped him buy the Mr. Morgan from his uncle and start up Mr. Morgan Fisheries, a fishing business based in Half Moon Bay, specializing in sustainably harvested groundfish and Dungeness crab.
Mr. Morgan Fisheries is known for its sand dabs, Petrale sole and chilipepper rockfish—all species sustainably-managed under a catch share program. Like all other participants in this catch share program, the Mr. Morgan receives an individual fishing quota for several groundfish species that may be harvested throughout the year, with requirements for full accountability of every pound of fish harvested, and a human observer on every fishing trip. These new fishing practices guarantee there is no overfishing and Steve can use that message to market his fish with the 100% Federal At-Sea Monitoring No Overfishing Guaranteed label.
Steve Fitz grew up fishing with his father in New England before moving west and graduating from University of Denver with a degree in business. About eighteen years ago, he moved out to Half Moon Bay, California, to fish with his uncle, eventually becoming the captain of the F/V Mr. Morgan in 2000. Read More »