Selected tags: Pacific Groundfish

West Coast Groundfish Get Certified Sustainable: A Local Fishery Success Story

 

Pacific rockfish (Photograph by NOAA FishWatch)

Pacific rockfish (Photograph by NOAA FishWatch)

[Re-posted with permission from National Geographic]


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

The fishery’s recent success can be traced back to a few factors. In 2011 the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) instituted a ‘catch share’ program, which was developed over several years by a broad range of stakeholders, including commercial fishermen, fishery managers, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). (Full disclosure: I work for EDF.) At the same time, this new management plan established a system of 100 percent catch monitoring, which ensured that every fish that came over the rail was accounted for.

Taken together, and recognized by the MSC certification, these measures have drastically reduced bycatch (also known as unwanted or untargeted catch), limited the take of sensitive depleted species, and sparked innovation throughout the fishery. Even better, the changes apply to the entire trawl fishery in California, Oregon, and Washington, accounting for approximately 40 million pounds in landings in 2013.

If you’re not familiar with catch shares, they succeed by giving fishermen a financial stake in their fishery’s future in exchange for greater accountability. By doing so, fishermen avoid and can actually reverse the “tragedy of the commons,” in which too many boats chase—and inevitably over-harvest—steadily dwindling fish stocks.

Brad Pettinger, a lifelong fisherman and director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, coordinated the fishing industry’s effort to gain MSC certification.  “West coast trawl fishermen are extremely proud to have met these stringent criteria for sustainability,” says Pettinger. “And with the unhurried fishing season that we have under catch shares, we’ve dramatically reduced bycatch.”

 

Bouncing Back From Disaster

Remembering a January 2000 federal disaster declaration in his fishery, Pettinger says, “Fifteen years ago they wrote the obituary for this fishery. Ten years ago we started working on a rationalized management plan, and three years ago we put it in place. That was the watershed moment, and now we’re demonstrating that we can be good stewards of an amazing public resource. We could not be happier or more proud.”

Shems Jud, who leads EDF Oceans’ Pacific team, has worked to rebuild Pacific groundfish stocks alongside fishermen like Pettinger for seven years. He believes that 100 percent monitoring is probably the single greatest change in the fishery, but one that does not come cheap.

Those federal observers cost hundreds of dollars a day and many west coast fishing businesses already operate on razor-thin margins. Still, what they gain with a federal observer is accountability, and in a seafood marketplace that increasingly rewards sustainable fishing practices, that can create market leverage.

 

Looking Forward

Dover sole (Photograph by NOAA FishWatch)

Dover sole (Photograph by NOAA FishWatch)

“MSC’s certification may assist in that respect,” continues Jud. “For the fishermen who have adapted to an entirely new management regime and increased operating costs, we are optimistic that this recognition will result in new and stronger market opportunities.”

To help keep operating costs in check, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is beginning a process that may one day replace human observers with electronic monitoring (EM) systems.

“That’s become a huge priority for us,” Jud added. “In order for this catch share program to endure and succeed, fishermen have to survive economically. EM may help reduce their costs and buy them just enough time so the benefits of the new program, such as MSC certification, catch up with their day-to-day business realities.”

So over the coming months we hope and expect that the seafood industry will embrace this fishery success story and amplify the hard work of west coast IFQ fishermen. And while it may take these fish a little time to make it into the inventories of markets and restaurants near you, I hope you’ll join me in seeking out these local, sustainable Pacific groundfish species when you buy seafood, because adding 40 million pounds of certified, sustainable product to the market is definitely a cause for celebration.

 

 

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A new dawn for Pacific whiting fishery

photo credit: willapalens via photopin cc

photo credit: willapalens via photopin cc

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.

In 2011, the first year of the Pacific Groundfish catch share program  West Coast whiting fishermen landed 40% more fish than in 2010 and earned more than twice their average profit in the past (2011 NOAA Report). Already a low-bycatch fishery, in 2011 the whiting fleet bycatch of rebuilding groundfish decreased by almost 100% in some species. Although the 2012 whiting quota was lower than 2011 (which had been a banner year), the whiting fishery continued its trend toward extremely low bycatch (2012 NOAA Report).

The court’s decision keeps the fishery on the path to environmental and economic success and protects control dates as an important tool to prevent further overcapitalization as catch shares are developed.  The court’s decision also aligned with the opinion of many groundfish fishermen and processors who have testified in support of the catch share program and would have suffered if the control date had been struck down. Read the full decision here.

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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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California Fisheries Fund Closes New Loan

The California Fisheries Fund closed a new loan last month that will help a family fishing business pass the torch to the next generation.

 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 »

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SeafoodNews.com Highlights Cooperation Among Industry Groups Preparing for the Switch to Catch Shares in Pacific Trawl Fishery

Tom Lalley, EDF Oceans Marketing & Communications Director

Tom Lalley, EDF Oceans Marketing & Communications Director

An article on SeafoodNews.com highlights cooperation among industry groups to prepare for a switch to catch shares in the West Coast trawl fishery next year.  Fishermen, federal government officials, environmentalists, fishery management experts and on-board observer companies – among others – are collaborating to make the transition a success.

Fishing organizations and EDF recently facilitated a workshop in Santa Rosa, CA to share information and tips on a number of topics, like financing and trading quota, fishery mapping and "hotspot management," cooperative risk pools, increasing revenues, and reducing bycatch. Videos from that event are now available at www.westcoasttrawlers.net. The West Coast Trawlers' Network is an informal association comprised of the Fisherman's Marketing Association, Midwater Trawler's Cooperative, Oregon Trawl Commission, Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative and United Catcher Boats.

Full article from SeafoodNews.com posted with permission from John Sackton.

West Coast commercial fishing groups make concerted effort to get ahead of catch share transition

SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton – Oct 25, 2010 – IFQ's are coming to the West Coast groundfishery in 2011, and a coalition of industry associations have been working together to prepare for the upcoming changes.

The West Coast trawlers network consists of the Coos Bay Trawlers Association, the Fishermen's Marketing Association, the Midwater Trawling Cooperative, the Oregon Trawl Commission, the Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative, and United Catcher Boats.

Several of these organizations members have had extensive experience with IFQ programs in Alaska, including how these programs allowed vessels to better manage fleet bycatch, and minimize shutdowns.

Recently the group sponsored a major workshop that was attended by representatives of about half the trawl fleet.

According to Scott Coughlin, a coordinator of the workshop, the group has now posted a series of videos and powerpoints from the workshop on their web site http://www.westcoasttrawlers.net/.

The presentations range from gear and bycatch experts to a representative from Dock street brokers, and cover a range of operational questions involving IFQ programs.

'The videos present an unusual opportunity to hear from a broad range of experts addressing catch share management of the trawl fishery – a timely topic that affects nearly every West Coast fishing community,' said Coughlin.

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