The 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.
Winona J Docked in Newport, Oregon
"This is a really big deal," said Will Stelle in a Sunday Seattle Times story which highlights the benefits of the groundfish catch share program on the West Coast. "It is restructuring the architecture of the fishery, building in very real and powerful incentives to do the right thing," said the Northwest regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service. The article cites several benefits that West Coast fishermen are seeing, including dramatic reduction of regulatory discards, fishing gear innovations and improved revenues. To read the full article, click here.
A year ago this week, West Coast trawlers who fish for over 90 species of groundfish – including cod, sole and rockfish – started operating under a catch share management system. The shift for the $40 million-a-year fishery has been called the biggest change in commercial fishing regulations on the West Coast in 50 years.
So far, results have been impressive, particularly a near end to wasteful, so -called “regulatory discards” – fish that traditional regulations required fishermen to toss overboard, often dead.
Fisherman Geoff Bettencourt from Half Moon Bay, California reflected in an opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News: “Under the old system, fishermen had little or no incentive to avoid overfished species or to behave like the natural conservationists that we are… As someone who remembers 2000, when the West Coast groundfish fishery was formally declared a disaster, I'm feeling better than I have in a long time about its future.” Read More
EDF has been working for years – and continues to do so – with a wide range of industry stakeholders to develop and implement a successful catch share program in the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery. As of January 11th, West Coast trawlers have been operating under their new system for one full year, and early assessments are starting to come in. In a recent op-ed in the Portland Oregonian, the director of the Oregon Trawl Commission provided his impressions of the program.
On November 28th, the New York Times published an article about some of the powerful changes underway in the Pacific groundfish fishery.
With the first year of that fishery's new catch share program coming to a close in January, early results are impressive: wasted bycatch has dropped from approximately 20 percent of overall catch to an astonishing one percent, and fishermen are fundamentally changing how, when and where they fish.
The West Coast catch share program holds fishermen individually accountable to an annual quota for each species and requires them to stop fishing when they reach their limits. This new accountability is driving an innovation boom in the fishery. Fishermen are developing entirely new approaches to avoiding over-fished species, while catching their more plentiful target stocks.
One example of such innovation is the "risk pool" approach mentioned in the New York Times article, which was developed on the West Coast by fishermen working closely with the Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy. In risk pool arrangements a group of fishermen agree to put their over-fished species quota into a common pool based on an understanding that they will have access to the quota pool to cover any unexpected catch of those species. To ensure the group stays within its overall allotment, participating fishermen establish where, when and how they will fish in order to avoid over-fished stocks. This kind of cooperation is almost unheard of in non-catch share fisheries where competition – not communication – is the rule. Read More
The Discovery Channel’s The Deadliest Catch portrays just how dangerous commercial fishing can be. However, in today’s Wall Street Journal, Bering Sea fisherman and a cast member of the show, Scott Campbell, Jr., shares how the Alaska crab fishery is now significantly safer following the implementation of catch shares in August 2005. Read the full article here.