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
Merrick Burden - Senior Fisheries Economist
Fishermen in the Pacific groundfish trawl fishery are understandably anxious about the transition to catch shares that starts January 2011, but it’s helpful to consider what is likely to happen if the fishery is left under current management. Perhaps the biggest problem facing fishermen and fishery managers is that eight out of over 90 species caught by fishermen are overfished. To protect these overfished species, fishery managers have closed parts of the ocean to fishing by creating “Rockfish Conservation Areas” that have changed shape in response to locations of overfished species. In recent years, productive fishing grounds off Washington and southern Oregon have been among the areas closed. If current management were to continue there would likely be more closures off other areas of the coast.
I’ve had the experience of working as a fishery manager in the Pacific commercial groundfish fishery for over 6 years and have seen how the existing management system is slowly suffocating the industry and fishing communities. Avoiding closures is just one reason why I see the groundfish trawl IFQ (catch share) program as progress in Pacific groundfish fishery management.