The California Fisheries Fund: Helping to Grow West Coast Sustainable Fishing

With the unprecedented and uncontrolled BP oil disaster, threats to the Gulf’s fishing communities and to supplies of fresh, local and sustainable seafood are front page news. The long term impact on Gulf fishing communities and seafood remains uncertain.  The whole incident is a heart breaker, especially considering that fishing communities of the Gulf have become national leaders in transforming oceans fisheries to models of sustainability.


Here on the West Coast, fishermen and the seafood industry are also moving towards sustainable business and management practices. Innovations are being pioneered by seafood distributors, fishermen and by regulators, especially in anticipation of a catch share management plan for the California, Oregon and Washington groundfish trawl fishery

Yet making a change to fishing under new regulations, or with new gear, isn’t necessarily easy or seamless for fishermen. That’s where the California Fisheries Fund, a non-profit revolving loan fund started by EDF, comes in. The California Fisheries Fund makes loans to fishermen and fishing industry businesses to support sustainable, profitable and better managed West Coast fisheries.

This summer the California Fisheries Fund granted a loan to Bettencourt & Son, a family fishing operation from Half Moon Bay, California. The Bettencourts used to fish for groundfish, such as Pacific cod, black cod, sand dabs, multiple rockfish species, and Petrale sole, using trawl gear. Every type of fishing gear has its own effects on the ocean, but by selecting the right gear for the right job, the fishing industry can help minimize its impact on the environment.

Rather than catching black cod in trawl nets that aim to catch a wide swath of fish all at once, targeting black cod with trap gear lets the black cod in, while letting smaller species of fish out. Trapping also avoids the unintentional capture of non-target species, known as “bycatch”, which will benefit efforts to avoid specific species of threatened rockfish. Trapping black cod will also save fishermen fuel and money, as trapping doesn’t require the long tows of a heavy net that trawling does.

For a trawl fisherman, catching black cod in low-impact gear like traps isn’t an option under the current management regime. But under new catch share management, any fisherman who owns a trawl permit will be allowed to fish with alternative gear types, allowing them to specialize in targeting certain species with gear that is the most selective, most efficient and most economical for the type of fish they are targeting.

For the Bettencourts, and other California fishermen, the California Fisheries Fund and the catch share program are opening up new opportunities to sustainably fish and to avoid imperiled types of fish. The California Fisheries Fund is receiving loan requests from trawl fishermen up and down the Pacific coast who’ve seen their fishing income dwindle in recent years, but recognize the promise of better profits, cleaner fishing and more market opportunity under the catch share program. With individual, dedicated catch shares in their portfolio, fishermen will be free from traditional regulations that often bring mid-year quota reductions, closures and derby-style fishing. They are pursuing selective new net designs, seeking new markets that value their catch, and investing in their operations to achieve higher quality, higher profitability seafood.

(Half Moon Bay photo by jurveston, Black Cod photo by mccun934)

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