Transition to Catch Shares Key to Sustainability Certification for West Coast Fishery

EDF partnership with fishermen brings fishery back from the brink

June 3, 2014
Contact: 
Shems Jud, (503) 358-7053, sjud@edf.org

(Portland, Ore. – June 3, 2014) Citing the transition to catch shares management as a key to rebuilding stocks and reducing bycatch, 13 species caught by the West Coast trawl fishery today earned designation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as sustainable. The designation opens up new markets for a fishery that spans California, Oregon and Washington, and accounted for more than 40 million pounds in landings in 2013.

The MSC designation comes after years of work to improve the sustainability of the fishery, including the adoption of a catch share program in 2011, after the fishery was declared a federal disaster in 2000. Through the cooperation of fishermen, fishery managers, EDF and others, a catch share program was designed and implemented for the fishery that rebuilds and manages stocks to ensure long-term sustainability.

“The MSC designation is a testimony to the environmental and economic benefits we can achieve by working together to solve major fisheries challenges,” said Shems Jud, deputy regional director for the Pacific region with EDF’s Oceans Program. “It may come as a surprise for some to learn that commercial fishermen and environmentalists work closely together, but we’ve been doing that successfully here for almost 10 years and the result is a win-win for fish and fishermen.”

Catch shares takes the science-based catch limit for the fishery and divides the total sustainable amount of fish that can be caught into individual quotas that each fisherman can catch throughout the year. Once implemented, catch shares ensure fishermen stay within the fishery’s sustainable limit while giving them a direct stake in its success and the flexibility to fish when it make sense for them.

According to Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, the implementation of catch shares in 2011 was a milestone for the fishery.

“The changes made under the catch share program got us over many of the hurdles on our way to gaining MSC certification, which is a game-changer for us,” said Pettinger. “Working with the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service, we have renewed our social contract with America’s seafood consumers by demonstrating conclusively that we can manage and harvest these species in a sustainable fashion.”

The catch share program that includes these newly certified species takes the commitment to sustainability even further with its monitoring program. Federal monitors travel aboard each vessel to verify that the entire catch is accounted for and meets the requirements of the program.

“We want to acknowledge the very difficult adaptations that fishermen have made as they work to rebuild this major American fishery,” said Jud. “Today, rates of bycatch and discards have plummeted, while overfished species are rebuilding more rapidly than initially anticipated. At the same time, fishing businesses are able to fish more efficiently under the new management system.”

The MSC’s exhaustive Final Report & Determination, more than 400 pages in length, enumerates several strengths of the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery, including:

  • Analytical stock assessments are carried out for most species, and there is a strong link between assessment results 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;
  • Management of the fishery is based on the best scientific information; and
  • The catch share program provides incentives for sustainable fishing.

“For West Coast consumers, this announcement means that their options for buying local and certifiably sustainable fish have just expanded dramatically,” said Geoff Bettencourt, a commercial fisherman from Half Moon Bay, CA. “And that’s great news for everyone who loves seafood.”

The certification of this fishery includes the first MSC certified rockfish species: Chilipepper rockfish, Longspine Thornyheads, Shortspine Thornyheads, Splitnose Rockfish, Widow Rockfish and Yellowtail Rockfish. It also includes the first MSC certified skate species, Longnose Skates. The remaining certified species include Arrowtooth Flounder, Dover Sole, English Sole, Ling Cod, Petrale, and Sablefish (also known as Black Cod or Butterfish).

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