EDF, Fishermen Help Move Many Species of West Coast Fish to Sustainable Status

September 2, 2014
Matthew Smelser, (202) 572-3272, msmelser@edf.org

(SAN FRANCISCO – September 2, 2014) In an unprecedented change in the ratings for such a large number of species from avoid to a sustainable rating, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program is moving 21 species of West Coast fish to sustainable status, due in large part to the success of a fisheries management program begun in 2011 and championed by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The Monterey program, a sustainability program used by millions of Americans and corporate seafood buyers, is declaring nearly 40 species of West Coast rockfish, flounder, sole and other species as either a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative.” The fishery was declared a federal disaster in 2000 and many of these species had long been rated as fish to “Avoid.” The replacement of ineffective fishing regulations with the management program that EDF championed, known as catch shares, has been cited by many as a primary reason the fishery has turned around.

Through the cooperation of fishermen, fishery managers, EDF and others, the catch share was designed to rebuild and manage stocks to ensure long-term sustainability. Now all groundfish caught on the West Coast assessed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program are recommended as sustainable options.

“People can feel good about buying just about any type of rockfish, flounder or sole caught off the West Coast,” said Shems Jud, Pacific coast director, Oceans, Environmental Defense Fund. “There’s been a dramatic turnaround from the days when the fishery was declared a federal disaster. Trawl fishermen should be commended for embracing conservation and supporting smarter regulations,” continued Jud.

Catch shares take 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.

Approximately 70% of West Coast flounder and sole, and 60% of rockfish got the top rating of ‘Best Choice,’ which marks a dramatic change from prior ratings. On the “Best Choice” list among trawl-caught rockfish are widow, aurora, yellowtail, splitnose, and shortspine and longspine thornyheads. Other delicious “Good Alternative” choices include chilipepper rockfish, petrale sole and sablefish (aka black cod). Five species of flatfish improved to a “Best Choice” from a “Good Alternative” including Dover sole, English sole, Pacific sanddab, rex sole and starry flounder.

“My business and reputation rely on sustainable seafood – plain and simple,” said Rick Moonen, Executive Chef and Owner of rm seafood and Rx Boiler Room in Las Vegas, Nevada “I’m thrilled by the remarkable turnaround of this fishery. The Seafood Watch ratings give people extra assurance that when they see West Coast rockfish or sole on menus, it’s a responsible choice.”

Fishermen are using innovative ways to avoid catching overfished species and protect the marine habitat. Some trawlers are using gear that has a reduced impact with the sea floor. Because of the incentives inherent in the catch share program, bycatch and the amount of wasted catch, often called discards, are plummeting. Fishermen are sharing information with one another about where overfished species are congregating so they can be avoided. Many fishermen have even entered into joint agreements to voluntarily stop fishing in certain areas. 

”Every fisherman I know cares a lot about the long-term health of the oceans and fish populations. Many trawlers are going beyond what has been done before to make trawling more environmentally-friendly. I am using trawl gear now that only minimally touches the sea floor,” said Joe Pennisi, a fisherman who works out of Monterey Bay, California.

“Though we have made significant progress, there is still more work to do to address challenges fishermen face as they work to rebuild this major American fishery,” said EDF’s Jud. 

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