Historic Quota Program Passed for West Coast Groundfish

November 8, 2008


Jennifer Witherspoon, EDF CA Communications Director, 415.378.1985 (mobile) or jwitherspoon@edf.org;

Johanna Thomas, EDF Pacific Oceans Policy Director, 510.703.8484 (mobile) or jthomas@edf.org;

(November 8, 2008: San Diego, CA) - The Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC), which governs West Coast fishing, approved late last night a groundbreaking plan to revitalize the multi-million dollar West Coast groundfish trawl fleet, after five years of planning and negotiation.

“This is a watershed moment for West Coast fishing,” said Johanna Thomas Pacific Ocean Policy Director of Environmental Defense Fund. “Fishermen have struggled to make a living under ineffective regulations that weren’t working for the fish or the fishermen. Catch share programs have been proven to make fishing sustainable and to increase profits for fishermen, coastal communities and seafood processors alike.”

The plan will create financial incentives that encourage fishermen to meet stringent performance standards. Called a catch share, also known as Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQ), it provides fishermen with a guaranteed percentage of the catch based on boat size and fishing history. Old management rules attempted to set a limit on the fishery as a whole through shortened seasons. The final decision on the groundfish catch share came after years of negotiations with communities and other stakeholders. The end result is an innovative new way to manage fisheries on the West Coast and a model for other fisheries around the country.

Studies by EDF have shown that catch shares programs reduce bycatch by 40 percent. Bycatch is the unintentional capture of non-targeted species that is often tossed dead or dying overboard. It also fosters conservation and cooperation among fishermen. Competition for ever-dwindling fish is replaced by stewardship, where fishermen advise each other on which areas to fish or leave alone. At the same time, profits increase up to 80 percent per boat due to higher prices at the dock.

The groundbreaking vote came late in the evening on Friday, following days of testimony from scores of fishermen and intense lobbying from large seafood processors who wanted allocations of the fishing privileges. Ultimately the Council decided to allocate 90 percent of the fishing shares directly to fishermen and to reserve 10 percent of the fishing rights for an “Adaptive Management” program to be used for communities to adjust to the new program. No fishing shares were allocated directly to seafood processors who had waged a major effort to gain a large percent of the fishing quota.

The new IFQ program is considered critical for the recovery of the Pacific groundfish commercial trawl fishery, which was declared a “disaster” by the Secretary of Commerce in 2000 due to major declines in nine of 82 species of groundfish. Groundfish include soles and cod as well as deep-water “rockfish” like colorful canary and thorny heads – that are commonly marketed as red snapper. Landings for west coast trawlers had plummeted 70 percent in the last two decades. Revenues have dropped from $47.3 million to $22.2 million since 1998. Nearly all fish stocks around the world are declining or have collapsed. Studies recently published in the journals Nature and Science show that catch share systems reverse overfishing and even regrow depleted stocks. Catch shares also decrease wasteful discards and improve safety for fishermen. Catch share programs are presently used in parts of the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Iceland.

With catch shares, fishermen know how much they can fish in a given year and can fish when prices and weather are best, thereby maximizing profits while fishing in a more careful, efficient, and sustainable way. With the certainty and time provided by catch shares, fishermen can greatly reduce haste and waste.

Many positive precedents could be established once the IFQ is implemented, including a first-ever policy to allow fishermen to switch gear types to reduce bycatch and habitat impacts, and potentially allow them to deliver even higher quality harvests. In addition, the IFQ program would be one of a handful of fisheries in the U.S. with observers on every boat, which would improve scientific understanding of the health of the fishery. Once approved by the Department of Commerce, the plan will go into effect in 2011.