Revitalizing west coast fisheries

pacific fishing boat

Sascha burkard

Not only are West Coast fisheries among the most valuable in the United States, they also provide one of the best examples of how good management decisions help fisheries recover following periods of mismanagement or overfishing. In 2000, the Pacific groundfish fishery was declared a disaster. Today, it is internationally recognized for its successes in dramatically reducing bycatch and helping overfished species to recover. Furthermore, it has been vetted and certified by the most stringent seafood rating organizations as a highly sustainable fishery.

Headed for disaster

For decades, inefficient fishing practices and outdated management methods took their toll on the West Coast, putting fishing jobs, incomes, coastal communities, and ultimately the ecosystem that supports this fishery at risk. It became harder and harder for fishermen to make a living, and though they were well intentioned, many of the regulatory attempts to fix the fishery proved ineffective.

By the time the groundfish fishery was labeled a disaster, there were few options on the table. But EDF went to work – in partnership with fishermen, community leaders, biologists and fishery managers – to explore and implement an innovative new management system called catch shares, which allotted fishermen a specific share of the catch and provided them with more flexibility on when and how to fish.

A solution with results

Since then, the fishery has undergone what has been described as a landmark turnaround; and although fishermen still face many regulatory and cost challenges, their achievements have been remarkable. In 2014, noting that the groundfish fishery was the most diverse and complex they had ever considered, the influential Marine Stewardship Council certified the 13 most important target species as sustainable.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program followed soon thereafter, ranking 39 of the fishery’s species as either “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative.” In recognition of this plentiful new source of certified-sustainable seafood, Whole Foods Market featured West Coast fisherman Kevin Dunn and his groundfish trawler, Iron Lady, in its first-ever national TV campaign.

Today, EDF is staying engaged, helping fishermen to reduce their operating costs, fish more efficiently and leverage new market opportunities to ensure success for the ecosystem and those who rely on it for their livelihoods.