NOAA Inaugurates Innovative Management of Pacific Coast Groundfish

Jan. 11, 2011: NOAA Fisheries put in place today a management system that for the first time will make a major shift in how West Coast trawl groundfish harvests are carried out. The agency says the new system can benefit both fish and fishermen and lead to economic efficiencies that are difficult to obtain under traditional management schemes.

The new approach, known as a catch-shares system, does away with the conventional practice of setting a fleet-wide, numerical quota of how many fish can sustainably be caught and then letting fishermen compete with each other to catch as much of that quota as possible before the fishery is closed.

Fishery managers have argued for decades that the traditional, fleet-wide approach creates incentives for fishermen to fish as hard and as fast as possible, in spite of dangerous weather, grueling hours and strained equipment, because any fish left in the water can be harvested by other fishermen.

Catch shares, by contrast, divides the total amount of an overall allowable catch or quota into shares controlled by individual fishermen. Those shares can be caught whenever the fisherman wants, ideally more efficiently and at more profitable marketing times.

The goal, the agency said, is to increase individual fishermen's accountability, fully harvest the quota the trawl fishermen are granted, increase the economic and biological stability in the fishery, and sustain fishing jobs and fishing communities.

The Pacific groundfish trawl fishery, which includes such popular species as sole, sablefish and Pacific whiting, was worth about $40 million dollars in 2009 to fishing communities from Bellingham, Wash., to Morro Bay, Calif. The new system has the support of the trawl fishing industry and was developed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which works with the agency in producing fishery management plans for the West Coast.