New fish catch limits will reduce economic and environmental waste
The use of catch shares in the management of commercial groundfish fishery off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California is a good idea.
A NEW system goes into effect Jan. 1 for managing commercial trawl fishing for 90 species of groundfish in federal waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. The central idea of this system — to set catch limits by boat rather than for the fleet as a whole — makes good sense.
Catch shares were first used around here for North Pacific halibut and black cod. The shares could be bought and sold.
One effect — an intended one — was to shrink the fleet, as boat owners sold quota and left. With catch shares, the fishery supported fewer fishermen, but they worked more of the year and made a better living.
The same effect is now expected in the Pacific Coast trawl fleet.
A group of fishermen's organizations has sued to block the change, arguing that it implicitly favors large boats, which it does.
But there are environmental benefits of catching with larger but fewer boats. For the first time, each boat will have a government observer.
Full observer coverage will end behavior in which fishermen "shovel uncounted tons of fish overboard," according to Seattle-based United Catcher Boats. Wasted fish will be counted against the boat's quota, and the observer will have the authority to shut down fishing when limits are reached, including limits on the bycatch of protected species.
If the new system works, it should remove the economic waste of the "race for fish," improve fisheries management and provide fish lovers with a supply of delicious whiting, turbot, sole, Pacific cod and black cod.
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