New fishery-management regime pays off with less waste
The new catch-share program in the West Coast groundfish fishery has been a success, helping the industry cut down on wasted fish and enabling fishermen to "fish to the market."
Seattle Times Editorial
ONE year ago, West Coast trawl fishermen entered a new management regime in the $40 million-a-year fishery for Pacific whiting, Dover sole and other groundfish. Called catch shares, the idea was to give fishermen an economic incentive to fish more carefully and not waste the resource. The new system appears to be a success.
The old way was to set fishing limits for the fleet. If the fleet reached its limit on an overfished species — say, halibut or rockfish — a boat owner could keep fishing for, say, whiting and throw the halibut and rockfish back. Some 20 to 30 percent of the catch was discarded, usually dead.
The new system forbids most throwbacks. Each boat has limits for several species. If an owner exceeds his limit on one, he must borrow or rent quota for that species from another owner.
Under this system in the first year, discards of wasted fish have fallen to 1 to 3 percent of the catch, says Shems Jud of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, Seattle, said the system "has worked out extremely well." The 17 United boats in the whiting fishery have created a cooperative that swaps information on where to fish — and where not to fish — for sensitive species. "They figured out pretty quickly how to target species," he says. "They can fish to the market."
Some issues remain. In 2011, every boat had a government observer, which cost about $375 a day. The federal government paid 90 percent, and will again this year. That cannot continue indefinitely. Officials have to work out a way for the fleet to pay for a reasonable amount of coverage.