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Fishing quotas in a quandary

Posted: Wednesday, Dec 2nd, 2009

Doubts remain as ‘catch share’ plan moves ahead

The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC)’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement pertaining to its plan for fishing quotas in the Pacific Coast groundfish trawl fishery is open to public review and comment until Jan. 18, 2010.

Supporters say individual fishing quotas (IFQs) or “catch shares” could save a floundering fishery. Many fishermen and other opponents call it bunkum (insincere, meaningless political claptrap).

Either way, quotas are likely to become a way of life for beleaguered fishermen, with IFQs required for groundfish trawl vessels making shoreside landings beginning Jan. 1, 2011.

PFMC governs fishing in federal waters off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and California. What’s known as the trawl rationalization program falls under Amendment 20 and Amendment 21 to the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan.

IFQs divide the available catch of an individual species into catch shares awarded to those in the fishery based on past participation and other criteria. Shareholders can buy and sell shares from others who receive quotas, which then becomes a right to a percentage of each year’s catch, based on the shares held by an individual.

The plan has generated controversy since PFMC began deliberations about it in November 2003. Council members selected a preliminary preferred alternative in June 2008, adopted it in November 2008, and finalized it in June 2009.

According to PFMC, the trawl rationalization program aims to “increase net profits, create individual economic stability, provide full utilization of the trawl sector allocation, consider environmental impacts, and achieve individual accountability of catch and by-catch.” It would consist of an individual fishing quota program for the shore-based trawl fleet, and measures to support cooperative (co-op) programs for the at-sea trawl fleet.

The PFMC released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS - available on line at www.pccouncil.org/groundfish/gffmp/gfa20.html#draftdeis) in November. It assesses the environmental impacts associated with the proposed quota program. A CD-ROM version is available by contacting Kit Dahl of the PFMC at (503) 820-2280, or toll-free at 1-866-806-7204.

A 45-day public comment period on the DEIS ends Jan. 18, 2010.

Written comments by mail, fax, or e-mail should go to: Barry A. Thom, acting regional administrator for the Northwest Region, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115, Comment.TrawlDEIS@noaa.gov, or (206) 526-6426 (fax).

Boost or bust?

Those who back quotas - including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) - say the fishery must revive to protect and restore fishing communities and jobs, and the way to do it is through catch shares, which “decrease costs and boost fishermen’s revenue through greater efficiency, yields, and dockside prices.” The current fishery management system of trip limits, area closures, and gear restrictions to protect and restore fish populations “is not working,” they add.

Opponents say quotas would decimate the fishery, calling it de facto privatization of a public resource, and one of the West Coast’s most vital fisheries.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, calls it “a massive giveaway of public trust fisheries resources under the guise of conservation.” He says the program threatens access of smaller fishing communities “to the resources they depend on” without reaping any additional conservation benefits.

Grader and others say unregulated catch share programs often lead to “massive consolidation, large corporate takeovers of family-owned fishing businesses, and non-fishermen ownership of quota shares.”

Unless tightly regulated, a quota program turns fishing men and women into “seafaring sharecroppers.”

And it could push fishermen out of groundfish into other fisheries, upsetting already delicate balances there.

In a letter posted in the briefing books for the September 2009 PFMC meeting, Nick Edwards, a seasoned trawl fisherman representing the Newport Shrimp Producers, warned about trawl rationalization and its “negative spillover effects” and economic impacts on all other West Coast fisheries, and urges others to sound the alarm about the potentially severe threat to economic stability in Oregon shrimp and other fisheries.

Newport fisherman Corey Rock agrees.

“The dynamics will change, putting serious pressure on other fisheries and causing collateral damage and threatening sustainability,” Rock noted. “A lot of them will go shrimping. In fact, we’re at threshold now.

Oregon pink shrimp fishermen endured a season with “catch rates as high as they’ve ever been,” but they had a devil of a time selling the product. Bringing in displaced fishermen from the attrition caused by catch shares in the groundfish fishery would only exacerbate the situation.

Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at (541) 265-8571, ext 225, or terrydillman@newportnewstimes.com.

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