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New year brings with it a ‘new’ fishery

Posted: Wednesday, Dec 22nd, 2010

Trawl fishermen facing quota system that goes into effect Jan. 1

Most folks look at a new year as a chance to make a fresh start, a positive move in the right direction.

But some trawl fishermen along the West Coast are wary about the new year looming just off their bows as they steel themselves for significant changes in the $40-million-per-year groundfish fishery. A new “catch shares” - or individual quota - management system goes into effect in 2011 that will permanently alter their fishing practices and possibly their way of life.

Unlike folks deciding on their own to make a new start in the new year, the trawlers have no choice.

In September, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a final rule approving the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC)’s creation of the catch share program that begins Jan. 1. NOAA officials have endorsed the system, which amends the Pacific Coast Groundfish Management Plan that governs trawl groundfish harvests off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and California. It has broad support among federal, state, and local leaders in all three states, as well as fishing industry groups, including the Oregon Trawl Commission.

Sustainable fisheries are considered an essential component of national ocean policy, and a new NOAA policy adopted in 2009 supports catch shares as a way to manage fisheries at sustainable levels and boost their economic performance. NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco has stated that “properly designed catch share programs can change (current) job loss and underperformance of fisheries by helping fishermen stay on the water as fisheries rebuild and achieve long-term sustainability in the fish stocks and the economies that depend on them.”

NOAA Fisheries mailed out applications to more than 270 trawl fishermen and processors along the West Coast in October, giving them a “one-time opportunity” to apply for a permit, an initial quota share, and individual bycatch quota. It marked a critical step for any fisherman wanting to net access to a specified share of the valuable bottomfish trawl harvest.

Advocates of catch shares say the current fishery management system of trip limits, area closures, and gear restrictions to protect and restore fish populations isn’t working. They say quotas are needed to revive fisheries and to protect and restore fishing communities and jobs, noting that catch shares decrease costs and boost fishermen’s revenue through greater efficiency, yields, and dockside prices. Catch share programs divvy up the total allowable catch into specific allocations - or shares - for fishermen, cooperatives, communities, processors, and others, who can only fish until they reach their assigned limit. Once they reach the limit, they must stop fishing.

Shares are typically allocated based on historical participation levels in the fishery. The fishermen can decide how to catch their allotment when weather, markets, and their individual business conditions are most favorable.

For the complete article see the 12-22-2010 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 12-22-2010 paper.

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