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The whiting fleet saw revenues swell (Photo: NOAA)

Catch shares resulting in higher revenues for West Coast fishers

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012, 03:10 (GMT + 9)

Revenues and efficiency have climbed substantially over the last year for West Coast commercial fishers trawling for whiting and other valuable groundfish under the catch shares programme, according to preliminary data from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Gross revenues rose in 2011 compared to the five-year average for the West Coast groundfish fleet.

In the non-whiting fleet, revenue per vessel grew 34 per cent from an average of USD 216,000 to USD 289,000. October and December were particularly profitable, with revenues about double the five-year average.

The whiting fleet saw revenues swell even more -- from about USD 273,000 on average to USD 775,000.

“We are very encouraged to see fishermen earning more for their catch and having more control over how they run their businesses under this new programme,” said Sam Rauch, acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) assistant administrator for the NMFS. “Well-designed catch share programmes can sustain fishermen, maintain and rebuild fisheries, and support fishing communities and vibrant working waterfronts.”
The Pacific groundfish fleet changed to the new catch shares system last year and gives individual fishers more control by assigning them exclusive shares of a fleet-wide quota and letting them design their own fishing operations. Previously, fishers competed to catch fish as fast as possible – often during bad weather or unfavourable market conditions – before an overall quota was reached and the fishery was closed.

Now, they can fish in safer weather, at more profitable times and more sustainably without as much pressure, NOAA explains.

Fishers’ choices about when and how to fish have led to greater catches of more target species and fewer of the fish they are trying to avoid.

“That shift in discards means greater fishing efficiency, more money for fishermen and fewer unwanted fish thrown back dead into the water,” said Will Stelle, head of the NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Regional Office in Seattle.
Lower catches of unwanted species are also positive for vulnerable fish stocks. Of almost all of the eight categories of rebuilding stocks, fishers in the non-whiting fleet have slashed their catch; that of darkblotched rockfish fell from more than 287 tonnes in 2010 to fewer than 90 last year. 

The catch shares system also means the commercial fleet has full-time, trained observers on board all vessels to register the size, species makeup and location of harvests. Greater monitoring gives scientists and managers more confidence that the catch limits allow for the most opportunities for fishing while maintaining sustainable fish populations.

For the first two years, costs for the observers in the Pacific groundfish fleet will be paid mainly by the government; the fleet will pay an increasing percentage of the costs in coming years.
The NMFS’s Northwest Region together with the Pacific Fishery Management Council manages commercial groundfish and salmon harvests in federal waters off California, Oregon and Washington.

Related articles:

Governor requests disaster assistance for Massachusetts fishers
Consumer advocacy group asks Congress to fight catch shares

By Natalia Real

Photo Courtesy of FIS Member  NOAA/NMFSborrar

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