Study examines NOAA catch shares

28 Mar 2012
A gopher rockfish, one of many rockfish species included in the West Coast groundfish fishery. Credit: S. Lonhart/SIMoN

A gopher rockfish, one of many rockfish species included in the West Coast groundfish fishery. Credit: S. Lonhart/SIMoN

In 2011, the US West Coast groundfish trawl fleet transitioned to the catch shares management system, which guarantees fishery participants a percentage of the total allowable catch for each species in the fishery.

The program, though not universally embraced by fishing interests, was crafted over more than six years to salvage a fishery that the Commerce Secretary in 2000 had declared a federal disaster.

A new NOAA Sea Grant project will examine the ongoing effects of the new catch shares policy in helping the fleet become both ecologically and economically viable.

The catch shares program was established for the West Coast groundfish fishery in response to concerns of overfishing, wasteful discards and inadvertent catches of protected species and weak stocks. The policy is also designed to incentivise fishermen to cooperate and innovate.

According to a NOAA Fisheries analysis, the first year of revenue data shows promise that the catch-shares policy is working, as per vessel revenues for the non-whiting trawl fleet rose 34% in 2011, compared with the average of the previous five years. The whiting fleet posted even higher increases in revenue.

Researchers will be analysing catch and landings data, provided by NOAA Fisheries, to look at harvests and gear types before and after catch shares. They hope to document the measures most effective at helping fishermen catch full quotas of target species while reducing harvests of unwanted and protected species. They will also look at whether smaller catches of higher-quality, higher-value fish, caught with more selective gear types, can boost profits.

In addition, they will be analysing shifts in where fishing is occurring to explore whether local fleets are voluntarily avoiding sensitive habitat areas.

The scientists will also study "risk pools," a form of risk management in which fishery participants pool their weak-stock quotas to insure themselves against accidental bad hauls of low-quota stocks.

A computer model will also be developed to simulate and predict conditions under which fishermen are most likely to cooperate to avoid weak-stock bycatch.

"Fisheries are moving to catch shares," said Robert Deacon, one of the project leaders from the University of California, Santa Barbara. "We think they can improve the economic stability of the fishery and provide conservation benefits. We are hoping our study will add a level of comfort to stakeholders. This is not a perfect management system but it is better than any thing else I've seen."

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