Rebound in groundfish brings new flexibility

NOAA Fisheries has revised the Fishery Management Plan for groundfish off the West Coast Photo: NOAA NOAA Fisheries has revised the Fishery Management Plan for groundfish off the West Coast Photo: NOAA
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Sweeping changes in the United States’ West Coast groundfish fisheries adopted this week will reopen access for fishermen to productive fishing grounds where fish populations have rebounded.

The changes, effective from 1 January 2020, result from an amendment to the Fishery Management Plan for groundfish off the West Coast and will also protect sensitive deep-water habitat and deep-sea corals from bottom fishing. NOAA Fisheries made the amendment following a recommendation from the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council).

The changes affect the essential fish habitat (EFH) which is the habitat necessary to support sustainable fisheries. By law, the Council must minimise effects on EFH, and in 2005 did so for groundfish habitat by enforcing area closures and limiting bottom trawling. A review of the latest science and fishing results has led the Council to increase protections for EFH in some places but also reopened some fishing areas that had been closed.

“This was one of the most gratifying processes I’ve been involved in during my time at the Council. It’s a true win-win outcome that everyone can be incredibly proud of,” said Shems Jud of the Environmental Defense Fund, a conservation group involved in reviewing fishing practices in the area.

Working together with conservation groups, fishermen shared decades of detailed information in the form of logbooks, bathymetric plotters, and old paper charts which allowed the coalition to refine new closures to maximise protection for sensitive habitats, whilst crafting reopened areas to provide better fishing opportunity. The deep-water closures are not anticipated to affect fishing because little fishing occurs in the protected areas now.

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