Fishermen will share bottom fish through individual quotas

In a dramatic shift in management policy, the Pacific Fishery Management Council has adopted a new fishing regime for groundfish, such as whiting, cod, rockfish, flounder and sole.

This new approach for the West Coast, called individual fishing quotas, is said to encourage cooperation instead of competition, because each entity involved in the fishing industry will be given a portion of the allowable catch. That way, fishing boats can go fishing when the fish are abundant. They won’t be encouraged to go out in bad weather before the overall quota is reached.

Fishers won’t be forced to dump their dead bycatch, which are fish taken incidentally to the harvest of targeted stocks. Instead, the dead fish will be tallied and counted against any quota for the nontarged species, which will ultimately increase the ability of fishery managers to measure the impacts on all stocks.

The action was taken Friday by the PFMC, which issued a press release today (PDF 156 kb) explaining the action.

You’ll find more about groundfish management on the council’s Web site.

Individual Fishing Quotas seem like they have been waiting a long time for action in this region, and they still won’t go into effect until 2011.

IFQs have been encouraged by diverse groups, including the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which released a chapter in its 2004 report (PDF 1 mb) that recommended something like IFQs but with a new name: “dedicated access privileges” (see page 289).

The conservative Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) has been pushing for IFQs for since 1996. See “Community-Run Fisheries: Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons” and the recent “Beyond IFQs in Marine Fisheries: A guide for federal policy makers.”

Some environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, have embraced this market-based approach.

The most controversial aspect of the council’s decision on Friday was to allocate 20 percent of the Pacific whiting harvest to processors. The processors said they needed the quotas to protect local business and existing jobs from the prospect of fishermen shipping their catch out of the region.

Pete Leipzig, executive director of the Fishermen’s Marketing Association, has raised moral, legal and practical objections to giving quotas to processors. See Leipzig’s letter to the PFMC.

As he told Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton, “The council moved in the right direction, but they are still making a terrible mistake.”

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