Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Marketing Fisheries

In an acknowledgement of government failure, market forces are being brought to the West Coast fisheries, as noted in this story from KQED San Francisco.

An excerpt.

“California fishermen once reeled in groundfish, like rockfish and sole, as if there were an unlimited supply. But over the years, fish stocks have plummeted and the fishery has been drastically restricted to protect overfished species.

“Now, in what regulators say is an effort to protect both fish and jobs, the West Coast's largest fishery is trying something new. Beginning in January, fishermen in California, Oregon and Washington will become owners of the fishery, much like shareholders in a company.

“More than 90 species are part of the Pacific groundfish fishery. Several of them are common on local restaurant menus, like black cod, petrale sole and rock cod.

“The groundfish are caught by fishermen like Geoff Bettencourt, whose 55-foot boat, Moriah Lee, is docked at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay. Bettencourt is a fourth generation fisherman and, like others here, he relies on groundfish for a big part of his income. "Some years, dragging is extremely important. It's what we do all summer when there's no salmon," said Bettencourt.

“The technique is known as "dragging" because fishermen use a trawl net, a funnel-shaped net that's often dragged along the ocean floor. The net brings in several kinds of fish at once, but each species has a different federally set catch limit.

“Once fishermen like Bettencourt hit the limit for a certain fish, they're allowed to continue fishing, but must throw back any fish caught in excess of its limit. "If you went over the limit, it was no big deal," said Bettencourt.

“The fish that are thrown back are called "by-catch" and the problem is: most don't survive. Federal fishery managers say that wasted fish makes the fishery unsustainable. So, seven years ago, they began designing a new system called "catch shares."

“Under catch share rules, throwing fish overboard will be banned and observers will be stationed on every boat to make sure. "It creates accountability for every single fish. When that fish comes on the boat, whether you like it or not, it's yours," said Bettencourt.

“Owning the Catch

“The new system will also introduce a bigger change. Fishermen will now own their quota of fish. Just like shares in the stock market, the quotas can be traded or sold.

“Supporters say through a market-based system, fishermen will have more flexibility. "Like you could have two different trawlers and they could just trade species so they both could have a better living. Each guy can tune his business more finely to what he does," said Bettencourt.”