A new system of managing groundfish on the West Coast is bringing fishermen and environmentalists together. The system is called "catch shares."
It's a rule that gives fishermen ownership over a percentage of the catchable fish. But some species are overfished, so their numbers are low -- that makes it risky to go fishing under the new rules.
Fishermen who accidentally catch more than their share can get stuck buying them at a premium from other boats that haven’t caught their allotment.
Today the Nature Conservancy announced a new partnership with commercial fishermen in California called a risk pool. It aims to make catch shares less risky for fishermen while making sure overfished species are protected. A similar program is underway in Ilwaco, Wash.
Here to talk about this partnership is our Ecotrope blogger Cassandra Profita.
Beth Hyams: What do the fishermen and environmentalists get out of it?
Cassandra Profita: Under the catch share system, fishermen are responsible for every fish they catch. They get an ownership share for a certain number of species, and if they catch more than that, they have to buy extra shares from other fishermen.
That's fine when everyone has lots of fish to share. But some species are overfished, and just aren't very many of them to go around. Yelloweye, or canary rockfish is the biggest constraint. So if you catch too many of those by accident, it can put you out of business. But this new market is attracting some interesting players.
Beth Hyams: Like who?
Cassandra Profita: The Nature Conservancy. They're an environmental group that bought 13 groundfish permits years before the catch share program started. The groundfish fishery has not been popular with environmentalists because it uses trawl nets that aren't selective and can't tell an overfished species from a healthy one. So the Nature Conservancy started buying the permits.
Beth Hyams: You mean buying fishing boats?
Cassandra Profita: Yes. Their goal is to buy permits and boats as a way to change the way people fish. Under the catch share program, they're permit owners just like everybody else. They known about 7 percent of the fishery.
Beth Hyams: So what is that doing?
Cassandra Profita: It gives them a lot of leverage. They are starting to tell fishermen that they're willing to hand over permits for desirable-- but scarce-- species. But-- and here's the rub-- they're putting conditions on those permits.
Beth Hyams: What does that mean for fishermen?
Cassandra Profita: It means they can join the risk pool. But they have to fish by the Nature Conservancy's rules. So, for example, they may not be able to fish in certain areas. And they have to report where they catch their fish.
And that's a big deal for fishermen -- who often want to keep their best fishing grounds a secret. In the past, fishermen have guarded their fishing territory, the other businesses guard trade secrets. So, now the question is... who will play with the Nature Conservancy, and what will this do to the market?
Beth Hyams: I know you'll keep us posted, Cassandra, as this plays out. Thank you.