Sixteen years ago, the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery was declared a federal disaster.
The fleet’s catch limits on groundfish like rockfish, black cod and Dover sole, were dramatically slashed to protect severely overfished species.
On Friday, the White House recognized Oregon Trawl Commission leader Brad Pettinger for his role in leading the way to recovery.
On his watch, a fishery that was on the brink of collapse is now certified sustainable.
Pettinger is one of 12 people across the country being honored as “Champions of Change” in the seafood industry at an event in Washington, D.C.
Shems Jud of the Environmental Defense Fund said Pettinger played a key role in turning a struggling fishery around.
“In the early 2000s, the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery was pretty much a disaster across the board,” he said. “There were a number of slow-growing, long-lived rockfish species that had been severely depleted. There was high levels of bycatch, low levels of accountability. Really, everything bad that can happen in a fishery was happening. Nobody was making any money. It wasn’t working well for anyone.”
Pettinger said the whole fleet deserves credit for undergoing massive reforms to reduce bycatch, rebuild fish stocks and restructure the permitting system.
“What fishery has done what we’ve done: Basically hit bottom, right?” Pettinger said. “For the most part our stocks have been rebuilt, and they are well above the target level.”
The fishery was reorganized under a new “catch share” program in 2011.
The program gives each permitted boat a percentage of the total catch limit and tracks every fish that comes on board.
Pettinger said the latest fish counts show all the changes have had a positive effect. The fleet will be allowed to catch around 40 million pounds of rockfish next year.
“We’re going to have a directed rockfish fishery on the West Coast for the first time in almost 20 years,” he said. “We could potentially double the value of the fishery – in a sustainable manner.”