In a move with the potential to substantially increase the economic efficiency of the U.S. West Coast offshore mothership whiting fishery, the fleet’s 36 catcher vessels have formed a cooperative to pool their federally allocated shares of whiting.

Under the catch-share system, the harvest quota for the fishery is divided among the eligible co-op members, with the size of each allocation dependent on how much the fishermen has caught in previous years. Members can pool their shares with other co-op members, who can then fish the total shares more flexibly and at more profitable times.

In the mothership fishery, fishermen deliver their fish at sea directly to mothership processors. The whiting fishery also supports a shore-based fleet that delivers its harvest to shore-based plants, and an at-sea catcher-processor fleet that both harvests and processes whiting at sea. The catcher-processor fleet has operated under a voluntary co-op since 1997. The fish are caught off the coasts of northern California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

The U.S. whiting industry is valued at about USD 27 million. The fish is processed both at sea and at traditional land-based plants, where it is converted into fillets and surimi, the basis for imitation crab.

“This co-op is a perfect example of the flexibility inherent in the catch-shares program,” said Will Stelle, NOAA Fisheries Service Northwest regional administrator. “Through this program, the fleet is designing and implementing highly creative ways to pool quota, reduce bycatch and promote fleet-wide efficiencies among themselves that far exceed what the government could ever do through fixed regulation. It’s remarkable, and it’s just the beginning. We are very enthusiastic about these developments.”

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