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The U.S. West Coast limited entry groundfish trawl fishery — the most diverse, complex fishery to enter assessment against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) — has been awarded MSC certification.

The fishery occurs in the waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. Predominantly a federally-managed fishery, the state of Oregon also has management responsibility for the portion of the fishery within state-managed waters. Fishing occurs year-round, but is most active in the first six months, with fish landed to designated ports in each of the three states.

The certification of this fishery includes the first MSC certified rockfish species: Chilipepper rockfish (sebastes goodei); Longspine Thornyheads (sebastolobus altivelis); Shortspine thornyheads (sebastolobus alascanus); Splitnose rockfish (sebastes diploproa); Widow rockfish (sebastes entomelas); and Yellowtail rockfish (sebastes flavidus).  It also includes the first MSC certified skate species: Longnose Skates (raja rhina).  The remaining of the 13 certified species include:  Arrowtooth flounder (atheresthes stomias), Dover sole (microstomus pacificus); English sole (parophrys vetulus); Ling cod (ophiodon elongatus); Petrale sole (eopsetta jordani); and Sablefish (anoplopoma fimbria). About 100 vessels participate in the fishery in a given year and the average annual total catch for the five-year period ending in 2013 was more than 41 million pounds.

“MSC certification of this fishery is really a renewal of the social contract that we have with the public, providing assurance that we are fishing sustainably and in a manner that is consistent with the public’s high expectation,” said Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission.

Dan Averill, MSC fishery outreach manager, said MSC certification is “A proud day for fishermen in Oregon, Washington and California.” Averill noted that the fishery is managed under a catch share program that utilizes Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQ) and 100 percent observer coverage to better manage the multi-species fishery and said, “MSC certification confirms the rigorous management of the fishery and assures a steady and stable supply of seafood long into the future.”  Under the catch share program, all vessels fishing are required to have a federal license and are 100 percent accountable for their catch, which ensures that fish stocks are not overfished. 

“All credit goes to the trawl fishermen. In adapting to catch shares they dramatically reduced their bycatch and established the foundation for MSC certification. This announcement reinforces what a growing number of U.S. fishermen have experienced firsthand – that a system of full accountability creates the potential for a fishery to succeed both economically and environmentally,” said Shems Jud, Environmental Defense Fund Oceans Program Pacific regional director

During the assessment, the team noted that there is an ongoing and systematic approach to reducing bycatch, and a September, 2013 West Coast groundfish IFQ progress report from 2012 by NOAA confirmed that there has been a substantial reduction in bycatch as a result of the implementation of catch shares. This is a management tool in the U.S. Magnuson Stevens Act, whereby the total allowable catch is divided into shares controlled by fishermen that results in a more efficient and flexible harvest.  The Pacific Fishery Management Council manages the fishery under the auspices of The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Products from the West Coast groundfish complex are supplied fresh and frozen to markets along the U.S. west coast and to markets throughout the world, with Japan being the largest export market, followed by China and Canada.

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