Will IFQs work for West Coast groundfish?

Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved amendments to the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s plan for the West Coast trawl groundfish fishery to implement an individual fishing quota (IFQ) program beginning in January 2011. But some in the industry are getting cold feet on the 23rd hour.

“There are still unaddressed loopholes,” said Doug Heater, sales manager of Bornstein Seafoods in Astoria, Ore.

In a mixed fishery, the catch is unpredictable. “If a vessel exceeds its quota of a low-quota species, it could be knocked out for the year, unless the owner can manage to buy more quota,” said Heater.

This problem is addressed somewhat in the plan through a proposal for groups of fishermen to pool bycatch allocations to lessen individual risk. But Heater said because fishermen tend to be competitive and individualistic, such cooperation may not come easily.

Groundfish, as defined in the plan, includes a wide variety of rockfish, perch, flatfish, six species of roundfish (lingcod, cabezon, kelp greenling, Pacific cod, Pacific whiting and sablefish), sharks, skates and other species.

Individual fishing quotas, also known as individual transferable quotas and individual vessel quotas, are a way to reduce capitalization by allowing some vessel owners to sell their shares to others. Critics say the system privatizes a public resource, creates barriers to entry, encourages monopolization and eliminates smaller fishing communities that may lose access to the resource if shares are sold by local vessel owners to larger vessels operating out of larger ports.
Ten percent of the total allowable catch would be held in reserve for use in an “adaptive management program.” There have been some proposals to allocate some or all of this to “community fishing associations,” which might use them to anchor the catch to a smaller home port or to lease to younger industry entrants, who may find the high cost of buying quotas prohibitive. But the form of such organizations and the rights of their members have not yet been worked out.

Heater said that the 1995-to-2000 catch data, on which quota allocation is to be based, does not take into account discards due to upgrading. “Arrowtooth flounder used to be thrown overboard by smaller vessels because they were lower value,” he explained.

Some fishing areas have also been closed since that data was recorded. For example, a starry flounder area in Washington state is now closed. Heater also said that the fishing areas are too big (two for all of Oregon), meaning that allocated fish may not actually be within practical fishing distance for a vessel.

Under the new plan, observers will be placed on all vessels to control upgrading. Initially, 90 percent of the cost would be paid by NOAA, but the cost will be shifted entirely to vessel owners by 2014.

Another concern in the industry is that those selling their groundfish quota may enter the pink shrimp fishery since the same vessel types are used in both. Shrimp processors lack capacity and market outlets to handle the additional volume.

All Supply & Trade stories >

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500