Fishermen, managers, award-winning chefs, Council members and enviros celebrate a fishery’s comeback

Celebrating sustainable sourcing from rebounding stocks, James Beard award winning chef Vitaly Paley and executive chef Ken Norris address an appreciative roomful of petrale and rockfish diners.

On Thursday, March 9th, fishing industry stakeholders from Washington, Oregon and California joined together at Portland’s Heathman Hotel to support Chefs Collaborative and celebrate the comeback of a major American fishery. Enjoying a dinner prepared by James Beard Award-winning Chef Vitaly Paley and Executive Chef Ken Norris, members of the Pacific Fishery Management Council joined with trawl fishermen, processors and other industry representatives, seafood buyers, NMFS staff, food writers and Environmental Defense Fund staffers to promote sustainable fish stocks that are rebounding on the West Coast.

“Sourcing is everything. At Headwaters, we’re all about sourcing the best seafood, and treating it with respect and putting a lot of love into it,” said Chef Ken Norris.

Sustainable whole Shortraker rockfish and Dungeness-stuffed Petrale sole. Photo: Chefs Collaborative

West Coast trawl fishermen still face significant cost and regulatory burdens as the 2017 fishery is executed. 100% observer coverage is expensive. At the same time, observers ensure that every fish is accounted for in this fishery. The greater certainty that this data provides is part of the reason that fishermen’s quotas are rising – that and favorable ocean conditions are credited with big increases. Harvest allowances for Canary rockfish, one of the previously troublesome “constraining species” for which quotas have been very low, was adjusted upwards by 2,300% in 2017.

Environmental Defense Fund’s Shems Jud was one of the organizers who made remarks on Thursday evening.

“I want to thank Chef Paley and Chef Norris. And I want to thank the fishermen, the processors, the managers and all the folks who are here who have had a part in this really remarkable turnaround. It’s a turnaround from absolute disaster to something really exciting. In 2011 the catch share program was implemented, and almost overnight we saw some really dramatic results. Bycatch dropped by about 75%, which equates to saving millions of pounds of fish every year. We saw the mortality of the most depleted rockfish stocks drop precipitously. Now we’re starting to see rockfish stocks rebuilding quickly. The quota of one key species, Canary rockfish, is up 2,300% this year. As fishermen adjust their practices to align with increasing fish stocks and higher quotas, we are on the cusp of having millions of pounds more of sustainable, local domestic seafood coming into West Coast ports.”

Dinner organizers including Environmental Defense Fund and Chefs Collaborative are exploring the idea of hosting additional groundfish promotion dinners in coming months.