U.S. West Coast Fisheries Revitalized by Catch Shares

The trawler Ms. Opt

June 16, 2017 — The following was released by the Marine Stewardship Council and is linked from Saving Seafood:

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has published its new, comprehensive analysis of the impact of sustainable seafood certification in safeguarding our marine resources. The MSC Global Impacts Report 2017 spotlights the U.S. West Coast groundfish trawl among more than a thousand examples of positive change made by certified fisheries to safeguard fish stocks and marine habitats.

The turnaround of the U.S. West Coast groundfish trawl, which received a disaster declaration by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in 2000, is a true American success story. Between the 1980s and 2000s, landings dropped by 70 percent. Fishing communities suffered as revenues fell from US$47.3 million in 1997 to US$22.2 million in 2007. In 2011, under the advice of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Pacific Fishery Management Council took the then-controversial decision to introduce an individual fishery quota system.

The system has been described by NOAA as the biggest transformation in fish management for more than a generation. Since its introduction, fishers have made fewer trips each week, landed more of the fish that they catch, and earned higher revenue for each fishing trip. Importantly, bycatch and discards have dropped substantially with catch of rebuilding stocks 50 percent lower than before the catch-share system was introduced. For example, the discard rate of darkblotched rockfish dropped from 51 percent to just 2 percent and for bocaccio rockfish it fell from 80 percent to less than 1 percent.

In 2014, MSC certification provided valuable recognition of this transformation and ushered in further improvements. Since becoming certified, the fishery client has continued to work closely with NOAA and has fostered strong collaborations with international non-profit organizations.

Representing the U.S. West Coast groundfish trawl fisheries, Brad Pettinger, Director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, said: “In gaining MSC certification for this fishery, what we really did was to renew 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.”

The MSC report provides governments, industry and NGOs with evidence for credible certification as a powerful tool to catalyze and secure improvements in marine fisheries. The findings were released just ahead of the United Nations (UN) Oceans Conference, which convened in New York last week to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which calls to conserve and sustainably use the oceans.

“When people purchase MSC certified seafood, their choice supports fishermen around the world who are working hard to meet the world’s most rigorous standard for environmental sustainability,” said Brian Perkins, MSC regional director – Americas. “We’re extremely proud of the MSC certified U.S. West Coast groundfish trawl fishery and fisheries around the globe working to safeguard seafood supplies for the future.”

With certified fisheries currently comprising 12% of global marine catch, the MSC’s goal is for 20% of all wild caught seafood to come from fisheries engaged in the MSC program by 2020. The report clearly demonstrates that with the correct incentives and actions fisheries can achieve the sustainable performance required to meet the SDGs.

A catalyst for change in habitats and ecosystems management

The MSC report shows that 94% of fisheries entering the program have made at least one improvement to achieve or maintain certification, totaling more than 1,200 over the last 16 years. Of these, 117 actions by 39 fisheries contributed to improving habitat status, management and information. In total, MSC certified fisheries have been involved with 46 new scientific research projects as part of efforts to better understand and minimize impacts on habitats.

Our oceans, our future – more to do

Roughly half of fisheries which complete voluntary pre-assessment to the MSC Fisheries Standard do not progress to full assessment, suggesting that they have work to do to reach the requirements of certification.

The MSC Global Impacts Report maps the location of certified fisheries in large marine ecosystems (LMEs) around the world, showing the proportion of MSC certified fisheries in areas of international importance to biodiversity. The maps reveal a need to support small-scale fisheries, particularly those in developing countries, on the road to sustainability. The MSC is developing new tools and investing in scientific research to support fisheries in achieving MSC certification.

In order for these initiatives to have impact at scale, the MSC encourages the international community meeting at the UN to support market-based incentive mechanisms, including certification, as an essential tool to contribute to realizing the SDGs. Consumers can also play their part by choosing seafood with the blue MSC label.

Read the MSC’s commitment to SDG 14

The MSC program is recognized in the UN Concept Paper for Partnership dialogue as a promising tool for developing partnerships and sustainable seafood supply chains.