Fishery Facts

A net full of Chilepepper rockfish spills onto the deck of the fishing vessel Pioneer, off Monterey, California. Corey Arnold photo

A net full of Chilepepper rockfish spills onto the deck of the fishing vessel Pioneer, off Monterey, California. Corey Arnold photo

From Bellingham, Washington to Newport, Oregon and south as far as Morro Bay, California, West Coast fishermen aboard trawl vessels harvest a wide variety of delicious cod, snapper, rockfish and flatfish. They do so in a certified-sustainable fishery, supplying both domestic and global markets.

A major American fishery

  • The West Coast groundfish trawl fishery encompasses more than 90 species of rockfish, flatfish, roundfish, sharks, skates and other species.1
  • Fishing occurs in federal waters (3-200 miles offshore) of California and Washington and from 0-200 miles off of Oregon.
  • Trawl fishermen typically land in excess of 40 million pounds of groundfish (excluding whiting).2,3
  • The fishery is managed by a combination of quotas, area restrictions, seasonal closures and gear restrictions.

The transition to sustainability

  • The West Coast groundfish trawl fishery was declared a federal disaster in 2000.
  • It transitioned to an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) ‘catch share’ program in 2011.1
  • The IFQ fishery requires full catch accountability through 100% monitoring by federal on-deck observers who accompany all fishing trips. As an attempt to maintain accountability while reducing costs, fishermen and their allies are currently testing and promoting approval of electronic monitoring systems (cameras integrated with GPS and gear sensors) as an authorized monitoring tool.1
  • In June, 2014, 13 species in this fishery were certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). These include (Arrowtooth flounder, Chilipepper rockfish, Dover/English/Petrale sole, Lingcod, Longnose skate, Longspine/Shortspine thornyhead, Sablefish, Splitnose rockfish, Widow rockfish, Yellowtail rockfish).3,4
  • When the MSC certified the fishery sustainable, it noted that this was the most diverse and complex fishery ever considered for certification, and emphasized the important role that catch shares played in recovering the fishery.4
  • During 2014, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program upgraded the ratings for 21 groundfish species. 39 species are now rated ‘green’ (Best Choice) or ‘yellow’ (Good Alternative).5
    • 70% of flatfish landings are now a ‘Best Choice’, including Dover sole, English sole, Pacific sanddabs, rex sole, and starry flounder.
    • 60% of rockfish landings are now a ‘Best Choice’, including Aurora rockfish, Longspine & Shortspine thornyhead, Splitnose rockfish, Widow rockfish and Yellowtail rockfish.
    • Lingcod, Spiny dogfish, Longnose skate and Black cod (Sablefish) are also listed as Seafood Watch ‘Best Choices.’
  • Since the inception of the Pacific groundfish catch share program, three species, whose populations were once classified as overfished, have been rebuilt: Widow rockfish, Canary rockfish and Petrale sole.

Additional resources


  1. NOAA, NMFS. (2012). The West Coast Groundfish IFQ Fishery: Results from the first year of catch shares.
  2. Matson, SE. (2014). West Coast Groundfish, Shorebased IFQ Program September 2014 Catch Report. National Marine Fisheries Service.
  3. S. West Coast groundfish achieves MSC certification. (2014, June 4). Marine Stewardship Council
  4. Marine Stewardship Council US West Coast limited entry groundfish trawl
  5. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Consumer Guides