In the old system, fishermen were racing against the clock, so they didn't have the time to target fish carefully. As a result, they took on a lot of bycatch, which are fish that are caught unintentionally. To avoid fines at the dock, fishermen often discarded the bycatch, already dead, at sea.
Bycatch is a particularly tricky problem for groundfish trawlers because so many different species mingle on the bottom. There are more than 90 species in this fishery, and a fisherman never really knows what's in his net until it comes out of the water.
In the new system, fishermen are given an individual quota for all species. That includes both the ones they're targeting and the ones, because of low population numbers, that they need to avoid. But for those species, they get a very low quotain some cases, so low that a single unlucky tow can put them over.
Today, they cannot toss those fish overboard. Instead, the fisherman must lease unused quota from someone else to cover the difference, or pay it back out of the next year's allotment. Until they do, they're locked out of the fishery. This gives fishermen a strong incentive to avoid certain species of fish. It also insures that, even when an individual fisherman exceeds his targetwhich is bound to happen sometimes in a complex groundfish fisherythe total catch for the fleet stays within the limit.
This system is effective because every boat now has an observer on board. The observer identifies and weighs everything that comes up in the net, and makes sure that every pound is accounted for.
According to Paine, all members of the United Catcher Boats Association get together to strategize before the season starts. "If one area is really hot for canary rockfish," Paine says, naming a rare species with a very low catch limit, "we'll draw lines around that hotspot and agree not to fish there. So we have closure zones that are generated by the boat captains thems
|Contact: Rich Press|
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service