East Coast Meets West Coast – In the Fisheries

Eating crabFort Bragg Groundfish Association was host to an “exchange” between fishermen and sector managers from New England and fishermen and other industry leaders from the West Coast groundfish fishery. FBGA’s involvement in the exchange came about through its partnership with The Nature Conservancy – a collaboration that aims to stabilize and revitalize the West Coast Groundfish fishery for independent fishing operations in small port communities in California. TNC representatives included Michael Bell and Kate Labrum (California) and Geoffrey Smith (Maine).

Both east and west coast fisheries are in the midst of transitioning to a catch share management system and are facing a number of similar challenges, including constraining quotas, new monitoring and reporting requirements, and additional operational costs (including observers). The fishermen’s exchange was designed to allow fishermen, sector managers, and other interested stakeholders to come together over three days to share experiences and innovative ideas to survive and succeed during this difficult transition period.

The five day fishermen’s exchange gave fishermen and industry stakeholders an opportunity to share their experiences, challenges and solutions. Discussions focused on the California Risk Pool (a collaboration among fishermen/associations and The Nature Conservancy to improve economic and environmental conditions in the Groundfish fishery), approaches to avoiding constraining stocks while targeting healthier ones, sharing of fishery-related information and meeting new monitoring and reporting requirements.

While in town, members of Fort Bragg Groundfish Association, Tom Estes, Sr., Vince Doyle and Tommy Estes showed our east coast guests (from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine) the local sights; including both Makela Boat Works and Van Peer’s ship building yard, the locations of where every FBGA member vessel were built. The exchange enjoyed a tour by Gene Mattizo of the fish processing line at Caito Fisheries, offload facilities, and of course a hands on look at vessels participating in the groundfish fishery. Tommy Estes of the FV Tara Dawn, was offloading his harvest — a complex of species including Dover Sole, Petrale, Sable, Longspine and more. The days outing gave east coast fishermen a real-working experience of the West coast fishery.

Fishermen from both coasts face similar resource challenges in that some species within the complex are relatively healthy and can support higher levels of catch while others are depleted with restrictive catch limits that constrain fishing opportunity. East and west coast groundfish fisheries are expected to have to fully fund at-sea observer coverage in the coming years. At $500-$1,000 per day, this is a cost that could cripple a significant portion of the fleet, particularly smaller operations. Fishermen shared ideas, and steps that can be taken to reduce these costs and what monitoring tools are available as an alternative to human observers. Fishing communities in Maine, Massachusetts, and California have developed Community Fishing Associations and Quota Permit Banks to help traditional port communities navigate the transition to the catch share management system and anchor long-term access to the fishery. The exchange provided the opportunity for open dialogue and for fishermen to return to port with greater insights into building a sustainable fishery in their own fishing port communities.

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