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A new way to divvy up the West Coast fish catch

The fishing fleets along the US west coast are impacted by changes to fishing catch shares, or quotas. This is the southern Oregon port of Brookings, in 2009.

West Coast fishermen are faced with a new way of deciding who gets to catch how much of what kinds of fish. Federal fisheries managers -- and many fishermen -- say it’ll be good for business and for fish stocks. But others fear the impact on small fishing communities.

How has it been done up till now?

Typically, fisheries managers use scientific data to decide how many of a particular fish species can be caught without damaging the stock. Then they tell fishermen where they can fish, when they can fish and how many fish can be caught. Brian Gorman with the National Marine Fisheries Service says that’s led to a lot of boats chasing fewer fish and trying to catch them faster.

"They have to fish when they have to fish, rather than when the market prices are best or when landing a fresh product would be good for consumers.”

The new system

Fishermen get a predetermined share of the available catch. That way, they’ve got more flexibility, which could lead to safer and more profitable fishing.

The trawl fishing industry is all on board. Trawling is a way of fishing that uses big funnel-shaped nets that drag near the ocean floor, scooping up bottom fish and other sea creatures. The trawlers have the most to gain from the new catch-share system, and they’ve got a website packed with videos and other info on the change.

The new catch-share system is also expected to lead to better conservation, because fishermen know exactly how much they can catch. Under program, each boat will also have an observer on board, who’ll monitor catch numbers and fishing practices.

The catch-share system went into effect last week for the West Coast fishery on bottom fish such as sole and Pacific whiting.

But several groups representing small family fishermen say the new system concentrates the resource in too few hands, and will lead to larger companies edging out the smaller boats. They argue that’ll be another blow to economically-pressed coastal fishing communities. The groups have filed a federal lawsuit to try to stop the plan.