Quota system aims to curb overfishing on the West Coast

In a move to curb overfishing on the West Coast, fishermen from San Francisco, Half Moon Bay and beyond will have a new quota system in the new year.

Under the new Catch-Share Program, fishermen in the area that covers California, Oregon and Washington states will start the year with a personalized quota of ground fish — rock fish, sole and tuna among several other common species. If they exceeded the limit, the extra must be sold as stock within the industry before they can continue fishing.

By holding fishermen accountable for everything that comes aboard, the program is intended to save “many, many tons of fish,” according to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a policymaking body responsible for overall development of the program.

The current system enforces limits at the end of a season, so fishermen essentially throw dead fish back overboard. The fish thrown back, however, rarely survive.

“Imagine having an online bank account. For each species you’re going to have a balance. If you exceed your quota on any of those species you’ll get a red light and won’t be able to fish,” said fishery management Councilman David Crabbe. “It’s 100 percent accountability.”

The commercial fishermen will have observers on deck in 2011 to make certain unwanted catches are not thrown back overboard.

The new program has secured $12.6 million in federal funds for the transition.

Line-hook fishermen who do not apply for permits to catch ground fish in massive quantities, however, are worried a limit that was imposed on them a decade ago will be cemented into place because of the new program. Three fishing organizations have filed a lawsuit to halt the catch-share program.

“We have been so severely restricted. We’re allowed 200 pounds of rock cod every two months and it’s been that way for a decade,” said Larry Collins, president of the Crab Boat Owners Association, one of the three groups that sued. “We’ve been trying to say there’s enough rock cod. We ought to be able to catch a couple of tons a month.”

But Crabbe said the quotas, or stocks, will be available to all types of boats, big and small.

He also said the level of scrutiny in the fishery, including the online ground fish “bank account,” and the on-deck staff observers, will be among the highest in the nation.

“There’s a little flexibility … but they have to stop fishing until they bring their checkbook back into balance,” he said.

Go fish

About 160 commercial trawlers along the West Coast will only be allowed to catch an overall quota of fish in 2011, in allotments that the federal government will not disclose. Here is how much they will be able to catch:

Lingcod: 1,870 metric tons
Pacific cod: 1,135 metric tons
Petrale sole: 876 metric tons
Yellowtail: 3,101 metric tons*
Arrowtooth flounder: 12,431 metric tons
Minor slope rockfish: 1,207 metric tons

*North of the California/Oregon state border

Source: Pacific Fishery Management Council

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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