The California Groundfish Collective, as fishermen and fishing associations, with the help of The Nature Conservancy, has become a strong network working to overcome the challenges within the fishery. This unique partnership has worked together to develop innovative approaches and test new technologies to improve fishing practices and inform better fisheries management.
Effective management of fish populations requires the use of timely and reliable information. The California Groundfish Collective, working with NGOs, academia, and management agencies, has conducted innovative research, tested new approaches, designed tools and influenced policy. Here are some examples of what we work on:
These innovative approaches include electronic monitoring, a technology which uses video and sensor data in place of human observers on fishing vessels to increase catch accountability in a cost-effective way. Working in close collaboration with the Conservancy, fishery managers, and other partners, the Collective spent several years helping to test electronic monitoring (EM) technology. This pilot proved EM can work in lieu of an on-board observer00. We are continuing to work on program design to help secure conservation gains made in the groundfish fishery and contribute to a global body of work attempting to use technology to make it easier and cheaper to capture fisheries data and improve sustainability. As a result of this work, the West Coast will be the first region in the U.S. to move from a pilot program to full implementation of an approved electronic monitoring program. The policies we are in the process of developing and implementing will serve as a model for other regions of the U.S., like New England and Alaska.
The Collective participates in collaborative research projects with The Nature Conservancy and other partners to fill key data gaps in fisheries management in California. One example is working with scientists to test a tool to improve how fish habitats are surveyed and species abundance is estimated. California Groundfish Collective fishermen have partnered with scientists at The Nature Conservancy, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Marine Applied Research and Exploration to design, build, and test a new camera system that can be used to accurately count and measure rockfish in deep-water habitats. This innovative, state-of-the-art technology has the potential to help inform better management that could increase fishing opportunities while protecting critical habitat areas and fish populations into the future.
Cooperative Management to Protect Seafloor Habitats
Beginning in 2014, the Collective participated in an unprecedented coalition to develop recommendations for changes to the reconfigure Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) and Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) closures off the West Coast that would both improve habitat protection and increase fishing opportunity. The coalition developing a shared vision for the groundfish fishery: a robust fishing industry with improved profitability; stable regulations and minimal controversy; intact groundfish fishing communities; healthy fish population levels and age structures; and resilient ocean ecosystems, with minimal substrate disturbance or damage to sensitive organisms.
With this as background, the coalition convened more than 30 meetings in ports along the coast over two years to consider new scientific research, updated habitat surveys, and fishermen's deep local knowledge to arrive at a shared understanding of the locations of overfished species and sensitive habitats. Based on this understanding, participants in the port meetings proposed various modifications to EFH and RCA boundaries, and these proposals were refined through extensive discussion. The resulting proposal was accepted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council at their April 2018 meeting, protecting sensitive priority habitat, establishing new protections for un-fished, deep water habitat off of California, and opening approximately 3,000 square miles of productive, soft-bottom fishing grounds. This was a novel approach to problem solving that brought together former adversaries and resulted in innovative solutions, valuable new relationships, and a solid final product. The Collaborative Proposal will improve protection of critical marine habitat while increasing access to important fishing grounds that can deliver sustainable seafood into regional markets.
The California Groundfish Collective also engages in policy – working with NGOs and government agencies to adopt reforms, influencing fisheries policy and management on the West Coast and nationally. The California Groundfish Collective has become increasingly engaged in advocating for positive change and is bringing an influential and proactive voice to the policy arena.
One Example of this has been the five-year review process for the California fishery management system the Collective is a part of – the trawl catch share program. The California groundfish fishery management plan requires a five-year review of the trawl catch share program as an opportunity to evaluate all aspects of the program’s performance to date, identify areas where there are remaining issues, and inform efforts to address those shortcomings. Invested in the improvement of the program and in the success of the fishery in fully achieving its objectives, the California Groundfish Collective provided comments throughout the review process. The top priorities for our participating fishing community members during this review included actions that would improve the stability of fishing businesses, increase the flexibility required for innovation and adaptation, and reduce costs and regulatory complexity. The final catch share review was completed the end of 2017 and incorporated many of our recommendations.