HALF MOON BAY, Calif. – After one of the West Coast’s most valuable commercial fisheries was declared an economic disaster in 2000, California and other Pacific states saw more boats being sold and more fishermen looking for work.
But federal statistics show the first signs of a comeback among these so-called groundfish fishermen — those who ply deep waters for dozens of different species that fall under the “groundfish” label, such as sablefish, rockfish and thornyheads.
Conservation efforts and a two-year-old contentious quota system called “catch shares” appear to be helping, and fishermen who were losing money in the once-lucrative fishery are in the black again, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.
Some fishermen initially skeptical of the stricter government oversight say they’re now seeing the long-term benefits of this approach — and hard-hit fishing towns are seeing signs of recovery.
“When the disaster declaration came on line, for several years after that, this fishery was in a very bad situation,” Frank Lockhart of the National Marine Fisheries Service said. “A lot of people were losing money, and on average, the fleet as a whole was losing money.
“What it looks like now, in 2011, the first year of catch shares, they were able to turn that around, and more people are making more money.”
Overall, regulators reported the West Coast groundfish fishery yielded $54 million in 2011; the average for the previous five years was $38 million. West Coast fishermen typically catch 10 percent to 21 percent of all U.S.-landed groundfish, a haul comprised of high-value sablefish and Pacific cod.