Eat up! These bottom fish make a dramatic recovery on West Coast

Filed under: Fisheries Management, Projects 

Septmeber 2nd, 2014 By Craig Welch, The Seattle Times

Marine scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium said Tuesday that government regulators and fishermen had made such strides in how they manage and catch 21 species of rockfish, flounder, lingcod and sole that it listed all among the “good” or “best” seafood choices in its popular guide.

The nation’s most influential sustainable-seafood group believes a host of once-troubled West Coast bottom fish are now recovering

 so well that consumers should seek them out at restaurants and markets.

Marine scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium said Tuesday that government regulators and fishermen had made such strides in how they manage and catch 21 species of rockfish, flounder, lingcod and sole that it listed all among the “good” or “best” seafood choices in the new edition of its popular guide.

“This is the first time we’ve really seen this happen at this scale on the West Coast,” said Santi Roberts, science manager at the aquarium.

The aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide (www.seafoodwatch.org), with its handy red, yellow and green codes, helps environmentally conscious shoppers, restaurant goers, chefs and grocers determine which species of commercial fish and shellfish are caught in the most ecologically sensitive manner.

The aquarium undertakes a rigorous, peer-reviewed evaluation for each species and urges consumers to avoid eating those not fished sustainably, while also recommending better alternatives.

Many of the species upgraded this week were deemed by the federal government in the mid-1990s or early 2000s to have been badly overfished

The aquarium still listed a few of the least problematic species as acceptable alternatives but urged fish lovers to completely avoid most species, particularly a wide variety of long-lived rockfish, often served as red snapper or rock cod., some to such an extent that scientists were concerned about their survival. Quotas were cut in half.

But a series of major changes to management of the West Coast commercial groundfish fleet has turned around future prospects for many of these species.

“The fishermen deserve a lot of credit,” said Frank Lockhart, with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s groundfish program. “I still sometimescan’t believe how talented they are at avoiding the wrong fish and catching the right fish. ”

Overhauling the management of these fisheries, both Lockhart and Roberts said, made that task a little easier.

Many of the species, from California to Washington, are caught using trawl nets that may drag along the bottom, harming some sensitive areas.

Most were managed using massive quota systems that encouraged a race among fishermen to catch everything they could, regardless of markets. Fishermen often scooped up species they weren’t targeting and ended up tossing away many fish that weren’t salable.

But in the mid- to late 2000s, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees West Coast commercial fishing, began closing many ecologically sensitive areas to fishing. The council also divvied up quotas and redistributed them to individual fishermen as catch shares, which made it easier for fishermen to take their time and be more selective in the species they targeted. That reduced waste.

That step represented fundamental change, Lockhart said.

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