MONTEREY, Calif. — The skipper of a fishing boat that has trawled Monterey Harbor for decades says he’s been docked since spring, unable to earn a living.
Jiri Nozicka says a federal quota system enacted to protect both fish and the commercial fishing industry has problems that he can’t navigate.
“How do I plan anything?” he asked, recently standing on the deck of the San Giovanni. “I can’t. It’s impossible.”
He’s not alone in criticizing the “catch shares” system and calling for changes. Commercial fishers, industry experts and government officials are among those who say that while fish populations are recovering, too few people in California are benefiting from that rebound in part because there aren’t enough qualified monitors to oversee the program.
“Financially, I can only say that multiple trips have been cancelled due to a lack of availability of these monitors, millions of pounds of fish have not been caught, processed and sold to markets and this is a loss of millions of dollars,” said Michael Lucas, president of North Coast Fisheries Inc., in a letter to federal regulators.
After Pacific Coast groundfish populations dropped dramatically in 2000 a federal economic disaster was declared, leading to the strict new quota system. The goal was to boost populations of black cod and dover sole and to revive the flagging industry.
The catch shares system enacted two years ago sets a yearly fish quota, then splits shares among individual fishers and companies. It’s meant to prevent overfishing while allowing fishers to earn a living.
Early reports show the program has helped the Pacific groundfish fleet as a whole begin turning a profit again while protecting struggling species. But critics such as Nozicka say some things need to improve.
“There were concerns raised when catch shares started about ports going out of business — it’s happening,” he said.