In 2012, a year after implementing catch shares in the West Coast groundfish fishery, NOAA was calling the program a success. It was hard to argue with the numbers: The fishery made $54 million in 2011 compared to its historical average of $38 million for 2006-2010. In addition, bycatch was down from 15 percent to 1.3 percent.
But some California fishermen are telling a different story about catch shares. Jeremiah O'Brien, director of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, called the program the "worst thing that ever happened to the fishing industry." Likewise, Jiri Nozicka of Monterey Bay told the Associated Press he hasn't been able to fish since spring because he can't find a monitor willing to go out on his trawler the San Giovanni (the Juneau Empire has a photo).
The lack of observers is hitting the fleet hard. “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,” Michael Lucas, president of North Coast Fisheries, wrote in a letter to federal regulators that was also included in the AP report.
Electronic monitoring might help. Alaska's halibut longliner fleet is also pushing for the use of cameras instead of costly observers. That industry recently drafted an exempted fisheries permit for the use of cameras, which NMFS rejected because of a lack of technical specifications and performance standards. Its fleet also stands to lose its small boats if a more cost-effective solution to fund monitors isn't found soon.
Unfortunately, it may be too late for some in California. Beginning in 2014 fishermen can sell their quota, which was prohibited by a two-year moratorium when the program launched in 2011. Along with the loss of small boats also goes the fishing industries in the small ports they call home. If that happens, I wouldn't call it a success.