West Coast fishing communities earned millions of dollars from a trial program allowing fishermen to cash in on rebounding rockfish populations, NOAA announced last month.

Exempted fishing permits were granted to a number of vessels under the trial period, which brought in almost 14 million pounds of fish, with the aim being taking some of the strain off overfished species such as salmon. The catch brought in $5.5 million in additional revenue, according to Lori Steele, the executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association.

“We were eager for groundfish vessels to take advantage of healthy stocks and high quotas as quickly as possible while being sensitive to the need to minimize interactions with salmon and other protected species,” Steele said. “NOAA Fisheries stepped up and helped us design this EFP to provide fishing opportunities and collect important information the agency needed.”

The healthiness of the rockfish population marks a shift from when the fishery was overfished in the 1990s. To help the fishery recover, the NOAA Fisheries along with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, changed the fishery to “catch shares,” which allowed each fisherman a portion of the allowable catch. The move freed the fishermen from having to compete with one another to haul in the most catch. Due to the switch in management, the recovery of some rockfish species has occurred more than a decade earlier than the timeline estimated by scientists.

The success of rockfish population rebuilding campaign has allowed the NOAA to focus its rebuilding efforts on other species.

“The EFP provided the fishing community the flexibility to benefit from the rebound in many West Coast groundfish stocks, while continuing to protect those stocks and other vulnerable species, such as salmon, that need it,” Ryan Wulff, an assistant regional administrator for sustainable fisheries in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, said. “The results were just as we hoped: a more productive fishery, increased revenue, and improved regulatory flexibility for the fleet.”

This story was originally published by Seafood Source and is republished here with permission.

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