The science of sustainable seafood, explained

New California protected areas are excellent fishery management

The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), the regulatory body in charge of the West Coast of the U.S., just gave a master class on fishery management. The council designated new protections for coral and sponge habitat while also opening less sensitive areas to fishing, making both conservationists and fishers happy.

Of concern is the West Coast rockfish bottom trawl fishery. Bottom trawling involves weighing a net down to the seafloor then dragging it across the bottom to scoop up fish. Trawling across sandy seafloor is not much of a concern, however dragging a net over deep-water coral or sponge gardens can have long-term impacts on the ecosystem. In California, these deep habitats provide important structure for fish, serving as protection from predators, mating areas, and a nursery for juvenile fish. Scientists have been identifying and mapping these California reefs over the last 7 years prompting Council action. Though fishing boats have not trawled these areas, conservationists (particularly Oceana) called for their protection as insurance for the future.

Earlier this month, the Council voted to protect over 16,000 square miles, nearly all deep-water habitat, from bottom trawling.


Of note are new in-shore protections off Southern California.


Generally, fishermen & women do not like marine protected areas that restrict them from fishing. The Council eased fisher discomfort with the new protections by lifting older protections in less sensitive areas off Central and Northern California. A quota system for rockfish (essentially catch shares) is already in place to ensure populations remain sustainable; the new areas open to fishing will simply offer commercial fishers more options and better catch efficiency which saves them time and money.

Fishery management goals are to keep stakeholders happy and ensure triple bottom line success, meaning biological, social, and financial outcomes are all positive. In this scenario, the PFMC hit a home a run: fishermen & women get to catch more rockfish on sandy bottoms and coral and sponges are protected for the future.

Picture of Max Mossler

Max Mossler

Max is the managing editor at Sustainable Fisheries UW.

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