Feds see early signs of Pacific fishery recovery

  • Geoff Bettencourt, owner of the fishing boat Moriah Lee, walks along Johnson Pier in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. Fleets of unused, weathered fishing boats, shuttered processing businesses and idle fishermen have been the image of California's once-thriving fishing towns over the past decade. But two years ago federal regulators decided to implement strict "catch shares," or fishing quotas, along the Pacific Coast after seeing the management technique help fisheries rebound in other places. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

HALF MOON BAY — After one of the West Coast's most valuable commercial fisheries was declared an economic disaster in 2000, California and other Pacific states saw more boats being sold and more fishermen looking for work.

But federal statistics show the first signs of a comeback among these so-called groundfish fishermen — those who ply deep waters for dozens of different species that fall under the "groundfish" label, such as sablefish, rockfish and thornyheads.

Conservation efforts and a 2-year-old contentious quota system called "catch shares" appear to be helping, and fishermen who were losing money in the once-lucrative fishery are in the black again, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.

Some fishermen initially skeptical of the stricter government oversight say they're now seeing the long-term benefits of this approach — and hard-hit fishing towns are seeing signs of recovery.

"When the disaster declaration came on line, for several years after that, this fishery was in a very bad situation," Frank Lockhart of the National Marine Fisheries Service said. "A lot of people were losing money, and on average, the fleet as a whole was losing money.

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