Did fishing vessels participate in a different mix of fisheries?

Indicators: Fishery Diversification

Key Findings

  • Participation in a mix of fisheries is common practice for fishermen.
  • In Oregon’s pink shrimp and Dungeness crab fisheries, the two non-groundfish fisheries for which data are available, the proportional level of effort and landings attributable to groundfish trawl fishermen did not increase in 2011. Consequently, the “spillover effect” on those fisheries during the first year of the Shorebased IFQ Program was minimal.
  • However, the Shorebased IFQ Program provision that allows limited entry trawl permit holders to switch from trawl to fixed gears may have led to overcrowding of some fishing grounds where fixed gear is used in non-catch share program groundfish fisheries.

Interactive Chart Story


This indicator measures the degree to which catch share fishery vessels also participate in other fisheries.

In Their Own Words

Although some of the quantitative data analyzed for this indicator exhibited clear trends, it was challenging to discuss the relationships between observed data trends and implementation of the respective catch share programs. The Measuring the Effects of Catch Shares project team believed that those stakeholders most involved in the fishery, either as active participants or as representatives of an involved coalition of participants (e.g., sector managers in the Northeast), would be able to provide insight and help to explain trends seen in the existing quantitative data. The following quotes were selected to illustrate some of those perspectives and highlight trends such as effects on small vessels, the effect of avoiding “choke stocks,” fleet diversification, and product quality. The individual quotes do not represent findings or conclusions for this indicator, nor do they represent a consensus across any category of participants.

“In my opinion, one of the worst things that we ever did was allow gear switching. It sounded great, but sablefish fetches a higher price pot-caught. So we allowed our sablefish to exit the trawl fishery—well, it’s technically still in the trawl fishery, but a guy can go fish pots and catch trawl sablefish. It created an inequality. They can get paid more for it, therefore they can bid more for it.”
~ Fisherman

“Gear switching really hasn’t worked the way they thought. What it’s done is let the fixed gear people come and buy trawl quota and put it into the fixed gear side. And that is hamstringing the Dover you’re going to get out of the water. Where you had 100% of the amount of black cod to prosecute your old fisheries, now you don’t have that, and it’s going to leave Dover, it’s going to leave other fisheries in the water. So I don’t think that that was right. I don’t think that they foresaw that.”
~ Fisherman

“The problem is the initial investment in resources from private foundations as well as from agencies is to get [catch share programs] in, and then a lot of that support goes away, and the fleet is left struggling with a lot of things that the support could actual be helpful in. For instance, now that we’re in an ITQ program, you can catch species with different kinds of gear on your trawl quota. So if you have trawl quota, you can start working on alternative gear types and that can lead to higher value in those products. Yeah, but here’s the catch; there’s really no easy identified funding source to help the fleet to do that. And I see that as a huge problem because it’s like, oh, this is great, you can get more value. There’s no mechanism for them to actually do that.”
~ Government

“Those who were smart enough to acquire permits and acquire black cod to go with their fixed gear permits are making good money on it. Black cod tends to be a higher value species, and pot and longline-caught black cod tends to be higher in value than trawl black cod. There’s a bunch of fisherman up in Ilwaco that were smart enough to recognize what was coming, and they went and they acquired trawl permits and were able to buy the black cod and do the gear-switching or trade it around amongst other fisherman and so forth.”
~ Fisherman

“There is that kind of consolidation which has changed the nature and the number of vessels that are really trawl vessels. That has happened directly because of IFQs. There’s been vessels that have changed business strategies and have trawl quota that I would not consider them a trawler. If you don’t own a net, in my mind you’re not a trawl vessel. But you have trawl quota, so maybe you are a trawl vessel. I guess it depends on how you look at it.”
~ Government

“People were opportunistic and saw changes coming but wanted to use that quota in a different way, so they started converting vessels. Sablefish is a nice example. Catching it with alternative gear so that the “trawl vessel” was no longer really a trawler anymore. That created a divisive issue because you have people coming in and changing vessels out, changing gear types.”
~ Government

“Anybody that fishes groundfish very much anymore leases quite a bit of fish. I lease two other permits. The guys that don’t lease fish, they’ll be the ones that just go dragging in between shrimping and crabbing and just do it for a month or two here and there.”
~ Fisherman

“If you’re in non-whiting trawl all year, all your fixed costs for the year have to come out of non-whiting trawl throughout the year. If you’re a lot of these other guys that have different fisheries, like pollock in Alaska or crab, they make good money in some of those fisheries. They can take their fixed costs off that. Then they’re thinking, okay, I got X-amount of groundfish. It doesn’t matter if I don’t make anything hardly because I’ve already paid for the boat and my expenses for the year. Let’s go make a couple of trips, and we’ll make a little bit of money. So they get to do that whereas I can’t do that as much because I don’t have those other more profitable fisheries to be in.”
~ Fisherman

“I actually try to lease to trawlers. If [a trawler and a pot boat] are both going to offer me the same price or close to it, I’m going to lease to the trawler ’cause I might be able to make a deal with him about something later. And it really doesn’t do any good to have all our black cod get caught by pots. It doesn’t do a thing good for the fishery, or for harvesting any of the rest of this fish, or the canneries or anybody. And a lot of guys bought permits just prior to this [IFQ program] that were fixed gear vessels, [they] bought drag permits knowing that the gear switching was part of the package. They never did drag. They just bought the permits and the quota with plans on fishing it hook and line, or pots or whatever.”
~ Fisherman

“Shrimp was just so good for the last three years. They made so much money. So I had more shrimpers than draggers. And I can’t blame them, and that’s okay. But this has been going on for quite a few years, and we get a lot less fish. Truthfully, I make money selling round fish. Filleting doesn’t make money; it’s very expensive. We’ll make money with whole round petrale or rex or something that can go to people [who] like to hand-cut their own in restaurants.”
~ Processor

“I got 180 people that work here. We’ll have more at crab season, but we have a core for our shrimp and our crab and all that stuff. Our core for our fillet worked well because the filleters would become crab pickers, and we’d pay by the pound. They’d make good money. I’d take that fillet crew and those two months that we didn’t do fish, do crab. Worked perfect. But now I don’t do fish. Now I got crab season coming, so now what do I do? Now I got to teach a whole bunch more people how to pick a crab.”
~ Processor

“So guys would, in the middle of shrimp season, they’d go shrimping, and then they’d come back and put on their groundfish gear, go out and catch a bunch of groundfish, and then return to shrimping again and do the same thing the next two-month period. So at least it kept groundfish coming into the dock on a regular basis throughout the year. And that enabled the processor to employ the skilled labor, the filleters. And it kept a lot of fresh groundfish in the market as well. Now with a bunch of groundfish coming in in March/April and another bunch coming in in October/November, there’s [nothing for] the filleters to do in the intervening months so the number of filleters the plant hires has gone down considerably. And the fish itself, because it’s coming in in rather large bunches at either end of the stream winds up going into the freezer because you can’t put that much fish out into the marketplace all at once and expect any decent return. And you’re still losing money somewhat on frozen fish, but it’s not as bad as everything going into the market at once.”
~ Processor

“You’ve seen guys like myself that had three boats that qualify, but I only fish [in the IFQ fishery] with two boats. But it’s not like I have one boat doing nothing. It’s fishing in [other fisheries] year-round. When I think of consolidation, I think a lack of jobs, lack of accessibility for crews, people making less money, that kind of stuff. I’ve been able to streamline the business a little bit to where two boats are fishing whiting here and one boat’s [pursuing other fisheries], so actually I’ve got more crew because we’re fishing more. I’ve added people and they rotate a month on and a month off on two boats. And on the other boat, they go two months on and a month off.”
~ Fisherman

“The way I look at it, we’ve had great shrimp years. Environmentally, we’ve had just terrific conditions for the last four or five years. And that’s not going to stay. It never does. And when it goes downturn now, it used to be you can go out there and work harder and do whatever, and you can’t do that now. You have so many constraints, and you got the costs so high. The fixed costs are so high that you can’t go out there and scrape anymore. And you can’t afford to catch too many canaries, yellow eye, halibut, all that stuff. Plus you’re paying a $500 day. Plus you’re paying the lease rates. And that’s why I think it’s more volatile. Pretty soon you’re going to have a crappy shrimp year, whether it’s next year or year after. And there’s going to be a bunch of guys, oh well, I better try to go dragging, you know, or spend more time dragging. So then everybody is going to be competing for leasing fish, which is great for the guys leasing it, ’cause their lease price will go up. But for those of us fishing, it just chips away at the profit.”
~ Fisherman


Baseline: Before Catch Share Program

West Coast groundfish trawl fishermen typically participate in a number of other fisheries, depending on the season, fishery conditions, and market opportunities. Over recent years, two of the most important alternative fisheries for the non-whiting groundfish fleet have been the Dungeness crab and pink shrimp fisheries. Non-whiting groundfish trawl vessels may also fish for other species during the year, such as salmon, halibut, and tuna, but these are typically caught in much lower volumes. Most vessels in the shorebased Pacific whiting fleet also participate in the at-sea Pacific whiting fishery or fisheries in Alaska, such as the pollock fishery.

Data on participation by non-whiting groundfish fishermen in the Dungeness crab and pink shrimp fisheries are currently available only for the Oregon fisheries. The West Coast pink shrimp fishery is centered in the waters off Oregon, which accounts for two-thirds to three-fourths of annual landings in the fishery. Oregon’s coastal waters are also an important source of Dungeness crab, accounting for about one-third of the West Coast annual harvest in recent years. From 2006 through 2008, participation (measured by number of vessels), landings, and revenues in the pink shrimp fishery by vessels with limited entry trawl groundfish permits steadily increased, followed by a drop and subsequent climb. A different pattern of participation was seen in the Dungeness crab fishery, where the number of vessels remained steady for several years despite decreases in landings and revenue. Peak seasons differ between these fisheries, providing opportunity to participate in both. For most areas of the West Coast, the Dungeness crab season starts in December and lasts into summer. The majority of crab is captured in the first two months of the season, however, due to peak holiday demand. Trawling for pink shrimp generally begins in the spring and may continue through the summer.

While groundfish trawl fishermen have historically engaged in a seasonal round of fishing activities, conditions in many local fisheries tend to be inconsistent. For example, Dungeness crab, pink shrimp, and salmon resources are highly cyclical. Pink shrimp landings have been affected by stock abundance, which varies substantially from year to year due largely to environmental factors that cause natural fluctuations in recruitment. Other factors that may explain the low landings in 2006 include a weak market attributed to competition from other warm-water and cold-water shrimp fisheries, competition from aquaculture production of warm-water species worldwide, increased fuel prices, and limited availability of shrimp processors on the West Coast. Participation in non-groundfish fisheries prior to the Shorebased IFQ program may also have been constrained by bimonthly cumulative trip limits in the non-whiting groundfish fishery (Management Framework). The trip limits required the non-whiting groundfish trawlers to spread their groundfish effort out into six two-month periods over the year. By distributing groundfish fishing effort over the year, the trip limits may have restricted the amount of time fishermen could spend in non-groundfish fisheries.

During Catch Share Program

One reason for reduced participation in the non-whiting groundfish fishery since the start of the Shorebased IFQ Program is that some fishermen participated in non-groundfish fisheries more consistently than they did prior to the catch share program (Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings). Security of allocations under the catch share program allowed fishermen to engage in other fisheries during the year without forgoing any of their groundfish landings. Moreover, the market for pink shrimp and, to some extent, Dungeness crab has been strong in recent years. While the average and total number of days at sea non-whiting groundfish vessels spent in the groundfish fishery decreased from 2009 to 2015 (Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings), the average and total number of days at sea they spent in non-IFQ fisheries increased (Average/Total Days at Sea in Non-IFQ Fisheries ). This shift in fishing effort contributed to a decrease in the proportion of total gross revenue that the average non-whiting groundfish vessel with a limited entry trawl permit generated from the groundfish fishery (Revenue from non-IFQ Fisheries ).

Data to assess if the additional fishing flexibility created by the catch share program led to a significant spillover effect on the pink shrimp and Dungeness crab fisheries are only available for 2011. In the first year of the program, total landings for pink shrimp in Oregon totaled more than 48 million pounds, which was a 53 percent increase from 2010. Moreover, ex-vessel prices for pink shrimp were high in 2011 due to decreased supplies in Canada for a similar species and strong demand in Europe, Japan, and China. However, the number of vessels holding limited entry trawl groundfish permits that participated in Oregon’s pink shrimp fishery decreased from 29 in 2010 to 24 in 2011. Furthermore, although 2011 was an exceptional shrimp year, groundfish trawler participants landed the lowest proportion of total shrimp volume since 2007. These data suggest that while groundfish trawl vessels benefited from high shrimp prices and the additional fishing flexibility created by the catch share program, the spillover effect of the Shorebased IFQ Program on Oregon’s pink shrimp fishery in 2011 was minimal.

Similarly, no spillover effect was observed in Oregon’s Dungeness crab fishery during the first year of the catch share program. The 2010–2011 crab season (December through May) was lucrative because it was a high-volume, high-price season. This pattern was partially driven by growing demand in Asia for live product. However, the number of groundfish trawl participants and their proportion of the total landings were similar to the 2009–2010 season. But in the 2011–2012 season, there was a decline in the proportion of Oregon crab landings harvested by groundfish trawlers.

The Shorebased IFQ Program provision that allows limited entry trawl permit holders to switch from trawl to fixed gears (Shorebased IFQ Program) created the potential for a spillover effect on non-catch share program groundfish fisheries. This gear switching could affect the existing fixed-gear fleet if it leads to overcrowding of fishing grounds where fixed gear is customarily used. An example of this congestion has been reported in the sablefish fixed gear fishery between Point Lopez and Point Conception. Fishermen that have traditionally participated in this fishery with longline gear complain about the number of vessels with limited entry trawl groundfish permits coming from ports in Oregon and Washington to harvest IFQ sablefish in the area with pot gear. During the 2011-2015 period, the sablefish fishing ground at around 35° N. latitude between Point Lopez and Point Conception was among the most important grounds for both non-IFQ longline vessels and IFQ pot vessels (Sablefish Landings by Latitude ). The setting of large numbers of pots on the fishing grounds makes it difficult for longline vessels to also use those grounds because of the risk of gear entanglement. Moreover, unlike the local longline vessels, the vessels eligible to participate in the catch share program are not subject to trip limits. On the other hand, these negative effects may be offset to some extent by the ability of fixed-gear fishermen to increase their fishing opportunities by leasing limited entry trawl groundfish permits and acquiring quota pounds (QP) for sablefish (Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings).

Data Gaps and Limitations

Data on the participation of limited entry trawl vessels in non-groundfish fisheries in Washington and California are currently unavailable. In addition, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has indicated that because of budget constraints it will not analyze the participation of limited entry trawl vessels in the Oregon 2012 pink shrimp fishery and 2012–2013 Dungeness crab fishery. Data on the fishery diversification of vessels that relinquished their limited entry trawl permits after implementation of the Shorebased IFQ Program are unavailable.

Information Sources

California Department of Fish and Game. 2008. Status of the Fisheries Report: An Update through 2006. Sacramento, CA.

Gilden, J. (editor). 1999. Oregon’s Changing Coastal Fishing Communities. Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon State University. Corvallis, OR.

Pacific Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service. 2010. Rationalization of the Pacific Coast Groundfish Limited Entry Trawl Fishery; Final Environmental Impact Statement Including Regulatory Impact Review and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis. Portland, OR.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2012. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Report on the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Program off Oregon. Prepared for Pacific Fishery Management Council. Portland, OR.

National Marine Fisheries Service. 2017a. West Coast Groundfish Trawl Catch Share Program Five-year Review – Draft. Pacific Fishery Management Council. Portland, OR.

National Marine Fisheries Service. 2017a. FISHeries Economics Explorer (FISHEyE). Available online: https://dataexplorer.northwestscience.fisheries.noaa.gov/fisheye/.

Somers, K, Y. Lee, J. Jannot, C. Whitmire, V. Tuttle, and J. McVeigh. 2017. Fishing Effort in the 2002-20 U.S. Pacific Coast Groundfish Fisheries. National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Seattle, WA.

Radtke, H. and S. Davis. 2000. Description of the U.S. West Coast Commercial Fishing Fleet and Seafood Processors. Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Portland, OR.

Updated: May 2018

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