Our fisheries were not always as viable as they are today. Since the early 1990’s and through 2007, our fleet, then known as the Head and Gut (H & G) fleet, was engaged in a hyper-competitive race to fish characterized by high levels of bycatch and discard volumes that often exceeded 50%. While bycatch can be especially problematic in mixed stock fisheries such ours, the H & G fleet did not have incentives to avoid bycatch and often caught or exceeded limits of prohibited species catch (such as halibut or crab) before the quota for our target species was taken. This resulted in the H & G fisheries being shut down prematurely, with thousands of metric tons of valuable flatfish left unharvested. With high bycatch and high discards, the H & G fleet developed a reputation as a wasteful fishery which faced an uncertain regulatory and economic future.
Groundfish Forum was initially formed in 1996 to combat high bycatch by developing methods and tools to reduce prohibited species catch of crab. To do this, Groundfish Forum began to systematically use fishery observer data on a real time basis to actively manage crab bycatch within the fleet. Use of real time data provided by Sea State allowed fishermen to rapidly respond when they encountered high bycatch rates, resulting in crab bycatch falling by seven-fold within the first year of implementation. Building on this success, Groundfish Forum began developing other methods to avoid unwanted species and reduce habitat impacts through gear modifications. The lessons learned from these efforts to reduce bycatch, reduce discards and protect habitat ultimately became the cornerstones and foundational principles to rationalize the H & G fleet in 2008 through the implementation of the Amendment 80 program.
Since the H&G fleet became rationalized in 2008 under Amendment 80, individual vessels now receive an individual allocation for target species and bycatch. Each vessel has on board two federally mandated fishery observers 100% of the time, so that the volume of total catch and bycatch is carefully monitored and strictly enforced. Because vessels are no longer racing to fish, the fishery has slowed down to a rational pace. This allows operators more opportunities to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable, as well as experiment with gear modifications as a way to minimize habitat impacts.