Morro fishermen share concerns about catch shares

Tribune file photo by Jayson Mellom

Morro Bay commercial fisherman Wayne Moody testified before Congress on Thursday about the needs of Morro Bay and California’s other historic fishing towns.

Moody testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources at the invitation of Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who sits on the panel. Jeremiah O’Brien, another Morro Bay fisherman, attended the hearing but did not testify.

The topic of the hearing was catch shares, an increasingly popular fisheries management technique that allocates percentages of allowable catches to individual fishermen or groups of fishermen.

Catch shares can prevent overfishing but can also threaten the livelihoods of fishermen from smaller ports, such as Morro Bay and Port San Luis, if the shares are not distributed equitably, Capps said.

“They are not a panacea and should be tailored to each community and be part of a comprehensive policy,” she said. “If catch shares are not tied to landings, such as Morro Bay, they could be bought up by larger vessels from other communities.”

Catch shares have already been implemented in other areas, such as New England, Capps said. The Pacific Fisheries Management Council is expected to decide later this year how they will be used along the West Coast.

In his testimony, Moody made three recommendations for the National Marine Fisheries Service when implementing catch shares. They are:

“In 1985, approximately 15 million pounds of seafood products were landed in Morro Bay and its sister harbor, Port San Luis, mostly groundfish, with an ex-vessel value of almost $19 million,” he said. “By 2006, landings had dropped to 1.2 million pounds with an ex-vessel value of approximately $2.9 million.”

In 2005, The Nature Conservancy began buying up all local trawling permits and many of the trawling vessels. The Central Coast Groundfish Project, a community-based fishing group, was started to develop new, ecologically sustainable fisheries.

The group is experimenting with switching to less-damaging fishing gear, sharing observer costs, improving log book performance and testing electronic monitoring systems, Moody said.

Moody fishes for salmon and albacore aboard his 53-foot vessel, the Capriccio. He sits on the board of directors of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization.