West Coast Fisheries Record Rare Environmental Victory

Courthouse News Service –

A rare environmental success story is unfolding for bottom trawler fishermen in waters off the U.S. West Coast.

After years of fear and uncertainty, bottom trawlers, who use nets to catch rockfish, bocaccio, sole, Pacific Ocean perch and other deep-dwelling fish, are making a comeback as a sustainable industry less than two decades after authorities closed huge stretches of the Pacific Ocean because of the species’ depletion.

The ban devastated fishermen, but on Jan. 1, regulators will reopen an area roughly three times the size of Rhode Island off Oregon and California to groundfish bottom trawling —with the approval of environmental groups that were once the industry’s biggest foes.

The rapid turnaround featured collaboration between fishermen and environmentalists who spent years refining a long-term fishing plan that will continue to resuscitate the groundfish industry while permanently protecting thousands of square miles of reefs and coral beds that benefit the overfished species.

Now the fishermen who see their livelihood returning must solve another piece of the puzzle: drumming up consumer demand for fish that haven’t been in grocery stores or on menus for a generation.

“It’s really a conservation home run,” said Shems Jud, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s ocean program. “The recovery is decades ahead of schedule. It’s the biggest environmental story that no one knows about.”

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