PWCC Catch Management Program

Minimizing and avoiding bycatch is of great concern to the PWCC.  Catcher/processor vessels, working cooperatively via the PWCC, use several bycatch avoidance and minimization techniques -- such as 100% observer coverage, real-time sharing of catch and bycatch data, and agreements to avoid "hotspot" areas.  Accordingly, bycatch in the catcher/processor sector of the Pacific whiting fishery is typically very low. In most years the total bycatch has been 1% or less of total whiting catch. Years of high bycatch generally coincide with cyclical population events, such as in 2004 when Humboldt squid appeared off the Washington-Oregon coast in large numbers and comprised over 70% of the total non-whiting bycatch; which is the cause for the increase shown in the figure below. In 2005, bycatch of non-target fish species was 0.32% of total whiting catch. In 2006, this amount was 0.25% of total whiting catch.

The formation of the PWCC in 1997 brought about a reduction in the number of annually active catcher/processor vessels from 10 to 6 or 7. During the season, PWCC vessels communicate information about high bycatch areas to be avoided. Because they no longer race for fish, PWCC vessels can take the time to find areas with high whiting abundance and/or move away from areas with high occurrence of bycatch. To help avoid these bycatch "hotspots," PWCC members report catch and bycatch data electronically to Sea State, a private firm specializing in fisheries data collection and analysis. Sea State collates the data and reports back to PWCC vessels on a real-time basis, advising vessel captains to avoid areas in which high bycatch is likely to occur.  Each PWCC vessel carries two NMFS-certified observers who monitor, record, and report all fishing activities to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Historically, the domestic whiting fishery has maintained relatively low bycatch.  Therefore, while there does not appear to be a significant reduction in overall bycatch from the pre-PWCC catcher/processor fishery there have been major reductions in bycatch of species of concern, such as ESA-listed Pacific salmon and overfished rockfish.

Salmon

The primary salmon taken as bycatch in the Pacific whiting fishery is Chinook salmon with other salmon taken in very low amounts, if at all. The whiting fishery has a bycatch guideline of 11,000 fish, or a rate of 0.05 Chinook per metric ton of whiting. This amount is shared among all sectors of the fishery, and all fishery sectors endeavor to avoid and minimize salmon bycatch. In the catcher/processor fishery, PWCC vessels fishing cooperatively maintain very low salmon bycatch, well below the 0.05 rate.  Compared to the threshold rate of 0.05, the  PWCC rates were 0.01 in 2003, 0.005 in 2004, 0.02 in 2005, and 0.001 in 2006.

Rockfish

The average bycatch of all rockfish between 1995 and 2004 was 268 metric ton, or 4.3 kilogram of rockfish per metric ton of whiting. This amounts to an overall rockfish bycatch rate of less than ½ of 1 percent of the total whiting catch. At these low amounts, occasionally fluctuations in the bycatch rate occur. For instance in 1999, a small number of hauls with large amounts of yellowtail rockfish caused the bycatch amount and rate to increase significantly. Similarly, in 2002 one haul containing a large amount of widow rockfish caused an overall increase in the annual bycatch rate.

However, in general, the bycatch rate for rockfish is less than in the pre-PWCC period, for example, yellowtail rockfish has decreased by more than 90%. Prior to formation of the PWCC, the rate was 2.47 kg of yellowtail rockfish per metric ton of whiting; in 2004, the rate was 0.09 kg per metric ton; in 2005, the rate was 0.60 kg/mt; and in 2006, the rate decreased dramatically to 0.04 kg/mt.

Since 2004, the Pacific whiting fishery has been managed with hard bycatch caps for 3 overfished rockfish -- canary rockfish, darkblotched rockfish, and widow rockfish.  If any one of these hardcaps, which are shared by the 3 non-tribal fishery sectors, are exceeded the directed whiting fishery can be closed.  This system of management has necessitated even greater diligence to avoid and minimize bycatch of these species, especially given that performance in one sector can greatly impact the other sectors. Through our cooperative, the PWCC has maintained low bycatch rates for these species. For example, kg/mt rates of canary rockfish in the catcher/processor sector, have declined to very low levels since implementation of the bycatch caps -- declining from 0.007 kg/mt in 2004 to 0.004 kg/mt in 2005 to 0.001 kg/mt in 2006.

The PWCC Philosophy

The ability to communicate information amongst PWCC vessels and between other segments of the industry helps to facilitate bycatch reduction in the whiting fishery as a whole. For example, the PWCC has prepared charts detailing known bycatch hotspots from information provided by interviews with Washington and Oregon coastal fishermen. The hotspots identify areas with high concentrations of yellowtail and widow rockfish. Copies of these charts were provided to all vessels in the whiting fishery, along with the latitude and longitude of the areas. PWCC fishermen are required to avoid these areas and not fish there unless they are confident that only whiting is present in the area.

Since the PWCC was founded bycatch avoidance and minimization has been a paramount goal of the organization. Research is ongoing to develop methods and fishing gears to reduce bycatch in the whiting fishery. In 2003 and 2004, five vessels were equipped with recording conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) meters to examine if relationships between bycatch rates and oceanographic conditions could be found that would provide a signal to skippers that they were in areas of potentially significant bycatch. In prior years, PWCC contracted with Scientific Fisheries to test the utility of broadband sonar to identify bycatch species in the trawl path.

The PWCC is proud to be a leader in developing and using responsible fishing techniques to ensure sustainable fisheries.  We will continue to do what is required to maintain the whiting fishery as one of the cleanest fisheries in the world.

Updated August 30, 2007