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West Coast Groundfish


Project Background

In January 2011 the West Coast Groundfish fishery transitioned to a multispecies Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system, a form of catch-shares in which fishermen own shares of the total allowable catch for all target species and threatened bycatch species. This fishery presents an interesting example of the weak stock hurdle facing many fisheries around the world: species such as yelloweye and canary rockfish have been historically overfished, and since they grow and reproduce very slowly, they have extremely low annual catch limits which can be exceeded in a single accidental haul. This leaves many individual fishermen at a disadvantage compared to larger companies, as they are unable to risk the potential downside of having to purchase more expensive quota or being forced to stop fishing for the season.

Risk pools are emerging as a potential solution to this problem, in which individuals pay to join (and/or contribute their weak stock quota), and then the association pays from the aggregate quota to cover members that accidentally catch weak stock species. Usually membership within a risk pool requires fishermen to agree to actions which would decrease their chance of catching weak stock species, including restrictions to more selective gear and avoiding areas known to have higher densities of weak stock species.

With funding from Sea Grant, we are collaborating with partners at the University of Washington to document behavioral changes in fishermen, and the resulting social, environmental and economic impacts as risk pools emerge in this new ITQ system. We are developing a spatial bioeconomic model in order to project fishermen responses in terms of changes in gear selectivity, spatial distribution of fishing (e.g., to avoid weak stocks), and the adoption of risk pools. We will then empirically validate our model and specifically investigate whether: 1) Risk pools successfully reduce the economic and/or ecological problems associated with weak stock bycatch; 2) The new ITQ system creates de-facto MPAs through voluntary closures; 3) ITQs cause shifts in fishery landings and quota holdings among communities; and 4) Fishermen switch to more selective gears.

This project provides a unique opportunity not only to learn what changes arise from the transition to ITQs in the West Coast Groundfish fishery; but also evaluate benefits to fishermen resulting from cooperative mechanisms such as risk pools.

July 30, 2014 Live Chat

Researchers and collaborators on this project presented their work in video presentations available online. Stakeholders involved in the US West Coast Groundfish fishery were encouraged to watch the videos, comment in the online discussion board, and then participate in a virtual live chat that was held on July 30th, 2014. For more information visit:

A recording of the live chat is available here:

June 6, 2012 Webinar

Click here to download a zip file of our June 6, 2012 webinar (45 MB). Note that you may have to install a free codec to play the file through Windows Media Player - instructions and the codec can be found here:


Photo credit: Rockfish: Gerick Bergsma 2010/Marine Photobank