Huge Improvement in Seafood Watch Rankings for Key West Coast Fisheries

Sep 02, 2014

Aquarium News
Conservation & Science
Seafood Watch

In summary:

  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program has upgraded 21 species of West Coast groundfish – including sablefish, rockfish typically sold as “snapper” and popular flatfish species caught by bottom trawl and other methods – to either a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative”. Many had previously been listed as species to “Avoid”.
  • Overall, 84% of commercial groundfish landings from California, Oregon and Washington have earned a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” recommendation as environmentally responsible seafood options. This does not include Pacific hake, which comprises the majority of the groundfish catch by volume and is already a “Good Alternative.”
  • The turnaround from “Avoid” status to a sustainable ranking is unprecedented in the number of species affected, and has occurred because of management improvements implemented following a federal disaster declaration for the fishery in 2000 – including the continuing recovery of overfished species, quotas that better take uncertainty into account, closures to protect vulnerable habitat, and excellent monitoring and control of catch.
  • The groundfish recovery mirrors similar improvements in other U.S fisheries under new management rules set by Congress in 2006, which are providing a positive example to other nations around the world. The vast majority of the 175 species assessed by the aquarium’s respected Seafood Watch program (98 percent by volume of U.S. catch) are rated either as a Best Choice or Good Alternative.

(September 2, 2014-Monterey, California) – Just 14 years after the groundfish fishery on the U.S. west coast was declared a commercial fishery failure, the respected Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program has upgraded 21 species in the fishery from its “Avoid” list to a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” ranking.

It is the most dramatic turnaround to date, and reflects significant improvements in federal fishery management to restore these economically important fisheries in California, Oregon and Washington.

With today’s release of the new science report, all groundfish caught on the West Coast assessed by Seafood Watch are rated either a “Good Alternative” or “Best Choice”. This includes a host of rockfish species – sometimes offered by restaurants and markets as “snapper” – and myriad flatfishes, including Dover sole, petrale sole, starry flounder and sand dabs.

“This is one of the great success stories about ecological and economic recovery of a commercially important fishery,” said Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science, and chief conservation officer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “A huge part of the turnaround is reliance on science-based conservation and management practices that Congress endorsed in its 2006 update of U.S. fishery law.”

In the new Seafood Watch report:

  • All trawl- and longline-caught rockfish assessed have been upgraded from “Avoid” to either “Good Alternative” or “Best Choice”
  • Flatfish species – including Dover sole, English sole, and Pacific sanddabs– have been upgraded from “Good Alternative” to “Best Choice”
  • Pacific grenadier has been upgraded from “Avoid” to “Good Alternative”
  • Spiny dogfish, a species of shark, has been upgraded from “Avoid” to “Best Choice”

In June, the Marine Stewardship Council certified 13 trawl-caught groundfish species as coming from a sustainable and well-managed fishery.

“This recognition highlights the success of the West Coast groundfish catch share program at improving the sustainability of the fishery,” said Frank Lockhart, head of the West Coast groundfish recovery effort for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries division. “Not only has it reduced impacts on the species we need to protect, but it has allowed fishermen increased flexibility to fish more effectively for the species they want – benefiting industry, fishing communities and seafood consumers."

“Not long ago many of these species were in collapse,” said Tim Fitzgerald, who manages the sustainable seafood program for the Environmental Defense Fund – one of the organizations that worked with fishermen and fisheries managers on the turnaround. “Thanks to smarter fishing regulations and fishermen’s commitment to conservation, consumers and seafood businesses can now add West Coast groundfish to their list of sustainable choices.”

Key factors contributing to fishery improvements that led to the new recommendations include approaches that cut down on the catch of overfished species, use of area closures and creation of marine protected areas to safeguard vulnerable habitat, conservative fishing quotas that take into account uncertainty in the understanding of fish biology and fisheries, accountable catch limits, and better monitoring and control of the catch.

"It is so gratifying to see fishermen and conservation interests coming together to agree that trawl-caught groundfish – rockfishes, petrale sole, black cod and more – are harvested sustainably and with care for their habitats,” said Monterey Harbormaster Steve Scheiblauer. “These fish have been a cornerstone of Monterey's fishing heritage and economy. It's great to see Seafood Watch acknowledge the management changes that have brought this fishery back.”

“For chefs, this is great news,” said Richard Blais, a Top Chef All Stars winner and a member of the Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel of national culinary leaders. “It gives us more sustainable seafood options to work with. More importantly, it shows that we can bring the oceans back to health and turn fisheries around when we work together.”

The West Coast groundfish fisheries were declared an economic disaster early in 2000, when landings and fishing income plummeted.

“The turnaround in such a short time is unprecedented,” said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of the Seafood Watch program. “Fishermen, federal agencies and our environmental colleagues have put so much effort into groundfish recovery, and now we’re seeing the results of their work.”

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that's fished or farmed in ways that protect sea life and habitats, now and for future generations. Its recommendations indicate which seafood items are "Best Choices" or "Good Alternatives," and other to "Avoid."

Since 1999, Seafood Watch has distributed over 45 million consumer guides, and a free smartphone app has been downloaded more than a million times. Its business program encourages restaurants, distributors and seafood purveyors to purchase from sustainable sources. More than 1,000 businesses across North America rely on Seafood Watch science to guide their seafood purchases – including two of the largest food service companies on the continent.

The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans. In October, the aquarium celebrates its 30th anniversary, and the 15th anniversary of its Seafood Watch program.


Notes: A table featuring all of the changes to Seafood Watch recommendations is available through the Public Relations office at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean.