Have fleetwide catches stayed within quotas?

Indicator: Ratio of Catch to Quota

Short Answer: Yes. On average, catches were below quota in the six years preceding the catch share program and decreased further under catch shares.

Key Findings

  • Looking across all groundfish stocks, fishermen landed an average of 47 percent of quota during the six years leading up to the catch share program (2005–2010). In the first six years of the program (2011–2016), they landed only 29 percent of quota.
  • The low percentage of quota landed across all stocks under catch shares seems to have resulted from fishermen being constrained in catching some stocks with relatively high quotas because of the risks of inadvertently catching too much of other stocks that had very low quotas.
  • Under catch shares, fishermen were able to land more than 75 percent of quota for the three most valuable species in the fishery (sablefish, petrale sole, and Pacific whiting).
  • Ecologically, the catch share program has been successful in terms of maintaining catches below catch limits. However, the low percentages of quota that fishermen were able to catch led to mixed economic and social effects of the catch share program.

Interactive Chart Story


This indicator shows the amount of fish caught compared to the total catch limit.


Baseline: Before Catch Share Program

The catch-to-quota ratio in the non-whiting groundfish fishery declined by more than a quarter from 2004 to 2010, averaging 40 percent and ranging as high as 62 percent in 2005 and 54 percent in 2006. Catches were routinely well below fleetwide quotas. For all baseline years, more than 59 percent  of all stocks had catches less than 50 percent of quota. Fishermen most often caught close to the full quotas for commercially valuable species such as Dover sole, Pacific whiting, sablefish, shortspine thornyhead, and petrale sole, as well as for long-lived and slow-growing stocks such as bocaccio, canary rockfish, and cowcod that were later declared overfished, requiring rebuilding action.

During Catch Share Program

In the first six years of the catch share program, fishermen routinely caught below fleetwide quotas at a higher proportion compared with baseline years. Catch-to-quota ratios for groundfish stocks and rebuilding stocks averaged 29 percent (2011–2016), a substantial decline from the average of 47 percent prior to catch share implementation (2004–2010).

In the Pacific whiting fleet, a large fishery with low bycatch of the other groundfish species, catch-to-quota ratios declined from 99 percent in 2011 to 61 percent in 2016, which coincided with a large increase in biomass and quota, suggesting that market forces may have played a role in the decline.

Average catch-to-quota ratios for rebuilding species increased from 20 percent in 2011 to 29 percent in 2016, with a peak of 40 percent in 2015. As of 2016, rebuilding species included canary rockfish, cowcod, darkblotched rockfish, Pacific ocean perch, and yelloweye rockfish.  

The proportion of stocks with catch below half of the quota remained above 80 percent since implementation of the catch share program. For only three stocks (petrale sole, Pacific whiting, and northern sablefish) were catches consistently more than half of the quota after program implementation. The higher catch-to-quota ratios for those three stocks were due in part to the flexibility awarded to fishermen and the ability to target certain species by changing fishing gears and fishing patterns. Petrale sole form spawning aggregations in winter, making them easier for fishermen to target while avoiding overfished species. Pacific whiting are caught with midwater trawls, as opposed to the bottom trawls used to harvest most non-whiting groundfish. A large proportion of sablefish were caught with fixed gear, which are more selective than other types of gear. As a result, fishermen are able to avoid catching rebuilding species and selectively target those three profitable species.

From 2014 to 2016, no stocks had catches above the fleet-wide quota limits.


Information Sources

All catch and TAC (either as Annual Catch Limit, Optimum Yield, or Allowable Biological Catch) data were obtained from reports listed on the NWFSC observer program website:

Updated: May 2018

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