H-MORRO BAY

Dec 30, 2013 8:52 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Fishing quotas causing concern in Morro Bay

Commercial fishing in Morro Bay could suffer a big blow come January 1. That's because a two-year old program called the "Catch Share System" will allow fishermen to buy and sell fish catch quotas to the highest bidder after the New Year.

It was originally established two years ago after a decade of research, and it was meant to halt the overfishing of ground fish. Those species include black cod, rock cod and a number of others. However, many fishermen now say the program may put them out of business and eliminates new fishermen from coming into the market.

"It was a big push by most environmental groups across the nation," said Morro Bay fisherman Mark Tognazzini. "They thought this was the answer to all answers and it really has not been."

Tognazzini is a staple in the Morro Bay fishing community. He says the "big fish" are the only ones who benefit when it comes to catch share programs.

"These things are often promoted by the big and powerful," said Tognazzini.

Under the program, the total allowable catch in the fishery is divided into shares and passed out based on fish catch data. These shares represent the number of pounds available to catch for the year.

Many people in the fishing community say the shares were not distributed fairly.

"In the old days, a guy could work hard, go fishing and build up a reputation for a great quality product and now you have to buy it," said Tognazzini.

He's referring to the fact that when the quotas were handed out, many landed in the boats of big, non-local fishing companies which now control the majority of the catch. And even when small fishers head out, they must have a federally certified observer monitoring the catch. At $500 a day, Tognazzini says, it's not cheap.

"It ultimately costs the person who's going to eat that fish," he said.

Michael Bell of the Nature Conservancy acknowledges the program has its setbacks.

"You have this consolidation effect, and these traditional fishing communities have lost access," said Bell.

He says the program has led small local fishing operations to sell their quotas to larger non-local companies, and in many cases, buying those back is too costly and the quotas could be in the hands of those non-local businesses forever.

Bell says while the social acceptance of the program has not been overwhelming, the recovery to the fish population and ecosystem has been positive.

The Nature Conservancy says making sure the quotas are fairly distributed is the number one goal. A number of quotas have been set aside with plans to distribute them only to local fisherman.

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