Photo: Trawl shift good for habitat and fishery

Foundation senior research scientist Scott Wallace helped turn B.C.’s trawl fishery around.

By Theresa Beer

Foundation senior research scientist Scott Wallace is creating an ocean of positive change. It's taken years of negotiation, but with your support, he's helped turn one of Canada's most criticized fisheries, the B.C. groundfish trawl, into one of its most well-regulated success stories.

The journey wasn't easy. Former adversaries — trawlers and environmentalists — had to agree on the issues and a shared goal to foster a fishery for future generations. The unlikely partners worked to get facts on the problems and create an agreement that reduces fishing impact, protects rare corals and sponges and is economically acceptable to the fleet.

Foundation projects like SeaChoice helped create market pressure to keep unsustainable seafood off supermarket shelves. The majority of B.C. trawl fishery products are sold to West Coast markets committed to sustainable seafood. But before this work, most were in the "red", or "avoid buying" category. The incentive was to move as much as possible to the "yellow" category, to meet retail sustainability criteria.

The trawl agreement is the world's first to set up a habitat quota system, an innovative way to limit damage to sensitive corals and sponges. Now ecosystem-based trawl boundaries reduce fishing grounds, and sponge and coral catches are limited to less than 20 kilograms per tow. Video monitoring verifies 100 per cent of operations, a prior reform that made the trawl agreement possible.

The results were better than anyone expected. In the agreement's first year, from a total of 6,622 tows, there were just four boundary infractions and only 10 per cent of the coral and sponge bycatch limit was used. The fishery's seafood ranking is under review and we're hopeful the results will be good for the fleet.

What's the lesson? Protecting habitat is good for the ocean and for the future of our fisheries.