US West Coast limited entry groundfish trawl — Marine Stewardship Council
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You are here: Home Track a fishery Fisheries in the MSC program Certified fisheries Pacific US West Coast limited entry groundfish trawl

US West Coast limited entry groundfish trawl

Last Updated: 14 July 2016 

MSC status

Certified as sustainable in 3 June 2014. 


Arrowtooth flounder (atheresthes stomias)
Chilipepper rockfish (sebastes goodei)
Dover sole (microstomus pacificus)
English sole (parophrys vetulus)
Ling cod (ophiodon elongatus)
Longnose Skates (raja rhina)
Longspine Thornyheads (sebastolobus altivelis)
Petrale sole (eopsetta jordani)
Sablefish (anoplopoma fimbria)
Shortspine thornyheads (sebastolobus alascanus)
Splitnose rockfish (sebastes diploproa)
Widow rockfish (sebastes entomelas)
Yellowtail rockfish (sebastes flavidus) - North Eureka unit of certification only
US West Coast Pacific EEZ waters (i.e. off Washington, Oregon, California) between the southern Canadian EEZ border and the northern Mexican EEZ border. FAO Statistical Areas:  67 and 77.
Fishing methods:  Otter Trawl configurations including large footrope, selective flatfish trawl, and small footrope trawl gear and mid-water trawl configuration.
Number of fisheries: 17

More about the target species

Lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) range from Baja California, Mexico, to Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. They are demersal at all life stages. Adult lingcod prefer two main habitat types: slopes of submerged banks 10m to 70m below the surface with seaweed, kelp, and eelgrass beds and channels with swift currents that flow around rocky reefs. Juveniles prefer sandy substrates in estuaries and shallow subtidal zones. As the juveniles grow, they move to deeper waters. Adult lingcod are considered a relatively sedentary species, but there are reports of migrations of greater than 100 km by sexually immature fish.

Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) are distributed in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from the southern tip of Baja California, northward to the north-central Bering Sea and in the northwestern Pacific Ocean from Kamchatka, southward to the northeastern coast of Japan. Large adults are uncommon south of Point Conception (California). Adults are found as deep as 1,900 m, but are most abundant between 200 m and 1,000 m; however off southern California, sablefish are abundant to depths of 1,500 m. Adults and large juveniles commonly occur over sand and mud in deep marine waters. They have also been reported on hard-packed mud and clay bottoms in the vicinity of submarine canyons.

Arrowtooth Flounder
Arrowtooth flounder (Atheresthes stomias) range from the southern coast of Kamchatka to the northwest Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to San Simeon, California. Arrowtooth flounder is the dominant flounder species on the outer continental shelf from the western Gulf of Alaska to Oregon. Arrowtooth flounder are oviparous with external fertilization and eggs are about 2.5 mm in diameter. Spawning may occur deeper than 500 m off Washington. They are batch spawners and spawn in the deeper continental shelf waters (>200 m) in the late fall through early spring and move inshore during the summer. Eggs and larvae are pelagic; juveniles and adults are demersal. The larvae spend approximately four weeks in the upper 100 m of the water column and settle to the bottom in the late winter and early spring. Juveniles and adults are most commonly found on sand or sandy gravel substrates, but occasionally occur over low-relief rock-sponge bottoms. Arrowtooth flounder exhibit a strong migration from shallow water summer feeding grounds on the continental shelf to deep water spawning grounds over the continental slope. Depth distribution may vary from as little as 50 m in summer to more than 500 m in the winter.

Dover Sole
Dover sole (Microstomus pacificus) are distributed from the Navarin Canyon in the northwest Bering Sea and westernmost Aleutian Islands to San Cristobal Bay, Baja California, Mexico. They are a dominant flatfish on the continental shelf and slope from Washington to Southern California. Adults are demersal and are found from 9m to 1,450 m, with highest abundance below 200 m to 300 m. Adults and juveniles show a high affinity toward soft bottoms of fine sand and mud. Juveniles are often found in deep nearshore waters. Dover sole are considered to be a migratory species. In the summer and fall, mature adults and juveniles can be found in shallow feeding grounds, as shallow as 55 m off British Columbia. By late fall, Dover sole begin moving offshore into deep waters (400 m or more) to spawn. Although there is an inshore-offshore seasonal migration, little north-south coastal migration occurs.

English Sole
English sole (Parophrys vetulus) are found from Nunivak Island in the southeast Bering Sea and Agattu Island in the Aleutian Islands, to San Cristobal Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. In research survey data, nearly all occurred at depths greater than 250 m. Adults and juveniles prefer soft bottoms composed of fine sands and mud but also occur in eelgrass habitats. English sole use nearshore coastal and estuarine waters as nursery areas. Adults make limited migrations. Those off Washington show a northward post-spawning migration in the spring on their way to summer feeding grounds and a southerly movement in the fall. Tagging studies have identified separate stocks based on this species’ limited movements and meristic characteristics.

Petrale Sole
Petrale sole (Eopsetta jordani) are found from Cape Saint Elias, Alaska to Coronado Island, Baja California, Mexico. The range may possibly extend into the Bering Sea, but the species is rare north and west of southeast Alaska and in the inside waters of British Columbia. Adults are found from the surf line to 550 m depth, but their highest abundance is deeper than 300 m. Adults migrate seasonally between deepwater winter spawning areas to shallower spring feeding grounds. They show an affinity to sand, sandy mud, and occasionally muddy substrates.

Chilipepper Rockfish
Chilipepper rockfish (Sebastes goodei) are found from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico, to as far north as the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The region of greatest abundance is found between Point Conception and Cape Mendocino, California. Chilipepper have been taken as deep as 425 m, but nearly all in survey catches were taken between 50 and 350 m. Adults and older juveniles usually occur over the shelf and slope; larvae and small juveniles are generally found near the surface. In California, chilipepper are most commonly found associated with deep, high relief rocky areas and along cliff drop-offs as well as on sand and mud bottoms. They are occasionally found over flat, hard substrates. It is not considered a migratory species.

Longspine Thornyhead
Longspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus altivelis) are found from the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, to the Aleutian Islands but are abundant from Southern California northward. Juvenile and adult longspine thornyhead are demersal and occupy the benthic surface. Off Oregon and California, longspine thornyhead mainly occur at depths of 400 m to 1,400 plus m, most between 600 m and 1,000 m in the oxygen minimum zone. Thornyhead larvae (Sebastolobus spp.) have been taken in research surveys up to 560 km off the California coast. Juveniles settle on the continental slope at about 600 m to 1,200 m. Longspine thornyhead live on soft bottoms, preferably sand or mud.

Shortspine Thornyhead
Shortspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus alascanus) are found from northern Baja California, Mexico, to the Bering Sea and occasionally to the Commander Islands north of Japan. They are common from Southern California northward. Shortspine thornyhead inhabit areas over the continental shelf and slope. Although they can occur as shallow as 26 m, shortspine thornyhead mainly occur in depths between 100 m and 1,400 m off Oregon and California, most commonly between 100 m to 1,000 m.

Splitnose Rockfish
Splitnose rockfish (Sebastes diploproa) occur from Prince William Sound, Alaska to San Martin Island, Baja California, Mexico. Splitnose rockfish occur from zero m to 800 m, with most survey catches occurring in depths of 100 m to 450 m. The relative abundance of juveniles (<21 cm) is quite high in the 91 m to 272 m depth zone and then decreases sharply in the 274 m to 475 m depth zone. Splitnose rockfish have a pelagic larval stage, a prejuvenile stage, and a benthic juvenile stage. Benthic splitnose rockfish associate with mud habitats. Young occur in shallow water, often at the surface under drifting kelp. Juvenile splitnose rockfish off Southern California are the dominant rockfish species found under drifting kelp.

Widow Rockfish
Widow rockfish (Sebastes entomelas) range from Albatross Bank off Kodiak Island to Todos Santos Bay, Baja California, Mexico. They occur over hard bottoms along the continental shelf and prefer rocky banks, seamounts, ridges near canyons, headlands, and muddy bottoms near rocks. Large widow rockfish concentrations occur off headlands such as Cape Blanco, Cape Mendocino, Point Reyes, and Point Sur. Adults form dense, irregular, midwater and semi-demersal schools deeper than 100 m at night and disperse during the day. All life stages are pelagic, but older juveniles and adults are often associated with the bottom. All life stages are fairly common from Washington to California. Pelagic larvae and juveniles co-occur with yellowtail rockfish, chilipepper, shortbelly rockfish, and bocaccio larvae and juveniles off central California.

Yellowtail Rockfish
Yellowtail rockfish (Sebastes flavidus) range from San Diego, California, to Kodiak Island, Alaska. The center of yellowtail rockfish abundance is from Oregon to British Columbia. Yellowtail rockfish are a common, demersal species abundant over the middle shelf. Yellowtail rockfish are most common near the bottom, but not on the bottom. Yellowtail rockfish adults are considered semi-pelagic or pelagic, which allows them to range over wider areas than benthic rockfish. Adult yellowtail rockfish occur along steeply sloping shores or above rocky reefs. They can be found above mud with cobble, boulder and rock ridges, and sand habitats; they are not, however, found on mud, mud with boulder, or flat rock. Yellowtail rockfish form large (sometimes greater than 1,000 fish) schools and can be found alone or in association with other rockfishes. These schools may persist at the same location for many years.

Longnose Skate
The distribution of the longnose skate (Raja rhina) is limited to the eastern Pacific Ocean between 61° N Latitude and 28° N Latitude. It is found as far north as Navarin Canyon in the Bering Sea and Unalaska Island in Alaska to as far south as Cedros Island, Baja California in Mexico at depths of 25–684 m. Longnose skates do not exhibit a size-specific pattern in distribution relative to bottom depth; average fish size does not vary greatly with depth.

More about the fishing methods

Limited entry: fishers with limited entry permits. The limited entry program limits the number of vessels allowed to participate in a fishery. The limited entry sector is divided into limited entry trawl (bottom and pelagic trawl) and limited entry fixed gear (longlines, traps and pots). Open access: fishers targeting groundfish without limited entry permits, and fishers who target nongroundfish fisheries that incidentally catch groundfish. Trawl gear may not be used in the directed groundfish open access fishery. Trawl gears for target species such as pink shrimp, California halibut, ridgeback prawns, and sea cucumbers are exempted from this rule. Recreational: anglers targeting groundfish species and others who target non-groundfish species but who incidentally take groundfish.

Tribal: commercial fishers with a federally recognized treaty right to fish for federally managed groundfish in their “usual and accustomed” fishing areas. The treaty tribes, all located in Washington state, include the Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah. Formal tribal allocations exist for sablefish, and Pacific whiting. Other groundfish species allocations for this sector are decided by annual Council action.

Commercial market

West coast groundfish compete in both the fresh and frozen fish product markets, on a global scale not only with similar species produced in other regions of the world but with other fish species such as salmon and tuna. In 2006, Japan was the largest destination for exported fish products, with 19% of exports going to Japan.  Close behind Japan, China and Canada were the largest export destination at 15% and 10% respectively.

Actual eligibility date

19 June 2013

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