Giving Compass' Take:

• Breanna Draxler explains how environmentalists working together with the fishing industry and local tribes successfully improved fisheries. 

• How can this model be replicated elsewhere? What players in your community should be brought to the table to implement a partnership like this? 

• Read about the impact of climate change on sustainable seafood

When it comes to threatened Pacific species, groundfish rarely get the glory. They are not as charismatic as orcas, nor is their life history as inspiring as salmon’s. As seas warm and the threats of climate change take effect, what these bottom-dwellers—and the cultures that depend on them—do have going for them is an incredible and unexpected comeback story.

Historically, the Pacific groundfish fishery was run as a derby—essentially a race for fish.

By the 1970s, massive quantities of fish and bycatch were being hauled in via trawl nets all along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. But by the late 1990s, research began to reveal signs of overfishing among groundfish, which includes dozens of species that live near the ocean bottom, such as rockfish, roundfish, and flatfish. Since many of these species are long-lived, they are slow to grow and reproduce, meaning they’re also slow to recover from overharvesting. As the century turned, managers scrambled to close certain areas to fishing and reduce catch limits to prevent collapse.

“The first decade of the millennium, we were in sort of a frantic panic mode trying to gather more scientific information,” says Gretchen Hanshew, a fisheries management specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At the same time, NOAA worked to rein in some exploitative fishing practices to make sure they weren’t creating future problems.

Still, in 2001, a coalition of environmental groups sued the federal government to step up the management of overfished species and won. The result was a sweeping closure of fishing areas considered essential fish habitat, many as a precautionary measure. Managers essentially froze the map on trawl fishing until they could get a better handle on what was happening where.

While this protection may sound good on the surface, it was a big concern for both the commercial fishing industry and Native American tribes, which co-manage many natural resources, including fish stocks, in the Pacific Northwest.

The four tribes who exercise treaty rights in this stretch of the North Pacific are the Makah, Quileute, Hoh, and Quinault. Thanks to federal court cases, including Washington v. United States and U.S. v. Oregon, the tribes essentially share the harvestable surplus of any fish stock in their usual and accustomed fishing areas 50/50 with the nonnative fishing industry, both commercial and recreational. This kind of cooperative management between states, tribes, and the federal government is necessary because fish constantly cross the borders between these nations, says Rob Jones of the Northwest Indian Fish Commission. And despite a history of collaboration in the region, these closures did not sit well with the tribes.

Read the full article about when environmentalists and the fishing industry team up by Breanna Draxler at YES! Magazine.