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Aaron Longston fishes black cod as a hook and line fishermen and hails from the small boat fleet in Port Orford. He isn’t allowed to own quota under the new trawl program – access is restricted to boats that own trawl permits. Since the trawl program began, however, guys like Longston have had to share their fishing grounds between 100 fathoms and 200 fathoms with larger trawl boats that have been allowed to switch to fixed gear, like the Michele Ann and Timmy Boy. Those boats can now come inside the 200 fathom line.
"We’ve always been able to fish in there without the pressure of all that extra quota. Now with gear switching, they are right on top of us," he said.
Port Orford’s unique location six miles from where groundfish are abundant, a 12-mile edge on ports like Newport and Astoria, help make it possible for small boats to be successful in the area. That’s good, because the port can’t handle larger boats. Because its vessels are actually hoisted into the water from a shipyard, they have a weight limit of roughly 43,000 pounds, a limit that excludes boats longer than 40 feet.
These are boats that used to be able to fetch higher prices, since line or pot caught black cod is worth more. But since the trawl program has put more such black cod on the market, lower prices have combined with the declining yen to make business tough.
As they grapple for an edge, community supported fisheries are a possible advantage. Longston is the manager of Port Orford Sustainable Seafood, where customers pay regularly for fresh fish deliveries. Modeled on a community supported farm, the CSF, as it’s called, is in its fifth year ferrying fish from Port Orford to the I-5 corridor. It drops fish in 13 locations. Three in Portland; one each in Salem, Corvallis, Roseburg and Bandon; and six in the Rogue Valley: Cave Junction, Grants Pass, Jacksonville, Ashland, Medford and Eagle Point.
Though the creators of the program say it was only fair that trawl fishermen be awarded rights consistent with their pre-program catch, Longston questions why, in a program where environmental gain was a primary goal, the door wasn’t left open for hook and line fishers to buy quota, especially when trawl boats now have access to their grounds.
As it stands, small boat fishermen can’t add more fish to their repertoire unless they buy a trawl permit. That’s off the table, Longston says. “You have to be millionaire to get in.”
NOAA is aware of the potential for conflicts. Frank Lockhart, the groundfish program manager in the Sustainable Fisheries Division of NOAA, says the council will likely address it in 2016, during a fifth-year review of the program.
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