More than a decade after overfishing led to the collapse of the one of the West Coast's most valuable fisheries, it has been certified as sustainable.
The international Marine Stewardship Council announced Tuesday in Portland, Oregon, it has certified that 13 bottom-dwelling species collectively known as groundfish are harvested in an environmentally sustainable way. That applies to species sold as red snapper, Dover sole and lingcod.
In a 400-page report, the council said federal regulations are in place to protect habitat, hold fishermen responsible and set harvest quotas based on scientific data.
The action led the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watchlist to move six West Coast rockfish species from "Avoid" status, to "Good Alternative."
"A proud day for fishermen in Oregon, Washington and California," Dan Averill, fishery outreach manager for the council, said in a statement. "MSC certification confirms the rigorous management of the fishery and assures a steady and stable supply of seafood long into the future."
It was not always so.
After the United States established a 200-mile exclusive fishing zone in 1977, the groundfish fleet grew rapidly, helped by the government. Warnings from scientists that the fishery was being depleted went unheeded until 2000, when the 20-year catch average dropped from 74,000 tons to 36,000 tons and the federal government declared an economic disaster.
The Government Accountability Office, the research arm of Congress, found that federal assessments of fish populations used to set groundfish seasons were based on questionable research.
Since then, Congress required that harvest quotas be based on scientific assessments of fish populations, and fishermen organized a buyback program that cut the fleet by one-third.