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Groundfish Trawl Fishery

Groundfish is a multi-stock fishery off the US West Coast with 90+ species living on or near the ocean bottom. Most species of groundfish are coastwide stocks, and some of them vary in concentration from north to south. Species composition also varies with depth with their habitat ranging from nearshore waters to depths as great as 3,500 meters (1,900 fathoms).

In Oregon, the commercial groundfish fishery is comprised of several sectors, of which Trawl is the largest. Oregon trawl fishermen sustainably catch a variety of groundfish using bottom trawl and midwater trawl gear.

Top 10 most commercially harvested non-whiting groundfish off Oregon: Widow rockfish, Dover sole, Yellowtail rockfish, Petrale sole, Sablefish, Arrowtooth flounder, Canary rockfish, Lingcod, Shortspine thornyheads, and Pacific Ocean perch. 

Trawl is inherently a high-volume fishing sector. Oregon’s trawl sector operates out of the ports of Astoria, Newport, Coos Bay, and Brookings. Our industry is responsible for ~90% of the entire production volume of groundfish in Oregon. On average, we produce around 40 million pounds of various non-whiting groundfish each year with the value of $18 million to fishermen alone. Our sector provides a year-round fishing opportunity and a year-round supply of locally caught wild sustainable groundfish products.

As a high-volume year-round fishery, groundfish trawl together with the Whiting fishery, is the backbone of the entire Oregon’s commercial fishing and seafood production industry. We support Oregon’s year-round fishing and processing infrastructure, which all other local fisheries depend on throughout the year. We also support thousands of direct and indirect fishing and processing jobs and a substantial economic activity in Oregon's coastal fishing communities.

Trawl is the only harvest method that allows catching groundfish efficiently and sustainably at the same time. While trawl can sometimes have a bad reputation, over the years our industry has made considerable strides in improving the design of trawl gear deployed off Oregon and the rest of the West Coast to catch groundfish.

This fishery has had a fascinating history. Strong markets during World War II, along with the technological advancements in processing, led to a massive post-war expansion of the fishery. In the mid-60s, this fishery attracted a massive effort from foreign fishing fleets, including Germany, Korea, Poland, and the Soviet Union, until the practice was virtually eliminated by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. With considerable support from the federal government to domestic fisheries in the following years, groundfish catch exploded in the 70s. However, without good scientific data to support management decisions and regulate fishing activity, the Groundfish fishery started to decline in the 80s and 90s. Eventually, in 2000, at the request of fishermen the fishery was declared a federal disaster. With all its trials and tribulations in the last half a century, today the West Coast groundfish is truly a poster child of environmental success.

The fishery presents a great case study of how effective fishery management, solid science, and collaboration of the industry, regulators, researchers, and environmentalists can lead to a remarkable environmental success. Together with others, our industry takes great pride in the successful recovery of this fishery, and we appreciate the relationships we have built over the years while working to recover the fishery.


In the modern day, it takes an impressive management effort and a scientific know-how to successfully regulate and execute this dynamic fishery. As a federal fishery, the West Coast groundfish is managed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Council embraces a bottom-up stakeholder-driven approach in its processes with decisions made in public in a clear and transparent manner.

To support the Council’s decisions, Oregon’s trawl fishermen partner with NMFS’s scientists every year for an annual scientific survey of the fishery. The U.S. West Coast Bottom Trawl Groundfish Survey is an ongoing effort to collect data about groundfish stocks and the marine environment. It provides the basis for all management decisions related to conservation of the resource and its sustainable uses by commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries along the West Coast.

In 2011, the groundfish trawl sector transitioned to the Catch Shares program, which allocates each fisherman a share of the allowable catch, as determined by scientific data. This management program freed fishermen from having to race against each other to catch the most fish. Our fishing trips have a 100% observer coverage, and our fishermen are individually accountable for everything they catch.

The West Coast limited entry groundfish trawl fishery became certified against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 2014. The fishery remains in the MSC program with the total of 18 individually certified species. Our fishery is the most diverse and complex fishery in the world to ever achieve the MSC certification.

Thanks to the efforts of our industry and partners like Positively Groundfish, Oregon’s sustainable wild-caught groundfish products are once again becoming the favorite seafood staple on the West Coast and beyond. 

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