Voices From the Waterfront

Meet Commercial Fisherman Rob Seitz

Rob Seitz.

Rob Seitz is a commercial fisherman who fishes for dungeness crabs and groundfish off the coast of Astoria, Ore., and Ilwaco, Wash.

Download here. (Credit: Courtesy of DixonMarinePhotography)

Our nation is reaching a historic point this year as we put into place measures designed to end overfishing on domestic fish stocks.

This month, we begin “Voices from the Waterfront,” a series of interviews with some of the men and women whose lives and livelihoods depend on a healthy and sustainable abundance of fish in the sea.

Meet Rob Seitz, a commercial fisherman who fishes for dungeness crabs and groundfish in the waters off Astoria, Ore., and Ilwaco, Wash. Seitz hopes to work on a fishing vessel in the new West Coast Trawl Individual Fishing Quota program – a catch share program - that began Jan. 11.

Catch share programs dedicate a secure share of the catch to individual fishermen or groups of fishermen. The fishermen can then determine when the weather, markets and individual business concerns are most favorable for catching their specific allotment.

Seitz recently spoke to NOAA about how fishing has changed in the 25 years he’s been a commercial fisherman and his hopes for the future.

Rob Seitz.

Commercial fisherman Rob Seitz sorts through a catch of hake.

Download here. (Credit: Courtesy of DixonMarinePhotography.)

Why did you become a fisherman?

I started fishing for halibut and salmon with my grandfather when I was still in high school in Alaska. I’ve thought about getting out of fishing over the years. One of the things that’s kept me in is the knowledge that I’m providing a product that’s good for everyone who uses it. We have a health problem in this country, and I believe my fish is a big part of the solution. You can’t beat the fresh fish I’m able to bring home for my family and friends.

In what ways have you seen commercial fishing change in the years you’ve been doing it?

Fishing is more regulated and monitored. There are fewer species that we can target and more grounds off-limits to fishing. It seems there have been major changes every year. The groundfish trawl fishery has been in transition for the last 10 years. I hope the West Coast Trawl Individual Fishing Quota program will bring a little more stability. A little change will always take place, but complete upheaval every year or every six months isn’t sustainable for the fishermen.

How will the new individual fishing quota program for West Coast groundfish trawl fishermen affect you?

I think it's going to work well. I can already see that groundfish prices are coming up. I'm hoping it [groundfish fishery] will move more to a quality fishery rather than a volume fishery. In the past, a lot of our fish has been wasted because we've been trying to catch it fast. When we rushed to catch a large amount fast, some fish would inevitably get damaged and not be saleable.

With the new catch share program, we're not rushing. If we take more time, we’ll have a higher percentage of fish to sell at a good price. We’ll be able to land fish when the demand and prices are highest. People like me who have been working in the industry for years but don’t own a piece of the fishery should be able to buy fishing quota incrementally and work our way up to owning our own fishing operation.

Have the changes you have seen in fishing given you and your family new ideas for work on the waterfront?

My wife and I have been working on a community-supported fishery program that would serve both Astoria and Portland, Ore. Our plan is for the program to sell fresh fish directly from fishermen to the consumer. We’ve been talking to people who run similar programs on the East Coast.

So, we have to ask: What is your favorite fish?

Lingcod. They are cool looking and tasty. About seven years ago, I got to know several divers. One told me the female lingcod will lay its eggs in the water, and the male lingcod will protect the eggs. The diver said he’d never encountered anything so fierce and tireless as the lingcod protecting its eggs. The lingcod’s willingness to take on an entity much larger than itself and defend its young with such tenacity was a very noble trait — and that’s how it became my favorite fish. 

To learn more about catch shares, visit the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service website. You can also download a catch shares fact sheet here.

Posted Jan. 26, 2011 NOAA logo.