Fishermen are here in Washington, D.C. this week to express their concerns with fisheries today—and they have good reason to be frustrated. Even after decades of regulations aimed at restoring fisheries big problems still exist.
Today over 60 federal fish stocks are overfished or have overfishing occurring, resulting in declining catches and shrinking revenues. We must rebuild these fish populations to restore vibrant fishing communities, because economic recovery requires biological recovery. But, the key is picking the path that makes common sense.
Until recently, fishery managers didn’t see a good choice. Controlling overfishing has usually meant shrinking fishing seasons or even implementing closures, approaches that have serious economic impacts. For example, in the New England groundfish fishery significant reductions in resource abundance, allowable catches, and the number of active vessels reduced total fishing days by about half between 1995 to 2008 (Green, 2009; Thunberg, NEFSC, pers. comm.). Commercial and recreational fishermen in the Southeast U.S. are just beginning to feel the cost of a closure on red snapper. If better management options don’t surface soon, these impacts are expected to continue for the foreseeable future and grow as other regional fisheries close down too.
In contrast, catch share management can deliver increased prosperity, sustainability, and flexibility. Instead of pushing fishermen off the water to restore the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, fishery managers worked with commercial fishermen to develop a catch share program, which has increased dock-side prices, decreased bycatch and helped end overfishing (Steele 2008). Red snapper populations are now rebounding, meaning more fish for everyone, including recreational fishermen.
In the commercial Alaska halibut fishery, catch share management has extended the fishing season from less than a week to more than eight months each year, allowing fishermen to have more full-time work as well as flexibility in deciding when to fish (NOAA Fisheries 2009). These and other catch share programs stand out as the few bright spots in fisheries today.
Transitioning to catch shares now is a necessary and worthwhile investment, because it can solve the overfishing problem, while boosting profits and improving jobs for fishermen. In addition, over time catch shares can reduce and stabilize the overall federal investment needed to support fishing jobs: catch shares shift some management costs to fishermen once they are economically-viable again. I believe there are solutions for recreational fishing too—solutions that help keep fishermen on the water through better scientific data and tools to make sure that the amount of fish caught stays within limits.
Fishermen continue to suffer from the collapse of fish stocks around the country. Putting off rebuilding is not the answer as it only continues the downward spiral that has been putting people out of work for decades. Instead Congress should invest in a durable solution that restores economic, cultural, and biological prosperity to our nation’s fishing communities.
Green, A. (2009, May 30). Move to redefine New England Fishing. The New York Times, pp. A18.
Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Snapper Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic; Red Snapper Closure. Federal Register Vol. 74 Issue. 232. 12/02/2009.
NOAA Fisheries Service. (2009). Catch Share Spotlight No. 1: Alaska IFQ Halibut and Sablefish Program.