NOAA Finalizes National Catch Share Policy

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today released a responsible policy to “encourage well-designed catch share programs to help maintain or rebuild fisheries, and sustain fishermen, communities and vibrant working waterfronts, including the cultural and resource access traditions that have been part of this country since its founding.” EDF applauds this policy because it will restore fisheries and improve fishermen’s lives and livelihoods. 

For too long the government has propped up a failed system of ocean fishery management. Conventional management has resulted in shrinking fishing seasons, fishery closures, and increased waste.  Fishermen are faced with burdensome and ineffective regulations. Because of this today’s fishing jobs are dangerous, part-time, and relatively unstable1, and more than 60 federal fish stocks are classified as overfished or undergoing overfishing. Rebuilt fisheries could increase the dockside value of commercially-caught fish by $2.2B (54% above current value) in the US2.

Catch shares management is the right approach because it improves the conservation of the fishery, drives economic growth, and empowers fishermen to have stable, profitable businesses. Unlike conventional management, which manages the details of how fishermen conduct their business, catch shares provide fishermen with flexibility — allowing them to be more targeted and efficient. This means overfishing ends, wasteful bycatch declines, and revenues increase.  Jobs under well-designed catch shares tend to be full-time, higher-paying, safer and more secure over the short and long terms3.

NOAA views catch share programs as “powerful tools to manage fisheries sustainably and improve their economic performance.”  Catch shares help shift ocean fisheries from an economic drain to a driver of growth and prosperity.  The policy has been in effect in a draft form since December 2009.  Changes to the final policy reflect the thousands of comments received since the draft was released.

The policy is focused on providing support, leadership and resources to fishery management councils, fishermen, and other interested stakeholders in order to maximize the effectiveness, flexibility, and application of catch shares. Specifically the policy will:

  • Reduce technical and administrative impediments to catch shares,
  • Provide expertise and related support to assist the development of new catch share programs,
  • Inform and educate stakeholders of the different options and capabilities of catch share programs, and
  • Coordinate data collection, research and performance of catch shares.

It’s important to note that the policy does not mandate that fisheries adopt catch shares.  Rather, the policy states that ‘[c]ouncils should consider the appropriateness of catch share programs and decide which, if any, sectors may benefit from their use.”

Fishermen might be interested in the following aspects of the policy in particular:

  • Transition support: NOAA has demonstrated leadership in providing support to help fishermen through the transition as fisheries recover biologically and economically under catch shares.  The policy highlights this point.  In addition, NOAA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation recently announced an Innovation Fund to help build capacity in catch share fisheries and communities. NOAA’s request to Congress for $54 million for Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations includes funding to help fishermen in the New England and Pacific groundfish fisheries cover costs of new catch share programs. 
  • Other resources: The policy also encourages fishermen and communities to work with NOAA in gaining access to additional resources of the Department of Commerce including the Economic Development Agency and the Small Business Administration
  • Fishery management for recreational fishermen: The policy includes some important guidance and options forward related to recreational fisheries management, both for private anglers and for charter/for-hire fishermen.  This includes encouragement that fishery councils periodically revisit the underlying allocation of fish to each sector, regardless of whether a sector of a fishery is under a catch share or not.

The policy highlights that NOAA “will support Councils in the identification and application of innovative management measures that both promote individual recreational angler fishing access and foster sustainable communities,” but the agency doesn’t advocate the use of catch shares for individual private anglers.  

The policy promotes the important role of the charter boat/for-hire sector to the U.S. economy and recreational access.  Some charter/for-hire captains have expressed interest in developing a catch share program for their sector of the fishery.  NOAA will work with the interested councils and charter fishermen interested in developing pilot catch share programs.

Catch shares work for fishermen and fish populations because they include science-based annual catch limits, accountability measures to ensure compliance with those limits, and effective enforcement. At the same time, catch shares give fishermen greater flexibility for how to run their businesses which improves economic performance.

Catch shares are not a one-size-fits-all management system. They can be designed to fit the needs of individual fisheries, which sets them apart from conventional management. Catch shares have been implemented in about 275 fisheries around the world from New Zealand to Namibia to Norway, in fisheries large and small. There are now 25 catch share programs in the U.S. and more are under development.


1 Redstone Strategy Group, LLC. 2007. Assessing the potential for LAPPs in U.S. fisheries. Report prepared for Environmental Defense, 41 pp., Washington, DC.
2 NOAA. National Catch Share Policy. 2010.
3 Redstone Strategy Group, LLC. 2007. Assessing the potential for LAPPs in U.S. fisheries. Report prepared for Environmental Defense, 41 pp., Washington, DC.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted November 4, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I probably missed it, and, if so, I apologize, but as I walk the beaches along the California and Oregon coastlines, I'm always struck by the amount of garbage to be picked up, some of it discarded fishing lines. On reflection, I am aware that much of the ocean "garbage" is discarded lines, nets and other "lost" items that provide a tremendous health and safety risk to marine life. I am hoping that, in this policy, this issue is addressed. Environmental & government agencies, commercial fisheries and the people who support clean ocean and beach environments all have a responsibility to be good stewards. Thanks for reading of my concern.

  2. Kristine Harder
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately the economic model of the catch share program does not sustain fishermen, communities, or working waterfronts. 1200 fishermen lost their jobs following the implementation of catch shares in Alaska. Do you think that helped our communities in any way? People need jobs to be able to circulate money in communities. Let's call it what it is. A lazy form of fisheries management. If you privatized family farms so there were only a fraction of the farm owners government needed to manage, it would sure reduce paperwork and effort. Is that what's coming next? The saddest part of catch shares is the consolidation of the fleet and the new owner class of "sealords" who were given these shares for free, yet 40% of them turned their shares over in the first year of implementation for a nice profit. And others now lease out their shares for the exhorbitant rate of 75%! Yes, so if you catch $1,000 of fish you must pay $750 of that to lease your shares. These sealords get to reap these benefits into perpetuity. Those fish are yours and mine. They should belong to all of us. And EDF herrolds this as a great policy? The founding fathers of our democracy are rolling over in their graves.

  3. Patrick Coffey
    Posted November 6, 2010 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    I'd been struggling with the concept of "the tragedy of the commons" as relates to ocean resources. Then I found a book, "Governing the Commons" by Elinor Ostrom that suggests that in-shore fisheries can be managed locally with local agreements. Fishermen define the resource, come up with the rules they want to abide by, monitor themselves, and have access to appropriate means of discipline if members of the group do not abide by the rules. I don't know enough about catchshares to know if it is a similar system, but I hope it is what we've been waiting for.

    The central national government should not be excessively involved in such solutions, but there is good evidence that they should offer resources to local people to help them make it work. If that's what catchshares is, I'm all for it.

    Some would like to paint these issues as government vs. private property, but local people can solve their own problems if they're given the necessary help. That way our resources are not destined for destruction by "the tragedy of the commons", and our fishermen will have a consistent resource and will not be prone to boom and bust economies which hurt them dearly.

  4. Posted November 7, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Please go to my website and read my plan to limit by catch and help fishermen survive the rebuilding process on the fishery plan page. (www.freefish7.com) Fishermen need to be part of the catch share discussion. We cannot just say that we do not want them because of past problems. We need to learn from those mistakes and make sure that if they are implemented, they are well-designed and protect the fishermen that are already in the fishery. If we do not get involved, we will wake up one day to find that we will be forced into a catch share program that does not include fishermen's hands on knowledge of the fishery and the common sense solutions we can offer to make them better. I ask anyone in NOAA that reads this to contact me at. freefish7@hotmail.com I want to work together toward a healthy and sustainable fishery that can be responsibly harvested forever while helping fishermen survive the rebuiling process. Thank you, Chris

  5. Capt Jeff Reilly
    Posted November 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Make no mistake folks, these people wont stop untill fishing is made illeagal. Take a look at EDF's highest donators; Walmart is the largest. Do you think Walmart would be donating as much if Walmart didn't expect a return on investment?

    Exceptionally Deceptive on Fishing

    It’s time to set the record straight and expose the underhanded back-door dealings of EDF. EDF routinely misrepresents the facts.

    • EDF wants you to believe the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Alaska and both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are fished out. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    • EDF would sell off one of our nation’s greatest natural resources to the highest bidder at the expense of millions of fisheries dependent jobs in a country that cannot afford to lose even one!

    • EDF refused to work with industry to correct issues in Magnuson-Stevens at an industry round-table in June in Orlando and continues to support inadequate science to justify widespread fishing closures in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

    • Gloucester, New Bedford and the State of Massachusetts are suing NOAA & NMFS over sector shares, fleet reduction and job loss that could bankrupt those cities and cause irreparable financial harm to the State in less than two years time.

    • EDF misrepresented and submitted a Commercial Catch Share Plan to the South Atlantic Council in September reportedly drafted at meetings with Morehead City, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC fishermen for which they have no meeting minutes, no attendance records and did not publicly advertise the gatherings.

    • EDF misrepresented and submitted a Commercial Catch Share Plan to the South Atlantic Council in September reportedly drafted at a meeting with Key Largo, FL fishermen. The meeting was not publicly advertised and it was later learned that 10 commercial fishermen attended, 8 walked out of the meeting after objecting to catch shares and 5 EDF representatives along with 2 pro catch share fishermen drafted the plan submitted to the Council. There are over 2500 commercial permit holders in Monroe County in the Florida Keys and this plan was crafted by just two of them.

    • EDF’s latest piece of propaganda, “Collaboration with Industry is Crucial to Protect Fish and Put Fishermen Back on the Water,” is the result of a secret meeting held in Jackson Hole, WY in October and promoted as a sector share plan developed by and for the for-hire sector. There were 11 EDF representatives at the meeting and 5 for-hire captains. 3 fishermen were from Alaska, 1 from Texas and 1 from Rhode Island.

    • EDF and NOAA were the sole presenters on the benefits of sector/catch shares at a SAFMC meeting in February of 2010 in Jekyll Island, GA. There was no industry input and only perceived benefits of sector/catch shares were presented. When asked about job loss associated with sector/catch shares, the NOAA response was “There are winners and losers with catch shares.” If you’re a winner, that’s great! If you’re a loser, that sucks!

    • EDF will be the sole presenter on sector/catch shares at a GMFMC educational (NOAA Indoctrination) seminar in Tampa on November 8-10, 2010. No industry representatives have been invited to speak, including Capt. Bob Zales, President of NACO, and the largest for-hire fishing organization on the planet! A request by Zales, as Executive Director of the Conservation Cooperative of Gulf Fishermen (CCGF), to make a 20 minute presentation on sector shares was denied.

    • Sector shares in combination with catch shares do not protect the resource and in many cases are detrimental through high grading and other practices. PEW Environmental Group reported in “Design Matters – Making Catch Shares Work” published in 2009, that “An analysis of 20 fish populations managed under IFQ’s in many countries found that 12 populations improved after IFQ implementation, while eight continued to decline.”

    • While industry is ignored, EDF is embraced in spite of having little or no fisheries management experience what-so-ever.

    • We need responsible management by NOAA, NMFS and the regional councils, sound science, sensible size and bag limits, rational commercial quotas, closed spawning seasons and improved water quality conducive to essential fish habitat and spawning environments, not more regulation and ill-conceived management schemes. Tell your elected officials today!

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