In a disappointing move for the environment and the fishing industry, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a rider that would effectively ban new federal catch shares for fisheries in the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Thanks in large part to catch shares, many fisheries in the United States have been turning a corner after decades of overfishing, massive job losses and closures. Fish caught in catch shares currently account for about half of the value and over three quarters of the volume of commercial landings in federal waters.
Some fisheries still under conventional management have not yet recovered, causing fishermen to suffer. This misguided rider would thwart progress and take a proven tool off the table for struggling fishermen and regional fishery management councils.
The rider was approved by a vote of 220-191, a smaller margin than when a similar rider was approved last year by a vote of 259-159. More members of Congress have come to oppose a ban because they want to make our oceans more sustainable for the fish and fishermen.
The jury is still out on whether or not the rider will become law. At this point it’s unclear if the U.S. Senate will consider the ban. If the Senate passes legislation without the rider, its fate will be determined when the House and Senate hammer out the differences between their appropriations bills that fund NOAA.
With catch shares, fishermen are allocated a secure amount of fish they can catch throughout the season. The alternative is to control fishing by setting limits on when fishermen can fish, how much they can catch within a period of time or what kind of gear they can use. This approach can bring unintended consequences, such as depleted fish populations, a race to fish, economic hardship, decreased safety and the forced dumping of fish overboard that die.
Keeping catch shares as an option has been supported not only by several environmental organizations, but also by fishing organizations representing thousands of American fishermen, the Bush and Obama administrations, interest groups from across the political spectrum and many scientists.
Catch shares have had an impressive track record in the U.S. For instance, since the implementation of the first catch share program in the Gulf of Mexico in 2007, for Red Snapper, the species has rebounded and in 2010 the fishermen were allowed to catch 39% more. In addition, the price fishermen have received for red snapper has increased 40% and they can now fish year-round instead of just for 52 days.