Author Archives: John Mimikakis

Brookings Institution hosts discussion on future of U.S. fisheries

Photo credit: Hamilton Project

Photo credit: Hamilton Project

The fishing industry contributes about $90 billion annually to the U.S. economy, which translates to over one and a half million jobs for American workers.

Sustainably managed fisheries have a higher economic value to fishing dependent communities, than those under unsustainable management. Understanding this fact is of paramount importance to ensuring a sustainable and thriving future for both fishermen and fish in the U.S. and globally.

Our work at EDF Oceans is focused on aligning the economic and environmental incentives for fishermen to ensure a sustainable fishing future and we believe that catch shares are an essential tool to achieving this goal.

I was honored to participate in a panel hosted by the Brookings Institute and the Hamilton Project that featured a thoughtful discussion on how to improve the economic prosperity and long-term sustainability of the U.S. fishing industry. To frame the discussion, the Hamilton Project released an economic overview of the U.S. fishing industry, and panelists reviewed and discussed a new paper by economist Christopher Costello of U.C. Santa Barbara which calls for a getting fishermen the socio-economic data they need before making game-changing decisions about management of their fisheries.

The forum opened with remarks by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin who noted that the Hamilton Institute, an economic policy initiative of the Brookings Institution, had never before focused on a specific industry, but chose to do so because of the importance of natural resources in general, and fishing in particular, to the U.S. economy. Dr. Costello was joined by a commercial and charter boat fisherman and representatives from NGOs, including myself.

As you might expect with such a diverse group, a robust discussion followed.  I expressed EDF’s view that there are tremendous benefits to giving fishermen and other stakeholders more information on the socio-economic benefits of catch shares compared with conventional management.

John Pappalardo, Executive Director of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance noted that having more in-depth analysis at the time the New England catch shares program was under consideration would have been helpful. Steve Tomeny, a charter boat operator out of Louisiana, observed that he and other charter boat captains believe catch shares could offer benefits for their sector, similar to those commercial red snapper fishermen have enjoyed – a belief that could be tested by the analysis the Costello paper would require.  While some expressed concerns about finding resources to fund the proposal—especially during a tough economy—others reiterated that the bolstered economic state of sustainably managed fisheries would offset these costs.

Better access to information and continued discourse between fishermen and regulators will continue to produce workable solutions for managing ocean resources. It was clear that all panelists agreed that more socioeconomic data should be provided to fishermen when they are making decisions about their livelihoods.

As Congress is currently considering reauthorizing the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the nation’s fishing law, this discussion comes at an important time. It was a privilege to share the day with former Secretary Rubin and the distinguished panel. It was even better to hear a frank and cordial exchange about the tremendous gains the United States has made in rebuilding fish stocks and creating sustainable fishery management and how we can improve even further.

While there is still work to be done, we applaud the solid foundation for sustainable management that fishermen, fishery managers and other stakeholders have built in recent years. The resounding message from the forum is that Congress needs to continue to carry this progress forward so that the tough sacrifices fishermen have made for conservation will result in a sustainable and economically thriving future for fishing communities.



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Ending Overfishing is Vital to Our Future: A Reminder as Congress Reviews the Magnuson-Stevens Act


photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

Congress is about to embark on a review of what has worked and what hasn’t in a law widely regarded as having halted overfishing in many American fisheries.  Though we have made progress here in the United States, overfishing is wreaking havoc on the world’s oceans and the mismanagement of our fisheries is the chief cause.  Recent peer reviewed science estimates that 64% of global fisheries are depleted below the levels required to sustain production.

Overfishing can lead to the loss of important species that can upend the balance of critical ocean food webs leading to the further degradation of our ocean.  To save the ocean, we must end overfishing.

One of EDF’s missions is to rebuild global fisheries with the best possible solutions that serve both fishermen and fish so that future generations can enjoy sustainable seafood, fishermen can continue to fish profitably, and our seas are healthy and abundant.  Peer reviewed and published scientific evidence and our decades of experience have shown that catch shares are one of the best solutions for rebuilding depleted fisheries both in the United States and globally.

In the United States, catch shares have brought stability and sustainability to fisheries once in turmoil from overfishing. From the Gulf of Maine, to the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the Bering Sea, fishermen have more stable and flexible businesses and fisheries are recovering from years of overfishing.  If you add our neighbors to the north, Canada, there are 15 catch shares that have shown significant improvements in the stability of jobs, revenues and increased safety.  All over the world fishermen are learning form the work that American fishermen and fishery managers have done to save our nation’s fisheries.

Catch shares have not been a silver bullet in this effort.  In some cases, setting catch limits and aggressive enforcement can be enough to make sure a fishery is sustainable, but in many cases catch limits alone produce derby fishing, where fishermen race to fish in short, unsafe seasons, make very little money, and often lose their businesses – all while the health of the fishery continues to fail.

Science-based catch limits are the bedrock of any catch share program.  Catch shares give fishermen an economic incentive to stay within those limits, practically guaranteeing an end to overfishing.  The Gulf of Mexico commercial red snapper fishery has been managed under a catch share for more than five years. Before the catch share, fishermen were often exceeding their catch limit and racing in derby seasons that continued to get shorter and shorter. These derbies were unsafe, sometimes unprofitable and were doing nothing to help rebuild the fishery. Read More »

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Catch Shares Gain New Allies In Close House Vote

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.  Read More »

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EDF Statement in Response to Today's "Keep Fishermen Fishing" Rally

Hundreds of fishermen rallied today in Washington, D.C. to voice frustration over fishing regulations.  We understand that many fishermen are frustrated, often for good reason.  Even though some fisheries have rebounded, in many places preventing overfishing has meant shrinking fishing seasons or even implementing closures, approaches that have serious economic impacts and limit access.

However, the focus should not be on gutting the law.  Instead we need to use the flexibility in the law and innovative management approaches to address the challenges we face.  For example, NOAA is using this flexibility to address the looming crisis with Gulf of Maine cod, using the law’s emergency provisions to allow higher levels of fishing while open scientific questions are investigated further.  Many sides have come together to propose a solution that we hope will protect both the fish and the fishermen.

We can't go back to overfishing, but we can use ideas available under existing law to rebuild fisheries and give fishermen the flexibility to improve both fish populations and profits.  While many speakers at today’s rally pushed various bills that would impose top-down mandates from Washington, we believe fishery management is best decided at the council level where fishermen can directly influence how the resource they depend on is managed.

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President’s Budget Includes $28 Million for Catch Shares

President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2013 budget earlier today, and we are pleased to see that it includes $174 million for sustainable fisheries work by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The appropriation will fund the science and management needed to support the commercial fishing industry that’s responsible for 1 million jobs and yields more than $32 billion in income every year.

The president’s budget includes $28 million for the National Catch Share Program, a critical part of the nation’s strategy to return its fisheries to abundance and keep fishermen on the water.  It is the same level adopted by the Congress last year.  We applaud the president and Congress for their support of catch share programs and we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that important fishery management functions have adequate funding and fishermen have all the tools they need, including catch shares.

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Congress Should Keep Options On the Table to Help Fishermen

Catch shares have become integral to the success and sustainability of many fisheries across the country, but today their future is unclear. A ban on catch shares is now being decided behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, without any public debate or vote.  This is a desperate move in response to the House and Senate rejecting the ban their spending bills.

Nineteen members of Congress have written to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House Appropriations Committee and the Commerce subcommittee asking to ban further funding for this innovative tool in the Atlantic, effectively eliminating an important option available to fishermen and fisheries managers.

The ban would be added into an appropriations “minibus” package that the House Appropriations Committee and the Commerce subcommittee are currently working on.  This is the last opportunity to get this measure into appropriations legislation this year.  This measure would block work on, and implementation of, any new catch shares programs even where local fishermen and others are eager to adopt them. Read More »

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