Category Archives: Economics

Congress Take Note: New Reports Show Progress for US Fisheries

status_determination_listings_2013_status_of_stocksThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week released two reports pointing to continued improvements in US fish stocks. Taken together, they send a clear message: that fisheries nationally are turning the corner as sustainable and more innovative management approaches take hold. Congress should take note.

The first report, the so-called Status of Stocks report to Congress  revealed that seven stocks were removed from the overfishing list last year and four from the overfished list. Two more stocks were declared “rebuilt,” bringing the total number of rebuilt stocks to 34 since 2000. Twenty-eight species are still on the report’s overfishing list, reminding us that there is still work to be done. But after decades of mismanagement that depleted fisheries and hurt coastal communities, the positive momentum of recent years is unmistakable.

The second report released concurrently by the agency, Fisheries Economics of the US 2012, underscored the critical role that healthy fisheries play in our nation’s economy. According to the report, U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $199 billion in sales in 2012, a gain of 7% over the previous year. It also found that the economic impact of fishing jobs increased 3% from 2011 to 2012. Such year-on-year growth is to be welcomed.

2012_feus_jobsThe news in U.S. fisheries is not universally positive. A number of fish populations remain in serious trouble, and there are individual fishermen in some regions who face enormous financial hardship through no fault of their own. We should not lose sight of that. But we also shouldn’t allow that to obscure the clear trend towards more vibrant fisheries that we’ve seen in recent years.


Let’s hope that Congress is taking clear note of what these reports say as it tackles three important issues in the coming weeks:

  • Appropriations: The House and Senate are currently moving through committee the bill that will fund the National Marine Fisheries Service in fiscal year 2015.  It is crucial that we continue to invest in the management of our nation’s fisheries to ensure their continued recovery and long-term success. Just as we invest in roads and bridges on land, the information infrastructure of fisheries is what allows the economy around them to thrive. As Congress struggles with tight budgets, it must do more to give the National Marine Fisheries Service the financial resources it needs to succeed.
  • Anti-Fisheries Rider: In what has become an unfortunate annual tradition, Congressman Steve Southerland of Florida seems set to make another attempt to usurp the authority of local fishery managers by taking an important fishery management tool called catch shares out of their toolbox. Improved management in a number of fisheries through the adoption of catch shares is a critical ingredient in the successes that last week’s reports details. By aligning the economic and conservation interests of participants in these fisheries, catch shares have allowed fishermen the freedom to fish when it makes sense for them, given them a tangible stake in the long-term health of the fishery, and enabled more robust enforcement of science-based catch limits. According to NOAA’s economic report,

“[c]atch share programs are helping to improve economic efficiency and encourage more sustainable fishing practices. They are also designed to produce more fish at lower costs, improve fishermen’s safety and profits, and strengthen the biological and economic benefits in a fishery.”

Members of Congress should think hard before supporting Rep. Southerland’s short-sited and parochial amendment when it comes to the floor.

  • MSA Reauthorization: Both the House Natural Resources and Senate Commerce Committees have started circulating discussion drafts of legislation that would reauthorize the nation’s premier federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or MSA. It’s commendable that congressional leaders are reviewing how the law is working and whether improvements may be possible. But some ideas for reform would turn back the clock, ignoring the progress that’s been made since the law was last strengthened through reauthorization in 2007. As lawmakers in the House and Senate move towards consideration of reauthorization drafts, they would be well served to take a cautious approach, and recognize that their first obligation given current progress is to do no harm.

Last week’s reports are another reminder of just how important the fishing industry is to our economy.  We are encouraged that smart management is continuing to yield positive results for both fish stocks and fishermen. Through its past leadership, Congress deserves to share in the credit for this progress. It should build on that success to ensure it continues in the years ahead.

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Sharing the catch means more for everyone

It may seem counter-intuitive that sharing the catch yields more fish and economic benefits for fishermen and coastal communities, but that is exactly what catch shares are proven to do.

NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) recently released its first national report assessing the economic performance of catch share programs in the United States. This report further validates the findings outlined in a 2011 Marine Policy Paper,  “Assessing Catch Shares’ effects evidence from Federal United States and associated British Columbian Fisheries (Grimm et. al),  which examined 15 catch share programs in the U.S and British Columbia before and after catch share implementation.

While these two studies differ slightly in selected fisheries, variables and time frame, they both conclude that catch shares consistently outperform conventional management systems across the board. Graduating to catch shares yields a robust return on investment: longer seasons, fewer risks, higher revenues, less waste and more full time jobs. An overview of the findings from Grimm et al. is presented in the table below.

[Chart summarizing catch share benefits. Data adapted from Grimm ]

NMFS’ research surveyed 14 US catch share fisheries, finding economic and management improvements resulting in increased compliance with regulations, greater fishing revenues, and safer fishing conditions. According to the executive summary, “Overall, these programs were successful in having fishermen observe quota limits, improving overall economic benefits and efficiency, and ending the race to fish, thereby reducing pressure on fishermen to fish during unsafe conditions.”


Catch shares lead to increased compliance with catch limits:

Catch limits are target harvest levels designed to maintain or rebuild the size of fish stocks to productive levels. A primary challenge of any fishery management approach is in ensuring catch limits are not exceeded each year. The NMFS study found that catch shares nearly eliminated overages when compared to more conventional approaches like season lengths or trip limits.  Limits were exceeded only twice in the study period under catch shares. Furthermore, for those fisheries in which landings had previously exceeded quota, such as in North Pacific Halibut, the adoption of catch shares reversed this trend. This confirms findings from Grimm et. al, which showed that catch limits were rarely exceeded and by small amounts, compared to frequent and large overages under traditional management.  Increased compliance with regulation maintains fish stock or rebuilds them to sustainable levels that will continue to support profitable U.S. fishing businesses.


Fishermen earn more in catch share fisheries:

The NMFS study also evaluated revenue per vessel, which increased under catch shares for all fisheries in the long run. While a few fisheries had initial decreases in revenues per vessel due to temporary catch reductions, they soon recovered and revenues increased relative to baseline. These increased revenues are most likely due to increased fish prices; under traditional management, the race to fish results in more frozen fish than fresh sold at the market (hence, lower fish prices and revenue). Furthermore, catch shares increase the flexibility fishermen have to time their harvest to meet market demand, rather than producing a glut of fish caught in a short period of time. This ensures a consistent supply of seafood, and generates more revenue for fishermen. NMFS’ findings support the Grimm et al. paper which found revenue increases of 27% in the first year and 68% after 10 years of the program.


Catch shares eliminate the race to fish, which can improve fishing safety:

Fishing is the second deadliest occupation in the U.S. It is inherently dangerous, but management measures can be taken to reduce some of those risks. Longer fishing seasons also improve safety by eliminating the race to fish and allowing fishermen to choose which days to fish during the year, thus avoiding stormy weather and dangerous conditions. The NMFS study found that season length increased in all fisheries under catch shares relative to traditional management; similarly, Grimm et al. concluded that average season length increased from 63 to 245 days per year.


Looking forward:

Measuring the outcomes of fishery management practices is vital given the urgent need to identify proven strategies that sustain fish stocks and the livelihoods of fishermen and industries dependent upon them. NMFS findings are a positive step towards understanding the impacts of different regulations in order to bring about data-driven management reform of US fisheries. In future assessments, it will be important for NMFS to assess all approaches—not just catch shares—to build understanding about how to best manage fisheries in an economically beneficial way.

The NMFS study provides strong evidence that catch shares are working. Moving forward, more evaluation and research is needed to guide and inform policymakers of the many benefits of catch shares and how improved design can better meet the needs of a given fishery and fishing community. Many challenges exist in fisheries management, but this report is cause for optimism.

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