Category Archives: Policy

Lawsuits and lasting solutions for the Gulf’s red snapper fishery

For media inquiries please contact:

Matt Smelser, msmelser@edf.org, (512) 731-3023

EDF takes another step today in our decades-long pursuit of vibrant, productive fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico when we file an amicus brief in an ongoing lawsuit over the red snapper fishery. The issue at hand is whether NOAA violated federal law in its management of the recreational sector, allowing significant overharvesting and in so doing potentially jeopardizing one of the nation’s biggest success stories in fisheries recovery. It’s always unfortunate when fisheries challenges end up in the courtroom. In this instance, we hope that there’ll be a simultaneous uptake of tangible solutions that can improve recreational fishing opportunity while ensuring continued growth and recovery of the red snapper population. The good news is that Gulf fishermen, just as they have in the past, are coming forward with creative management ideas that we need for long-term success. We should build on that to forge greater cooperation and ensure everyone can share in the benefits of a thriving red snapper fishery.

In many ways the story of Gulf red snapper in recent years is one of remarkable accomplishment. Bold leadership from fishermen—and decisive action by the Gulf Fishery Management Council—put the depleted red snapper fishery on the path to recovery. Failed commercial fishery management was fixed with a catch share program that imposed individual accountability, reduced waste, and helped end chronic overfishing. This new system has yielded remarkable dividends, allowing the safe catch for both the recreational and commercial sectors to more than double since 2008. This increase has helped reinvigorate coastal seafood businesses and brought more fresh local seafood to dinner tables across the Gulf and beyond. EDF is proud to have contributed to this success.

But there’s still a fundamental problem: profound failure in recreational management is denying anglers the benefits they should be enjoying, while threatening to turn back the clock on sustainability. Although the recreational allocation has remained constant at 49 percent of the fishery, the growing Gulf red snapper “pie” is not leading to enhanced recreational fishing opportunities. On the contrary, both individual anglers and charter boat captains face growing frustration. Catch is still controlled by season and bag limits (in addition to size limits), which have shrunk dramatically. The 2013 recreational season was just 42 days.

2013 recreational landings landings based on preliminary data

Note: 2013 recreational landings are projected

This same failed recreational management system threatens to undermine recovery of the red snapper population. Through no fault of Gulf anglers who play by the rules, red snapper have been overharvested in the recreational fishery in six of the last seven years, often by significant margins. Preliminary data suggests that in 2013 recreational catch exceeded its quota by close to 100 percent. Recovery of red snapper is too fragile to tolerate a system that routinely breaches science-based limits. A new benchmark assessment released last year showed that while we’ve made progress, red snapper are still overfished and we’ve had weaker than usual recruitment in recent years. It is clear that failed recreational management is not only limiting recreational opportunities, it could endanger the long-term health of the fishery.

We call for fresh thinking about how management in the recreational red snapper fishery can be improved. That thinking can help move us towards a recreational fishery with both year-round fishing opportunities for Gulf anglers and long-term sustainability. Decision-makers must consider new management solutions, reduce tensions and foster greater collaboration among fishing sectors.

The good news is that fishermen are generating new ideas. Recreational participants have asked for solutions that will allow seasons to be longer and more flexible.

In the charter boat sector, many believe that the successful commercial management program could offer charter captains a model for how to lengthen their seasons and increase revenues. Meanwhile, Gulf anglers have previously proposed a tagging program similar to those used for hunting large game. Tags could be managed at the state or local level, by state wildlife agencies or local fishing clubs.

Rather than let this litigation drag on, the Gulf Fishery Management Council should use its meeting next month to urgently consider such new management approaches. And instead of digging in on opposing sides, stakeholders should come together to forge lasting solutions. We will be offering more ideas on such approaches in the months ahead. We all have a shared interest in a healthy Gulf and vibrant red snapper fishery. Bold and creative reform can offer win-win solutions that enhance recreational opportunities while conserving red snapper—for today’s anglers and for generations to come.

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Europe opens a new era of fisheries management

 

Lyme Regis fishing boats. Photo Credit: Britt Groosman

Lyme Regis fishing boats. Photo Credit: Britt Groosman

Yesterday, the European Parliament approved the reformed Common Fisheries Policy—the final step in the legislative process heralding a new era in sustainability for European fish stocks.   This formal ‘seal of approval’ from the Parliament mandates an end to overfishing, phasing out discards and restoring depleted fish stocks.

Commissioner Maria Damanaki said: “Today's vote by the European Parliament means that we now have a policy which will radically change our fisheries and will pave the way for a sustainable future for our fishermen and our resources. I am very grateful to both Parliament and Council for their commitment, vision and overall support for the Commission's proposals which mean we can now return to sustainable fishing in the short term and put an end to wasteful practices. The new CFP is a driver for what is most needed in today's Europe: a return to growth and jobs for our coastal communities.”

Commissioner Damanaki deserves a great deal of credit for her tenacity in seeing this deal through to its successful conclusion; both the Commission’s initial proposal and her strong determination to keep reform on track were key factors in the final outcome.

The new CFP will enter into force on 1 January 2014 with some measures in place thereafter, which means there is a lot of work to do to support member states in implementing the new policies. Here are some of the key changes to look for in 2014:

  • The new CFP will manage fish stocks in a far more decentralized way.   Member states will now have the flexibility to innovate and design management approaches to meet their specific needs and support local fishing communities in manners of their choosing, so long as they are consistent with the performance requirements of the new policy.  This autonomy to member states should encourage cooperation among fishermen who target the same species to produce sustainable management plans.
  • EDF is committed to working closely with Member States and fishermen in Europe, providing design guidance and knowledge sharing opportunities to help end overfishing, phase out discards and restore depleted fish stocks.
  • Voluntary rights based management will be a vital tool for many member states’ management toolboxes, since this approach will help meet the dual challenges of phasing out discards and ending overfishing. Meeting these targets will require innovation, willingness to experiment with new management strategies and close collaboration between fishery stakeholders.

To cap off 2013 as Europe’s year of fisheries reform, the negotiators now engaged in finalizing the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) should finalize the EMFF by aligning it with the Common Fisheries Policy: supporting increased investment in management innovation, improved data collection and research, enhanced compliance assurance and enforcement and avoiding harmful subsidies.

European fishermen have every reason to be optimistic that they will soon be leading the way towards a new era in sustainable management and stock recovery.

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Sustainable European fisheries depend upon sustainable investment mechanisms

fishing boats, Greece

Fishing Boats in Kos Island, Greece. Photo Credit: Britt Groosman

After years of deliberation, the European Union has finalized proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the EU’s framework for fisheries management. The new policy promises a better future for both fishermen and fish by providing a comprehensive management system designed to restore healthy marine environments while supporting profitable fisheries and thriving coastal communities. The new CFP, which will enter into force in January 2014, calls for Member States to take steps that will ultimately eliminate the wasteful practice of discarding fish at sea. It also requires fishing at sustainable levels by achieving Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), and supports a regionalized approach through decentralized decision-making.

Funding transformative change:

These are ambitious requirements that must be adequately funded in order to achieve the policy objectives outlined by the new agreement. The CFP’s funding instrument – the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) – will provide resources to help fishermen in the transition to sustainable fishing; supporting coastal communities in diversifying their economies; financing projects that create new jobs; and making it easier for fishermen to access adequate financing. The EMFF is being reformed simultaneously with the CFP and in late October the European Parliament voted in plenary on proposed amendments. Overall, the results are positive and outcomes – such as the refusal to subsidize the construction of new vessels and increases in funding for data collection and control of illegal fishing – gives hope that the EMFF will ultimately complement the new CFP and make true transformation possible.

Achieving transparent, well designed allocation systems:

A new CFP requirement, Article 17, mandates that Member States allocate their fishing opportunities (share of overall EU catch limits by stock) using transparent and objective allocation systems that take into consideration environmental and social criteria, as well as historical catch rates. The EMFF amendments voted by the Parliament included a measure to support implementation of this new obligation. Securing a funding mechanism that dovetails with this important new obligation is encouraging and provides an important opportunity for Member States to engage with the fishing sector in designing allocation schemes that are open, transparent and based on objective criteria. We hope the new funding provision is retained in the Trilogue process.

Article 17 of the CFP and its accompanying EMFF funds should motivate Member States to engage with industry to implement innovative allocation systems that accurately reflect the challenges on the water, deliver profitable fisheries, and restore healthy marine environments.  These recent developments dovetail nicely with the UK’s decision to re-allocate some of its fishing opportunities after the recent court case ruled in favor of reallocating quota from the large to small scale fishing sector.

The UK should seize this chance to demonstrate it can be a leader in setting up transparent and secure fishing opportunities that are intelligently designed. Fishing administrations, industry and civil society must all be part of this important dialogue in order to secure smart, sustainable allocation methods and fix broken systems once and for all. Indeed, Member States should start thinking now about introducing transparent stakeholder processes for setting up quota systems, such as those advocated in EDF’s recently released fisheries management toolkit. Fishermen and fisheries managers can consult these resources to design and implement management systems that build resilient, profitable fisheries.

While there is every reason to be optimistic there is still some way to go. Trilogue negotiations on the EMFF between the Parliament and Council will begin this week, with the legislative process expected to conclude before the end of the year. It is essential that the important gains from plenary are not lost in these final weeks.

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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 et.al ]

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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Maintaining fishery accountability while reducing costs for fishermen

No Overfishing Guaranteed LabelThe Pacific Fishery Management Council took a significant step last week when they voted for the first time to move forward with a formal process to scope, set performance standards and eventually implement electronic monitoring for the West Coast Groundfish Individual Fishing Quota (catch share) fishery.  Why is that important?

The West Coast catch share program is now in its third year of operation, and one of its chief characteristics is that it is “100% Federally Monitored – No Overfishing Guaranteed.” An authorized third-party observer who tracks the catch and ensures that all fish are accounted for accompanies each groundfish trip. West Coast fishermen are committed to the full accountability provided by observers, but they are struggling under the added costs that the federal monitoring requirement places on them. Electronic monitoring is seen as a way to save on costs, increase fishermen’s ability to time their trips to weather conditions and market opportunities, and improve safety.

That’s why EDF has been working with fishery managers, fishery enforcement personnel and NMFS to encourage development of cost-effective ways to gradually replace human observers with onboard cameras and supporting software systems. Last week’s Council vote was a milestone, and EDF joins with West Coast fishermen in thanking Council members for taking this well-considered and vital step.

 

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Fishermen and Chefs United: Keep Catch Shares On The Table

Left to Right: EDF National Policy Specialist Melissa Carey, Former Senator Slade Gorton III, Former Representative  Robin Tallon & Representative Chellie Pingree.
Photo Credit: David Hills

This week more than 100 fishermen, chefs and seafood distributors from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C. to talk with members of Congress about sustainable fishing and the need to keep catch shares in the tool box for our nation’s fisheries managers.

Recently, some in Congress have attempted to take catch shares off the table for fishery managers; limiting regional councils’ ability to make the best decision for their fishermen.

Catch shares help eliminate overfishing and restore fish stocks by dividing the total scientifically approved allowable catch among the fishermen and ending short seasons and derbies. Catch shares have been proven to recover fish populations, increase compliance with catch limits, reduce waste, stabilize revenue and increase business efficiency.

In more than 115 meetings, the fishermen and chefs stood together to make it clear that catch shares are working, they are making American fisheries more sustainable and they have had positive impacts not only on fishermen, but the seafood industry.

Chef Rick Moonen of rm Seafood in Las Vegas delivered a letter to Congress signed by chefs from around the country, including Eric Ripert, Mario Batali, Hugh Acheson, Kerry Heffernan, and Susan Spicerjust to name a few.

Guests at NOD 2013 congressional reception enjoy sustainable seafood recipes provided by celebrity chefs. Photo Credit: David Hills

Read More »

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European Fisheries on the Road to Recovery

A major milestone for the recovery of European fisheries was passed this week when the European Parliament approved a much-needed reform to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) by a great majority (502-to-137).

The proposed reforms set strong maximum sustainable yield (MSY) targets—the catch level that can be safely taken each year to maintain the fish population size at maximum productivity. The goal of setting these targets is to allow fish stocks to recover by 2020 at the latest, and to maintain all recovered stocks at this level. Fishing vessels will also be required to land all catches; different fisheries will phase in this change over the coming years, bringing to a halt the wasteful practice of discarding fish. The reforms also call for science based decision making as a foundation for long-term fisheries management planning. And member states will be free to use transferable fishing concessions (TFCs)—known in the United States as “catch shares” – to meet the sustainability goals of the reformed policy. With TFCs European fisheries managers will be better able to reduce discards, improve fishing safety and profitability, and enhance compliance.

The vote marks the first time the European Parliament has been involved in the decision-making process for fisheries policy, and they exercised their new co-decision authority with very positive effect. Now the EU enters the next phase of lawmaking, the ‘trilogue’ with the Parliament, Fisheries Council and European Commission; there is new optimism that a fundamental reform will emerge from these three way negotiations.

And with European Commission figures suggesting that 80% of Mediterranean stocks and 47% of Atlantic stocks are overfished, these new reforms come just in time. This historic step is not only the turning point for Europe’s ailing fisheries;  it also ties in to the Global Partnership for Oceans (GPO) which aims to make 50% of the world’s fisheries sustainably and economically productive within the next 10 years. In order to get us there, we must build on this momentum by ensuring that the European Fisheries Council , Commission and  Parliament  work together to keep the new legislation strong.

 

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New England Catch Shares Ruled Legitimate by 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals

1st Circuit Court of Appeals logoIn a long-awaited decision, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a 2011 lower court ruling confirming the legality of the NE sector program.

Ruling on a suit brought by the ports of New Bedford and Gloucester, as well as fishermen and fishing groups, the justices determined that the NE sector program form of catch share complies with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The court found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had adequately considered the impact of the program and taken the proper steps to accomplish its goals, including environmental conservation, increasing economic benefits and holding fishermen accountable for staying within catch limits.

The three judge panel noted that, rather than destroying smaller business, many believe the new rules provide better protection. The judges also said federal regulators installed the law properly. "The Secretary (of Commerce's) judgments here were derived from the record, rational, and not based on any error of law," the court wrote. Read the full opinion here.

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