No matter how many scientific studies emerge confirming the benefits of catch shares, you always have opponents who say catch shares may work in “theory,” but still have doubts about their real-life application.
However, it’s hard to refute on-the-ground, tangible results, like those shown down in the Gulf of Mexico.
This week the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released the 2008 annual report reviewing the progress of its Gulf of Mexico commercial red snapper individual fishing quota program (IFQ), which is a type of catch share.
The report shows continued success for red snapper two years into the program, and provides additional support for implementing IFQs to rebuild other troubled fisheries.
The report’s conservation highlights include:
- Overfishing is being reversed in the commercial fishery.
- Fishermen have caught under less than allotment by 2.5-4.0 percent in the past two years.
- Fishermen cut their ratio of wasted fish to fish taken to the docks by almost 70 percent. (Before the IFQ, for every fish a fisherman kept, he threw one back dead. Now, fishermen only throw one back for every three to four that they keep.)
The report’s economic highlights include:
- Long season closures and extreme market swings have been eliminated.
- With year-round fishing, fishermen bring high quality fish to the dock when consumer demand is high, helping their businesses remain profitable.
- The price fishermen pay for quota, the long-term privilege to catch red snapper, rose by 37 percent, reflecting optimism for a healthy fishery and a commitment to conservation.
With the conservation gains seen in the commercial red snapper fishery in just a few years, we are optimistic that rebuilding is getting underway and the payoff might be a rising catch limit in the near future. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is on the right track by considering IFQs and other catch share plans for many of its other commercial and sport fisheries that are in dire need of better management.
The NMFS report concludes that the commercial red snapper fishery is on the right track, and it identifies a few ways that it can be improved. For example, the mislabeling of fish needs to be stopped, and better ways are needed to count dead fish that some vessels continue to throw overboard, especially off of the Florida peninsula coast.
Earlier this month I took a few of my staff down to Galveston, TX to meet with fishermen and get some first-hand learning on the water and at the docks.
We started by taking a recreational fishing trip 30 miles into the Gulf of Mexico with a fisherman friend who answered every question in the book, like “where does this bait (sardines) come from?” to “how has Hurricane Ike damage affected local fishing businesses?” We got some great insight into how for-hire fishing businesses operate and had some fun at the same time.
The next morning I got a special treat when I met a red snapper individual fishing quota (IFQ) shareholder at the docks to watch him offload 17,000 pounds of red and vermilion snapper after a six day commercial fishing trip. I was given a tour of the boat and learned some of the nitty-gritty details about running a commercial fishing business.
While I’d barely met the fishermen who were offloading, they were extremely enthusiastic about the Gulf’s IFQ program. These fishermen described the drastic difference, a very positive difference, that the IFQ made for their businesses in just the first six months.
January marked the second anniversary of the Gulf's red snapper IFQ program. Fortunately, fishermen, regulators and environmentalists continue to report good news compared to the decade the fishery suffered under destructive derby management (also known as a “race” for the limited number of snapper that fishermen were allowed to catch each year).
Year-round fish supplies and excellent quality mean that dockside prices climbed and have remained steady at least 25% higher than under the derby. Fishermen are allowed to keep most of the fish they catch, so the number of dead discarded fish (also known as bycatch) has been significantly cut. And, like the previous year, the annual catch was about three percent under its limit.
The West Coast is a big step closer to improving management of its valuable and struggling groundfish fishery. A plan for individual fishing quotas (IFQs) was identified as a top priority for the groundfish commercial trawl fishery by fishermen and the regional fishery management council. A goal for implementation in 2011 has been set.
This program and one in Alaska, along with the Gulf of Mexico’s recently approved commercial red snapper, grouper and tilefish IFQs are the newest additions to the United States’ catch share portfolio – now 20 programs strong. The first catch share in the U.S. was implemented in 1990 as an IFQs for the Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog fishery. Since then, states like Alaska have led the way with IFQs, community development quotas and cooperatives for its halibut, sablefish, crab, and pollock fleets. And, New England has implemented catch share “sector” management for portions of the hook and line and fixed gear cod fisheries.
These various catch share programs have benefits not often found under traditional management — they are successful in keeping harvests in-line with catch limits, reducing wasted fish and helping fishermen improve business practices.
Learn more about catch shares or see a fact sheet on IFQs.