The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has put fishery closures in the headlines, but closures are nothing new or unusual. In fact, numerous fisheries are closed every year. In an era of declining fish stocks, managers essentially have two tools at hand to meet the legal requirement of ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks – closures or catch shares. Closures have been used extensively and increasingly.
In the last two years, nearly half of US federal fishery management plans (FMPs) have used emergency closures as a way to manage fishing effort. Closures prohibit fishermen from catching and landing species based on either area or time. For example, managers may close an area of fishing grounds or an entire fishery for a particular period of time.
Emergency closures can affect all sectors of a fishery or may be focused on just one sector, such as recreational or commercial. Often multiple types of closures–area, season and sector—are used to manage effort.
Closures, as described here, are being used on an emergency basis to control fishing effort. Often, closures occur within a single year as a way to prevent fishermen from exceeding annual catch limits. In instances where a species is at a critically low level, managers may close a fishery indefinitely.
Note: There are times in which managers used planned closures to enhance the management of a fishery, such as closing certain areas or times to protect spawning aggregations. These planned closures are not included in my discussion here. Instead, this analysis focuses on unplanned closures that are used to manage fishing effort.
4,200 days – Number of fishing days lost in 2009 due to early season closures.
This is equivalent to 11½ years! If early and indefinite season closures had not occurred in 2009, fishermen would have been able to fish over 9,700 days in those fisheries. Instead, only about 5,500 days were open to fishermen for the affected species. And the story in 2008 was similar – fishermen lost 5,000 days of fishing, down from over 9,900 that would have been possible without early or indefinite closures.
The pattern in 2010 is continuing – 20 species managed under three FMPs have used early season closures from January to May, including an emergency closure in the commercial and recreational sectors of the Red Snapper Fishery in the South Atlantic Region. Implementation of this closure has estimates of a $1.8 million loss for the commercial and recreational fleets. The fishery is slated to open on June 2, 2010, but managers may extend the closure for another 186 day period.