The 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.
Recently a US Senate subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Developments and Opportunities in US Fisheries Management,” with testimony by federal, regional and state officials that focused on the need for collaboration in fisheries management and decision-making based on sound science. More than two and a half hours of testimony and questioning by Senators focused on the role of science and the Magnuson Stevens Act in effective management of our nation’s fisheries, especially summer flounder or “fluke.”
New York and New Jersey have long been embroiled in an interstate conflict over what New York Senator Chuck Schumer has called “our decades long fight to bring fairness, flexibility, and accountability into the management of summer flounder.” To that point, a reoccurring theme in the testimony was that effective fisheries management requires high quality data and regular stock assessments. This notion was also echoed at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing a week earlier.
What is clear in the early hours of debating MSA’s reauthorization is that stakeholders across the board are focused on a common top priority – simply, good science is fundamental to good management. This reality is at the core of the interstate summer flounder battle, with NY arguing that the use of outdated data has led to an unequal allocation of fish between states.
Fluke is an important species. Managed jointly by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the 2012 stock assessment indicated that it is not overfished and that overfishing is not occurring. Fishery managers have allocated 60% of the fluke harvest to the commercial fishery and 40% to the recreational fishery. While the commercial quota is allocated between the states based on historical commercial landings (a common practice), the recreational harvest targets are assigned proportionally to the states based on estimated harvest data in 1998 using a data collection method called the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS). Herein lies the cause of conflict. MRFSS is antiquated and is actively being replaced. It is considered largely unreliable by anglers up and down the East Coast and limited in efficacy by managers, and 1998 was 15 years ago. I’m willing to bet the characteristics of the fleet and the fishery have also changed significantly over that time. Read More
EDF was recently invited by the Fisheries Committee of the Mexican Senate to present a study on Illegal fishing in Mexico that we have developed with the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO) and other partners. Three of the five Senators who make up the Committee were present: the Chair – Sen. Francisco Lopez Brito (PAN, Sinaloa), the Secretary – Sen. Oscar Rosas González (PRI, Campeche), and Sen. Ernesto Ruffo (PAN, BC). Also in attendance was the General Director and several staff from National Fisheries Institute of Mexico (INAPESCA), as well as representatives from fishermen´s associations from both the industrial and small-scale fleets.
This is the first time EDF attended one of the monthly public meetings of the Committee. Pedro Zapata (EDF de Mexico Director) and Rodrigo Gallegos (Director for Global Warming from IMCO) made remarks and presented key conclusions from this study, which we hope will open up a constructive dialogue on this critical and complex issue. A few of the main points presented follow:
- The Mexican fishing sector has consistently lost competitiveness over time, as reflected by its stagnant economic returns and catch volumes, even as the size of the fleet continues to increase (mostly in the small-scale sector). The fisheries sector has decreased consistently as a percentage of GDP, of which it now represents less that 0.06%.
- Part of the reason for this loss of competitiveness is the modest economic impact of fisheries in Mexico, which result in very little activity in the value chain, i.e. gear and equipment sales, processing, transport, etc… Mexican fisheries generate roughly 30 additional cents for every dollar of fish caught and sold back into the economy, far from the world´s average, which is closer to 3 dollars of additional economic activity.
- One of the reasons for this complex problem is the high level of illegal fishing, which, by our estimates, represents roughly 60% of total production in México. Other recent estimates place the number closer to 100%.
- Illegal fishing is driven by many factors, but one of the main causes is a highly complicated and obscure regulatory framework that is difficult to understand. There are so many laws and rules that fishermen often find themselves fishing illegally without realizing it. As the law stands now, there are more than 255 different ways to fish illegally. A fisherman can have the right gear, fish in the right season, for the right species, but in an area that is legally off-limits, or he can be in the right area at the right time of year but fail to land the fish in the right place. This over-regulation complicates the jobs of both fishermen and regulators.
- Predictably, corruption (mostly in the form of bribes to get permits or to avoid punishment) plays an important role and has fueled the increase of illegal fishing. This phenomenon, present in many areas of public policy in Mexico, is boosted by a combination of a complex institutional framework, overwhelmed authorities and very ineffective control measures. Read More
The conservation and economic benefits of the Pacific groundfish catch share program are steadily coming into focus. In the first year of the program, those benefits included higher revenues and dramatic reductions in the number of discarded fish (See NOAA’s first year report here). With catch shares, fishermen are taking advantage of a year-round, flexible fishing season, the ability to “fish to the market,” and new incentives to use the most selective fishing methods possible.
These economic and conservation gains would not be possible without a strict requirement of the new catch share program: 100% monitoring. An impartial federal observer now observes fishing operations on board West Coast groundfish boats and accounts for every fish caught. As Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, put it:
The fishery observers that trawlers are now required to have onboard take up scarce space and mean another mouth to feed, but they provide the assurance of 100% catch accountability – no fishery in the world has a higher standard – along with the reliable scientific data that fishery managers will need in order to adjust allowable catches in the future. Read More
Photo from NOAA
New England has received a lot of media attention recently about the fisheries disaster declared by President Barack Obama. The precipitous decline in groundfish in New England waters has created an imminent need to help fishermen and fishing communities that depend on stable healthy fish populations.
It is important to dispense with false rumors and to set the record straight. There is an effort on the part of some to claim that catch shares are somehow responsible for the New England groundfish population declines. To claim this is to suggest that fishermen have exceeded their catch limits and are not following the rules. This is simply not true. In fact, sector fishermen have been working hard to stay under their catch limits, and in some cases remain well below these limits.
In reality, the disaster declaration was based on the fact that there are changes happening in the ecosystem that are impeding the rebuilding of fish populations. We are forced to confront the frightening reality that fishing is changing in part because our oceans are changing. We are dealing with a resource problem, not a management problem. Read More