Selected tags: NOAA

It’s Official: U.S. fisheries continued their upward trend in 2012

Photo Credit: NOAA

Each year, the National Marine Fisheries Service provides the public with a “statistical snapshot” of fish landings in the United States. This week, the numbers for 2012 were released via the agency’s Fisheries in the United States report. The national picture in terms of the quantity and value of fish landed was once again encouraging. And although we didn’t quite reach the historic level of 2011—which set a new record for landings value —the upward trend enabled by improved fisheries management is unmistakable.

The raw numbers in the report are another reminder of the critical role fishing plays as an economic driver in the United States. U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.6 billion pounds of seafood in 2012, valued at $5.1 billion. The ex-vessel value of seafood landed in Alaska alone was $1.7 billion; $618.2 million in Massachusetts; $448.5 million in Maine. Those figures don’t include economic benefits derived throughout the value chain, with jobs created and supported at the docks, in processing, transportation and sales.

Recreational fisheries are also experiencing robust activity.   More than nine million anglers took 70 million trips last year, catching nearly 380 million fish. The estimated total catch weight was more than 200 million pounds, the most popular species being spotted seatrout, Atlantic croaker, black sea bass, summer flounder and red drum. Numerous other reports and studies have documented the economic benefits that recreational fishing stimulates, supporting jobs in industries ranging from marine manufacturing to tourism.

Without healthy, sustainable fisheries, none of these benefits would accrue. It’s true that we have more work to do to ensure that all our nation’s fisheries are being managed for long-term health, and that fishermen in some regions still face daunting economic challenges. But taken as a whole, this week’s report provides further evidence that the reforms of recent years are paying dividends. The value of commercial seafood landed in 2012 was almost 20% higher than the average of the last decade.

Ultimately that means more money in the pockets of fishermen—who in many parts of the country are seeing a return on their investment in new rights-based management approaches that incentivize conservation and ensure compliance with science-based catch limits.

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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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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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Obama Administration Considers Moving NOAA to Department of Interior

Today, the Obama Administration announced plans to consolidate parts of the federal government, which may include moving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the Department of Interior. With responsibility for managing the largest sovereign ocean territory in the world, NOAA is a critically important agency.  When considering moving NOAA to the U.S. Department of Interior, policy-makers should ensure that the agency’s mission-critical functions, including management of the nation’s fish stocks, are protected and strengthened.

Such a reorganization could have huge implications for the people who work hard at sea catching the fish we like to eat.  I hope we can have a vigorous debate that looks carefully at the costs and benefits of any plan to move NOAA to Interior and make sure that the public, the nation’s fishermen, and the nation’s fish resources would truly benefit from it.

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NOAA Finalizes National Catch Share Policy

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today released a responsible policy to “encourage well-designed catch share programs to help maintain or rebuild fisheries, and sustain fishermen, communities and vibrant working waterfronts, including the cultural and resource access traditions that have been part of this country since its founding.” EDF applauds this policy because it will restore fisheries and improve fishermen’s lives and livelihoods. 

For too long the government has propped up a failed system of ocean fishery management. Conventional management has resulted in shrinking fishing seasons, fishery closures, and increased waste.  Fishermen are faced with burdensome and ineffective regulations. Because of this today’s fishing jobs are dangerous, part-time, and relatively unstable1, and more than 60 federal fish stocks are classified as overfished or undergoing overfishing. Rebuilt fisheries could increase the dockside value of commercially-caught fish by $2.2B (54% above current value) in the US2.

Catch shares management is the right approach because it improves the conservation of the fishery, drives economic growth, and empowers fishermen to have stable, profitable businesses. Unlike conventional management, which manages the details of how fishermen conduct their business, catch shares provide fishermen with flexibility — allowing them to be more targeted and efficient. This means overfishing ends, wasteful bycatch declines, and revenues increase.  Jobs under well-designed catch shares tend to be full-time, higher-paying, safer and more secure over the short and long terms3.

NOAA views catch share programs as “powerful tools to manage fisheries sustainably and improve their economic performance.”  Catch shares help shift ocean fisheries from an economic drain to a driver of growth and prosperity.  The policy has been in effect in a draft form since December 2009.  Changes to the final policy reflect the thousands of comments received since the draft was released.

The policy is focused on providing support, leadership and resources to fishery management councils, fishermen, and other interested stakeholders in order to maximize the effectiveness, flexibility, and application of catch shares. Specifically the policy will:

  • Reduce technical and administrative impediments to catch shares,
  • Provide expertise and related support to assist the development of new catch share programs,
  • Inform and educate stakeholders of the different options and capabilities of catch share programs, and
  • Coordinate data collection, research and performance of catch shares.

It’s important to note that the policy does not mandate that fisheries adopt catch shares.  Rather, the policy states that ‘[c]ouncils should consider the appropriateness of catch share programs and decide which, if any, sectors may benefit from their use.”

Fishermen might be interested in the following aspects of the policy in particular:

  • Transition support: NOAA has demonstrated leadership in providing support to help fishermen through the transition as fisheries recover biologically and economically under catch shares.  The policy highlights this point.  In addition, NOAA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation recently announced an Innovation Fund to help build capacity in catch share fisheries and communities. NOAA’s request to Congress for $54 million for Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations includes funding to help fishermen in the New England and Pacific groundfish fisheries cover costs of new catch share programs. 
  • Other resources: The policy also encourages fishermen and communities to work with NOAA in gaining access to additional resources of the Department of Commerce including the Economic Development Agency and the Small Business Administration
  • Fishery management for recreational fishermen: The policy includes some important guidance and options forward related to recreational fisheries management, both for private anglers and for charter/for-hire fishermen.  This includes encouragement that fishery councils periodically revisit the underlying allocation of fish to each sector, regardless of whether a sector of a fishery is under a catch share or not.

The policy highlights that NOAA “will support Councils in the identification and application of innovative management measures that both promote individual recreational angler fishing access and foster sustainable communities,” but the agency doesn’t advocate the use of catch shares for individual private anglers.  

The policy promotes the important role of the charter boat/for-hire sector to the U.S. economy and recreational access.  Some charter/for-hire captains have expressed interest in developing a catch share program for their sector of the fishery.  NOAA will work with the interested councils and charter fishermen interested in developing pilot catch share programs.

Catch shares work for fishermen and fish populations because they include science-based annual catch limits, accountability measures to ensure compliance with those limits, and effective enforcement. At the same time, catch shares give fishermen greater flexibility for how to run their businesses which improves economic performance.

Catch shares are not a one-size-fits-all management system. They can be designed to fit the needs of individual fisheries, which sets them apart from conventional management. Catch shares have been implemented in about 275 fisheries around the world from New Zealand to Namibia to Norway, in fisheries large and small. There are now 25 catch share programs in the U.S. and more are under development.


1 Redstone Strategy Group, LLC. 2007. Assessing the potential for LAPPs in U.S. fisheries. Report prepared for Environmental Defense, 41 pp., Washington, DC.
2 NOAA. National Catch Share Policy. 2010.
3 Redstone Strategy Group, LLC. 2007. Assessing the potential for LAPPs in U.S. fisheries. Report prepared for Environmental Defense, 41 pp., Washington, DC.

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Pacific Groundfish Catch Shares Approved, Slated to Start Jan 1, 2011

Johanna Thomas, EDF Oceans - Pacific Coast Regional Director

Johanna Thomas, EDF Oceans - Pacific Coast Regional Director

After seven years of planning, the catch share program for the Pacific groundfish trawl sector has cleared one of its final regulatory hurdles. On Tuesday, NOAA's Fisheries Service approved the plan submitted by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to revitalize the multi-million dollar fishery. The new system joins a spate of other new catch share programs around the country, including one for the iconic New England groundfish fishery and the grouper and red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the West Coast groundfish sector, fishermen have struggled to make a living under the current management system and have been plagued by increasingly strict regulations to address the incidental catch (bycatch) of depleted fish species. Landings for West Coast trawlers had plummeted 70 percent in the last two decades, and since 1998 revenues have dropped from $47.3 million to $22.2 million.

The new system provides fishermen with a guaranteed percentage of the overall catch, based on the size of their vessel and their fishing history. Under catch shares, fishermen will have much greater freedom to fish when they want, and will also be able to sell or lease their shares to other fishermen. Based on results from other fisheries that have transitioned to catch shares, bycatch is expected to drop dramatically for the West Coast trawl fleet, allowing fish stocks and the industry to recover from years of decline.

We applaud both NOAA and the Pacific Fishery Management Council for taking this important step. This is a new day for a fishery that was declared a disaster just ten years ago. From now on, West Coast trawlers will not be in a rush to fish and deliver their catch. Instead, they will time their trips in accordance with both weather and market forecasts, maximizing their profits while fishing in a safer, more efficient, and sustainable way.

The approved plan includes precedent-setting provisions aimed at protecting coastal communities and the environment. There are several features in the plan that makes it stand out as a model for sustainable and adaptive fisheries management. The Council and NOAA have seen to it that fishermen and coastal communities have a real say in how they adopt new practices and adapt to the catch share system.

Years from now, when we look back on this moment, we’ll see that this was a turning point for West Coast trawlers and the groundfish species they harvest.

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Civility, A Surprise Visitor to the NOAA Law Enforcement Summit

Donald Barry - Managing Director, EDF Oceans

Donald Barry - Managing Director, EDF Oceans

I spent  yesterday participating at the NOAA Law Enforcement Summit in Washington DC along with 60 or 70 other stakeholders and a rare thing happened, at least for this city:  Despite having strongly differing views about NOAA's past law enforcement record and how the agency should move forward in remedying problems from the past, there was no shouting, no name calling , no fist shaking, no angry diatribes.  Instead, there was politeness, constructive comments and interesting and creative ideas on improving law enforcement transparency, consistency and communications.  In polarized Washington DC ? How the heck did that happen?
 
For one thing, the summit was organized and well run by professional facilitators with the participants assigned to small working groups for focused discussions.  The people assigned to my table were an amazing mix of people with extremely different backgrounds with significantly differing views: a representative of the charter boat industry, the head of a state fishery agency, a University of Maryland professor who had conducted exhaustive research on NOAA law enforcement activities, a New England seafood marketer, a NOAA law enforcement agent, a representative of the commercial fishing industry, and myself representing the Environmental Defense Fund. 
 
At least one of our table participants stated firmly at the beginning that he was staunchly anti-law enforcement or something to that effect and my initial internal reaction was "oh boy, here goes the bar fight" but then the unexpected thing happened. A really fascinating conversation began unfolding with everyone being very respectful of each others opinions and folks trying real hard to come up with constructive ideas for helping NOAA enhance the effectiveness of its law enforcement program. 

The professor from Maryland turned out to be a virtual fountain of fascinating statistics and past analyses of NOAA law enforcement activities and the representatives at the table from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska shared insights on how they had resolved many of the issues years ago that are now starting to surface in the South Atlantic. But perhaps the conversation that transfixed me the most was the dialogue which unfolded between the NOAA law enforcement agent and the participant who had initially stated that he was strongly anti-enforcement.  It was respectful, constructive and enlightening. 

By the time the summit ended, the comment that I heard from virtually everyone in our group was that it had been a "really good group of people" at our table and that people had really enjoyed the conversation and the ideas that we had ultimately developed.  Everyone exchanged business cards and I truly expect to touch base with many if not most of these people again.
 
This was the second facilitated summit-like meeting sponsored by NOAA that I have attended in the last three months (the other one involved recreational fishing) and in each case potentially explosive, emotion charged issues were handled diplomatically and effectively, creating an atmosphere that facilitated the exchange of ideas with civility and respect.  Boy, have we been missing those elements recently in the political gladiator wars in this city. 

The hard work on improving and enhancing NOAA law enforcement has just begun and a one day summit is not going to provide all the answers or solutions that will be needed.  Far from it.  But having said that, Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Eric Schwaab have now twice organized meetings where people with strongly held (and often differing) opinions could discuss their differences in a constructive atmosphere without insulting the motives or the values of the person seated next to them.  I generally hate day long meetings but I would willingly come back for a third NOAA summit if it would allow me to work on problem solving again with as interesting and insightful people as the ones sitting around my table.

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Catch Shares Not for Private Anglers – Part of EDF’s Comments on NOAA’s Draft Catch Share Policy

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

EDF recently submitted comments to NOAA on its draft catch share policy.  In the letter we address how catch shares are better than fishery closures; how they improve fishing jobs and restore the resource; and how they are locally designed to meet specific biological, economic and social goals. We also address the importance of stakeholder input in the design of a catch share program.

We've been asked recently what EDF's position is regarding recreational fishing and catch shares.  Here's what we say in our letter to NOAA:

There are two distinct segments of the recreational fishing community: charter boats and private individual anglers. Current management is failing both segments, as seasons dwindle, bag limits shrink, size limits increase and fishing opportunities are decreased. The recreational fishing community deserves better than that.

Since charter boat captains maintain a fishery-dependent business similar to commercial fishermen, catch shares management should be considered for that segment. However, for private anglers catch shares are not appropriate and a new approach is needed. We should support new ideas that can help get fishermen back on the water and restore the resource.

Read EDF's full letter of comments to NOAA.

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