Selected tags: NOAA

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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Fishermen Come to D.C. to Educate Lawmakers About Catch Shares

United States CapitolApproximately 50 fishermen have arrived in Washington, D.C. today to tell members of Congress how important catch shares are to their future.   Funding for the national catch shares program is included in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.  The fishermen are in Washington to talk to their Congressional representatives and Senators about how conventional management is increasingly pushing fishermen off the water and how catch shares is a solution that keeps fishermen working – even while fish stocks recover.
 
Today more than 60 federal stocks are overfished or undergoing overfishing.  Thousands of fishing jobs have been lost as fisheries have declined under the current management system. This adverse impact from conventional management continues to increase as many valuable fisheries face huge closures or dwindling seasons, which will have devastating impacts on fishing jobs and coastal communities.

During their visits to Capitol Hill, fishermen will tell lawmakers how catch shares are locally designed to meet economic, social, and conservation goals.  Catch shares management is not a one-size-fits-all approach; rather programs are designed to meet the specific needs and goals of each fishery.

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New NOAA Report Shows Progress Being Made to Rebuild and Sustain Fisheries and Ocean Ecosystems – Catch Shares Help

Cover of NOAA report, Our Living Oceans - 6th edition.

Cover of NOAA report, Our Living Oceans - 6th edition.

In NOAA's newly released 6th edition of Our Living Oceans: Report on the Status of U.S. Marine Resources, catch shares (referred to as Limited Access Privilege Programs – LAPPs) are raised as one solution to the over-harvesting of fisheries. Citing the successes of established catch share programs, Our Living Oceans reports that the Alaska halibut fishery has seen healthy stocks with near record levels of total catch since the implementation of its catch share program.

Recognizing some challenges of implementing catch shares, the report rightly points out that policies set during the design of a catch share can address those challenges and concerns.

"Additional rules or special programs built into the LAPP either at implementation or after implementation can often mitigate any potential negative impacts."

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NOAA’s New National Catch Shares Program: An investment that makes (dollars and) cents

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans National Policy Director.

Yesterday NOAA released its budget request to Congress for Fiscal Year 2011.  While the National Marine Fisheries Service budget request was decreased by 1.5%, it included a key feature: the creation of a new National Catch Shares Program, which would provide significant resources—over $50M—to those fisheries wanting to transition to catch shares. 

This federal investment comes at the right time because under conventional management fishermen struggle to make ends meet and fish stocks continue to decline.  Well-designed catch shares, on the other hand, can end overfishing while increasing fishermen’s profitability and wages and decreasing government costs.  NOAA’s announcement is a welcome shift in fisheries policy that will quickly accrue benefits to fishermen, fish populations, and the federal budget’s bottom line.
 
Fishermen are increasingly embracing catch shares because they boost profitability, wages, and safety. Catch shares enhance fishery economics with optimized catch limits (as overfished stocks recover and science improves), increased efficiency of fishing operations, and higher dock-side prices.  On average, fisheries in North America have realized an 80% increase in revenues five years after catch share implementation. In contrast, for many prized species the alternative to catch shares is closures, which will push fishermen off the water and have a devastating economic impact on coastal communities. 

As fisheries grow economically, catch shares can transition management costs to fishermen, reducing and stabilizing the overall federal investment needed to support fishing jobs.  For example, fishermen are required to recover 100% of program costs in the Alaska crab catch share.  That catch share has increased the overall value of the fishery because populations are recovering (so catch limits are increasing), and dock-side values have increased.  The economic increase has resulted in a surplus for management costs in 2009.
 
At the same time, as fisheries stabilize under catch shares, the federal government’s costs for disaster relief could substantially be reduced, which has averaged some $70 million annually over the past decade (not including salmon).
NOAA should be applauded for charting a new course and making an investment today in the solution that will help fishermen, fish populations, and the federal treasury recover. 
 
Now we need Congress to support NOAA’s budget request.

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