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.