Boston Globe Op-Ed by Peter Baker and Robert Johnston Raises Key Point

Julie Wormser, NE Regional Director for EDF Oceans program.Yesterday’s Boston Globe op-ed by Peter Baker and Robert Johnston, and the economic report on which it’s based, make a key point that I think is the cause of a lot of the conflict and distrust between fishermen and fisheries managers. 

The underlying economics of any effort-based regulation–such as the current “days-at-sea” system for New England groundfish–mean that the average profitability of the fishing fleet is zero at the target catch level regulators set.  This drives fishermen with capital to be more productive than the fleet average, and fishermen without access to capital are driven out of the fishery.  Overfishing continues and regulators are forced to continually clamp down on fishing effort.

Under sectors, a form of “catch shares,” the underlying economics are to maximize profitability–both of individual boats and the fleet as a whole.  Regulators set an annual catch limit, allocate portions of that catch limit in this case to fishing cooperatives, and fishermen are free to fish when and how they can make the most money per fish.  It takes pressure off fishermen to catch as much fish as they possibly can just to break even.

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