New National Fishing Policy Announced Today Focused on Catch Shares

Diane Regas is Associate Vice President for EDF’s Oceans program. 

Diane Regas, Associate Vice President - EDF Oceans ProgramThe top government official for the nation’s fisheries today took a giant step in the right direction for the U.S. fishing industry and the oceans.  At a speech in Boston, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that she was creating a task force to develop a new policy on catch shares to ensure that they are fully considered when fishery management councils amend management plans. 

Recent scientific studies have shown that catch shares perform dramatically better than conventionally-managed fisheries.  The bottom line is that the new policy is likely to dramatically increase the number of fisheries managed by catch shares and that’s great news for the oceans and fishermen.

In her speech, Dr. Lubchenco said that NOAA would move “forward to implement more catch share programs” and that “all of the (fishery management) councils will see increases in their allocations in the 2010 (budget) request” for catch shares.  She also announced a new task force to develop a nation-wide catch share strategy.

Here’s the full text of Dr. Lubchenco’s speech this morning:

Comments by Dr. Jane Lubchenco at the Council Coordination Committee Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts – Tuesday, May 19, 2009.

Thank you, John and Jim. I greatly appreciate your warm words of
welcome. It’s a treat for me to be back in Boston and I thank you for
the opportunity. Boston holds a special place in my heart. I was here as
a grad student and young professor in the 70s – a time of stimulating
intellectual debate and a great era for sports fans – Bruins, Celtics
and, of course, the Red Sox. I am sorry I cannot stay for the game
tonight but Pat Kurkul and Paul Howard have graciously consented to
enjoy the game for me. Due to my new responsibilities as Administrator,
some of my pleasures need to be vicarious ones, but others are direct.
Being here today is a personal pleasure.

I have been anticipating the opportunity to talk with all of you since
the President first nominated me to lead NOAA. This group—the Council
chairs, the Regional Administrators and the Executive Directors of the
Councils—are the focal point for successful fisheries management in the
US. And that successful fishery management is closely connected to the
health of the ecosystems that in turn sustain life in the oceans. These
connections have not always been obvious, but they lie at the heart of
our ability to be successful.

In March, I was able to meet with the New England Fishery Management
Council to discuss its pending decisions about sectors. I was impressed
with the willingness of Council members to have open, frank and
respectful discussions about challenging issues, and to work together to
solve problems.

Today, with your support and your leadership, I believe that we have an
unparalleled opportunity to truly demonstrate that good, stable jobs,
stable fisheries and resilient ecosystems can be achieved together.
Fishing is an integral part of our cultural heritage and our coastal
communities. Fishing is also an important part of the global food
supply. The best possible fisheries management will be needed to sustain
that supply over the coming years. The challenges we face every day make
that a tall order.

My principle message to you today is that I, and the
team at NOAA, will be partners with you in finding every opportunity to
make the health of the oceans go hand-in-hand with the prosperity of
fishermen and the well-being of coastal communities.

I will be with you to help seek the resources you need to meet the
challenges ahead.

We will be partners in developing NOAA’s strategy to manage fisheries to
end over-fishing. To rebuild stocks. To improve the economics of
fishing, and to protect the ecosystems that sustain fisheries. These
goals are not antithetical; they go hand-in-hand.

As partners we will celebrate successes, and together we will seek out
and implement solutions to the problems that we find.

And, as a partner with you, I am committed to improving the transparency
of our science and the quality of our two-way communications. The
Councils provide stakeholders with an important and direct role in
managing the Nation’s fisheries. Making sure that NOAA provides clear
advice and support into that process is key. Just as important is making
sure that we are listening to the concerns and ideas that emerge from
the Councils.

Before I talk about specific priorities, let me share a little bit about
my background.

I was fortunate to grow up in Colorado where I developed a deep
appreciation for the land, the rivers and lakes — hunting and fishing
with my father, hiking and camping and sailing with family and friends.

I first became enamored with the oceans during a summer college class in
Woods Hole, Massachusetts. To a Colorado native, the newly discovered
life in the sea seemed exotic and endlessly fascinating. Little did I
realize at the time that life in the oceans is also essential to human
prosperity and well-being. My exposure to the oceans was love at first
sight and my life’s work was set in motion.

As a researcher, teacher, and vocal champion of good science, I have had
the opportunity to visit coastal communities around this great Nation:
the Pacific, the Gulf, the Atlantic and even the Arctic. I have been
struck by the extent to which Americans across the country and from all
different perspectives share common desires when it comes to oceans and
coasts. We want clean beaches. We want safe healthy seafood. We want
stable fisheries. We want abundant wildlife. And we want vibrant coastal
communities. What few people recognize is that these outcomes are
intertwined with each other and all require healthy oceans.

I believe the work of NOAA and the Councils in the next few years will
be an important part of realizing each of those aspirations.

I wish to highlight for you now areas where I see prime opportunities:
(1) catch shares, (2) tracking progress, (3) ecosystem approaches to
management, and (4) good communication.

NOAA and you are committed to meet the mandate of the Magnuson Act to
end overfishing by 2010. We know that annual catch limits are key to
achieving that goal. However, just having a good ACL does not mean that
it will be effective. It doesn’t mean it will be adhered to. Therefore,
I challenge you to put as much emphasis on how those catch limits are
met as you put on getting the catch limits correct.

Recent scientific analyses show us that fisheries managed with catch
share programs perform better than fisheries managed with traditional
tools. Even in the first years after implementation, catch share
fisheries are stable, and even increase their productivity. The
scientific evidence is compelling that that catch shares can also help
restore the health of ecosystems and get fisheries on a path to
profitability and sustainability. These results… these scientific
analyses… are why moving forward to implement more catch share programs
is a high priority for me. I see catch shares as the best way for many
fisheries to both meet the Magnuson mandates and have healthy,
profitable fisheries that are sustainable. Catch shares that are well
designed and thoughtfully prepared.

I applaud the many people on the Councils, fishermen and NOAA Fisheries
employees who have provided strong and creative leadership to make catch
share programs work. For example, Roy Crabtree described for me at last
night’s reception how the Gulf Council recently set up a catch share
program for red snapper. I understand that Chairman McIlwain and the
Council are working to add groupers and other fish to the system.

The fishermen were on board with the design of an ITQ system, and the system
passed overwhelmingly on a vote of the license holders. In the first
year, discards in the fishery decreased 70%, and the price on the dock
went up by about 25%. This inspiring example—and the efforts to make a
sector approach to catch shares work in New England are just two
examples of the kind of good work and results that truly inspire me. I
want to find ways to encourage more progress like this.

•NOAA is committed to working with the Councils to ensure we have the
necessary resources.

– As you know, in the proposed 2010 budget, we have identified $18.6M to
address the development of sectors in the New England groundfish fishery
to continue to assist their transition to a catch share management regime.

– The New England groundfish fishery has been managed primarily by
effort controls in the past. Going to catch shares will be a new
paradigm for managers and for the industry.

– The funds will be used to develop data systems and infrastructure to
support new reporting requirements, along with at sea and dockside
monitoring enhancements.

Rest assured though that NOAA is not focusing solely on New England at
the expense of other regions or fisheries. All of the Councils will see
increases in their allocations in the 2010 request.

The 2010 budget contains a $4M increase for Councils to implement annual
catch limits, and I am committed to making sure that money is well-spent.

NOAA also provides $1M to Councils annually specifically for catch share
programs, and is looking at potential for increases in that support in
future years.

In addition to that we are also working with the National Fish and
Wildlife Foundation to provide additional resources to Councils to help
break through any financial bottlenecks you experience in moving catch
shares forward.

To take full advantage of this opportunity, and the resources we hope to
make available, today I am announcing a new task force at NOAA to
develop a strategy to move forward on making catch share management more
available to fisheries in the United States. The goals of the task force
will be to:

1. Develop a new NOAA policy on catch shares that ensures that catch
shares are fully considered when Councils take up fishery management
plan amendments.

2. Make sure that Councils who want to move forward with catch shares
have the technical and administrative support to move quickly to design
a catch share system while empowering local fishermen to be part of the

3. Make sure that catch share designs achieve the best possible
environmental and economic performance—supporting healthy ecosystems,
meeting annual catch limits, reducing bycatch and habitat damage and
enhancing economic performance.

4. Consider whether any organizational changes are needed within NOAA
to provide the best possible communication and support.

5. Provide advice to me on how to allocate resources to the Councils to
support this work, and how to create milestones so that we can evaluate
our progress.

I have asked Monica Medina to chair this task force initially. She will
be naming the members of the task force by the end of the month. This
will build upon the informal group NOAA has had on this. I have directed
her to consult fully with you—the council chairs, the NOAA leadership
and staff and the Council Executive Directors and to report back to me
by August 1.

I want to emphasize that while I know that catch shares need to be a
priority, I need your help making sure that we pursue this priority the
right way. I invite your engagement in this effort.

I am very pleased that today we rolled out the annual Status of Stocks
Report. The fact that we are reporting on the best single-year
improvement in the number of stocks rebuilt is a testament to you and
NOAA Fisheries’ efforts.

Four stocks were declared fully rebuilt: the northern and southern
stocks of monkfish, Atlantic bluefish, and Gulf of Mexico king mackerel.

Three stocks are no longer subject to overfishing, and three stocks have
increased in biomass and are no longer overfished.

And while we can claim success, this year’s report also shows the
challenges that still exist to end overfishing and to rebuild stocks:
three stocks have been found to be subject to overfishing and four
stocks have been determined to be overfished.

In all, 41 stocks are subject to overfishing and 46 stocks are
overfished. Some of these stocks are managed under international
agreements, and action by the international community is critical to
ending overfishing for them.

This Status of Stocks report is just one example of the absolutely
critical role that NOAA needs to play in providing the science to
support scientific decisions.

If we truly want to have the aspirations Americans told us they wanted
— clean beaches, stable fisheries, safe seafood, abundant wildlife and
vibrant coastal communities – we need policy and management decisions
that are based on a more comprehensive understanding of how ocean
ecosystems work.

We talk a lot about managing on an ecosystem basis, but we really don’t
have the fundamental understanding of ecosystem-based science to really
underpin those decisions. There is a huge amount that we don’t know
about oceans that is desperately needed to inform the kinds of
management decisions, especially in light of the dual challenges posed
by climate change and ocean acidification.

So one my goals is to create a mechanism for having more comprehensive
ecosystem-based planning that will take stock of the range of activities
that can coexist with one another to minimize conflicts, but also ensure
that the ecosystem remains healthy and can be recovered.

The final goal that I wish to touch on is communication. NOAA Fisheries
does world class science, and has a long, proud tradition of excellence.
The challenge we face is that we need to get much better at doing and
sharing our science in non-technical terms and in ways that inspire
confidence in the results. If we expect people to trust our decisions,
we need to be transparent about our science and make ourselves
accessible to those who will be affected.

Thank you very much.

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  1. Jean Frottier
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Typical NOAA propaganda. Not one word about a system to develop a framework for the initial allocations in this catch share system. Fishermen will not support yet another NOAA condoned fish grab. The first thing that needs to be done is to establish how initial allocations are to be derived, but here we are – over two years after the New England Council floated the idea of catch shares for Amendment 16 – and we are about to have the first public meetings on this issue and the other aspects of this catch share proposal. Without any public input up to this late moment, the obvious question is to ask about who the proponents have been listening to as this thing has been moving forward over the past two years. Special interest sleaze and management dishonesty is what destroyed the once great New England fisheries, and it is already all too obvious that nothing has yet changed in that respect. Additionally, anything that fishermen do will continue to be an exercise in futility as long as the herring trawlers towing huge small-mesh nets in our inshore waters continue their operations without any meaningful observation and catch monitoring. One does not have to be a rocket scientists to understand that towing huge small mesh nets on or close to the bottom in near-shore waters for the past fourteen years would have devastating consequences for our groundfish stocks. Today, fourteen years late, there is a fight about providing meaningful observation for these boats in closed area 1 – and nowhere else. Our government at work – remember that when you now hear them speak about catch shares.

  2. Julie Wormser
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment Jean. There’s been plenty of reasons to feel frustrated and cynical over the years, but the good news is that NOAA is investing in a system for groundfish that has a very high level of accountability associated with it. The range of alternatives currently under consideration in amendment 16 for monitoring groundfish catch shares (aka sectors) is broad. Within that range, there are choices that are very good for fishermen and for conservation. Likewise, the allocation alternatives in amendment 16 are broad, and they are largely based on the types of allocation alternatives that are very common in fisheries worldwide (ranging from catch history only, to vessel size and historic allocation).

    As far as the concerns you mentioned about the herring fleet, some in that fishery have expressed an interest in a catch share approach to address bycatch and/or the directed portion of the fishery. The council is taking small steps forward in this fishery, namely ratcheting up the level of monitoring so we can really understand what is happening in the closed areas and elsewhere.

  3. Brian Higgins
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Well said Jean.Its hard to believe that the people in charge of fisheries management are still in the dark about potential bycatch in the “mid water” herring fleet.maybe its time to empty out a few offices and send some people out on the water.After all these years we still dont know if a problem exists-give me a break.As for catch shares and sectors,they may look good on paper, but many fisherman(myself included)are going to be pushed out.The permit I have been longlining with for the past ten years is about to loose 75% of its value.Can anyone explain how this benefits me.SPECIAL INTEREST SLEAZE AND MANAGEMENT DISHONESTY I think that sums it up perfectly.