Two New Editorials on Catch Shares: Newsday and

A better fish tale;
New approach to end overfishing
January 8, 2009
This link has the beginning of the editorial. For those who are not subscribers to Newsday, we’re hoping to obtain permission to reprint the entire piece here on EDFish.

Time to put scallops under a catch share/ITQ program to end industry РNMFS battles (Editorial) 
By John Sackton 
Jan 8, 2009 

[Editorial Comment] It’s time for the scallop industry in New England to move towards an ITQ or catch share program. If such a program were in place, much of the dispute between the industry and the New England Fishery Management Council would simply not occur.

Currently, the movement in 2011 is toward ‘accountability measures’ – such as closing the fishery if a hard cap is reached. But the accountability measures under consideration seem unlikely to change the relationship between the scallop industry and NMFS.

The reason is simple: without an effective ITQ or catch share program, the amount of scallops harvested annually misses management targets – either being more or less than predicted prior to the season. This is natural when a fishery still uses effort based management – where only the number of days fishing is controlled, and the cpue and the productivity of the fishing grounds varies. If ‘accountability’ then requires a hard cap, the industry will be hit with closures, and a race to fish will ensue.

The industry has long objected to catch shares or an ITQ system because, first, they are happy with the rotational system of closed areas and trip limits, which function similarly to catch shares to some degree, and secondly, a fully developed catch share system would raise the specter of consolidation.

In fact, the scallop industry is highly concentrated with two large owners each responsible for a significant portion of the catch. Scallop vessel owners can operate up to a limit of 17 vessels. Companies with large numbers of vessels and stacked permits can rotate crews to keep the vessels operating far beyond the nominal limits of days at sea per vessel.

Moving to catch shares would probably cap the current level of ownership for the largest scallop fleets, or even reduce it – and that is one reason it is opposed in the industry.

But it is hypocritical for the industry to flail away at NMFS without addressing the fact that more scallops were caught last year than planned. After the fact, some are arguing that the scallop landing limits were set too low. This may be true. But the best cooperative experiences in stock assessment and research take place in fisheries with catch shares – where regulators know exactly what is going to be caught, and the industry works with, and even funds, science to document stock levels, mortality, and knows what are the highest scientifically based harvest levels.

A good example is the crab fishery in Alaska, where this week vessels are participating in a undersize discard mortality study that will be used by NMFS and could conceivably result in higher harvest levels due to changes in assumptions about the survival of undersized crab. The fleet is in a position to adopt new handling techniques if they can be shown to contribute to an increased overall catch.

Such an effort cannot take place in the New England scallop fishery until the war between NMFS and the industry is settled.

Stock assessment science is always going to have uncertainty. Currently that uncertainty is a battleground between the industry and NMFS. With a catch share program, that battle becomes a fight for the best science, as now both parties have reason to work towards the best possible facts with the least uncertainty.

The trade off is simple: the less uncertainty faced by the scientists in monitoring the fishery, the closer harvest levels can come to their maximum value, since less precautionary buffers and assumptions are needed.

This has clearly been the experience in other fisheries, and it would likely work in New England as well if issues of consolidation and ownership caps could be worked out.

Instead of the current battle being fought from New Bedford to Washington, the industry and NMFS could get back to achieving the highest harvest levels possible from a healthy resource.

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