Monthly Archives: February 2010

Catch Shares Improves Both Science and Catches

EDF Senior Scientist, Doug Rader

EDF Chief Oceans Scientist, Doug Rader

The track record for catch shares in fishery management is abundantly clear: better science for managers and better access for fishermen.  Certainly, “science vs. catch shares” is a false choice – catch shares provides the best chance to achieve high-powered science while getting fishermen back on the water and back to work. 
Here’s why.

Science in Fisheries Management

Irrespective of the type of management being used, federal law and regulations require that fishing levels be set to both prevent overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks, based on the best available scientific information.  The total fishing mortality for all fishing sectors (commercial, charter boats and private anglers), including both landed and discarded dead fish, cannot by law exceed “overfishing limits” identified by fisheries scientists.

Two kinds of information are used to assess fish stock conditions and set the overfishing limits, fishery-independent data (collected directly by scientists to judge stock conditions), and fishery-dependent data (sampling of fish caught by fishermen, and affected by the fishing mechanism and regulations, typically using catch monitoring or catch accounting methods).  Each type provides different, valuable information about what’s out there, and what is caught.

When there are lots of data of both types, and they are collected using robust methods, the uncertainty in the biology is greatly reduced and we have a much better understanding of what’s happening.  When data are poor in one or both categories, there is a higher level of biological uncertainty, and less confidence that managers understand what’s really occurring in the fishery.

Under federal regulations, biological uncertainty must be subtracted from the overfishing limits to create lower “allowable biological catches” that cannot be exceeded by managers. 

In addition, there is often considerable uncertainty in estimating how a proposed management system will work to achieve allowable biological catches.  Management uncertainty (how well management measures like bag limits, size limits, closures, or catch shares perform in actually hitting management targets) must be subtracted from allowable biological catches in setting “annual catch limits” for fisheries or fishing sectors.

Thus, all types of uncertainty must be accounted for.  The greater the total uncertainty, the lower the allowable catch levels can be—and the less fish for fishermen to catch, for any given stock condition. 

Finally, the levels of fishing allowed for overfished stocks are also set based on how fast those stocks are able and required to rebuild.  In nearly every case, the regional fishery management councils have allowed the longest legal rebuilding time, with the lowest allowable probability of actually rebuilding, given the biological uncertainty involved (50% probability, established in the courts and now by regulation), and the highest legal landings, even though that slows down rebuilding. Read More »

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Fishermen Express Concerns in Washington Today; Catch Shares Can Help

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

Fishermen are here in Washington, D.C. this week to express their concerns with fisheries today—and they have good reason to be frustrated. Even after decades of regulations aimed at restoring fisheries big problems still exist.

Today over 60 federal fish stocks are overfished or have overfishing occurring, resulting in declining catches and shrinking revenues.  We must rebuild these fish populations to restore vibrant fishing communities, because economic recovery requires biological recovery.  But, the key is picking the path that makes common sense.  

Until recently, fishery managers didn’t see a good choice.  Controlling overfishing has usually meant shrinking fishing seasons or even implementing closures, approaches that have serious economic impacts. For example, in the New England groundfish fishery significant reductions in resource abundance, allowable catches, and the number of active vessels reduced total fishing days by about half between 1995 to 2008 (Green, 2009; Thunberg, NEFSC, pers. comm.).  Commercial and recreational fishermen in the Southeast U.S. are just beginning to feel the cost of a closure on red snapper.  If better management options don’t surface soon, these impacts are expected to continue for the foreseeable future and grow as other regional fisheries close down too.

In contrast, catch share management can deliver increased prosperity, sustainability, and flexibility.  Instead of pushing fishermen off the water to restore the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, fishery managers worked with commercial fishermen to develop a catch share program, which has increased dock-side prices, decreased bycatch and helped end overfishing (Steele 2008).  Red snapper populations are now rebounding, meaning more fish for everyone, including recreational fishermen.  

In the commercial Alaska halibut fishery, catch share management has extended the fishing season from less than a week to more than eight months each year, allowing fishermen to have more full-time work as well as flexibility in deciding when to fish (NOAA Fisheries 2009).  These and other catch share programs stand out as the few bright spots in fisheries today. 

Transitioning to catch shares now is a necessary and worthwhile investment, because it can solve the overfishing problem, while boosting profits and improving jobs for fishermen.  In addition, over time catch shares can reduce and stabilize the overall federal investment needed to support fishing jobs: catch shares shift some management costs to fishermen once they are economically-viable again.  I believe there are solutions for recreational fishing too—solutions that help keep fishermen on the water through better scientific data and tools to make sure that the amount of fish caught stays within limits.

Fishermen continue to suffer from the collapse of fish stocks around the country.  Putting off rebuilding is not the answer as it only continues the downward spiral that has been putting people out of work for decades.  Instead Congress should invest in a durable solution that restores economic, cultural, and biological prosperity to our nation’s fishing communities.

Works Cited

Green, A. (2009, May 30). Move to redefine New England Fishing. The New York Times, pp. A18.

Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Snapper Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic; Red Snapper Closure. Federal Register Vol. 74 Issue. 232. 12/02/2009.

NOAA Fisheries Service. (2009). Catch Share Spotlight No. 1: Alaska IFQ Halibut and Sablefish Program.

Steele, Phil. (2008, November 17). An Overview of the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper and Grouper/Tilefish IFQ Programs. Southeast Regional Office (SERO) National Marine Fisheries Services.

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Protecting Marine Life in Cuba

Cuba coastline

Cuba coastline in the Guanahacabibes National Park. This rocky coastline is prime habitat for 3 foot long Cuban iguanas that are native to the area.

Guanahacabibes National Park, is located in the far southwest corner of Cuba, just across the Yucatan Strait from Cancun and smack dab in hurricane alley. Last week Pam Baker (from our Texas office) and I paid a visit to Cuban colleagues there to learn more about new efforts to protect fish populations, coral reefs, sea turtles, and coastal ecosystems.  

Most of the park’s waters are off-limits to the harvesting of reef fish, spiny lobster and other species.  La Bajada, a small village perched on the rocky coastline of the park, is home to a few dozen subsistence fishermen who are still allowed to catch fish in a designated area. 

The park’s pristine beaches provide important nesting grounds for endangered turtle species, including loggerhead, green, and hawksbill turtles.  Park scientists and volunteer students provide round-the-clock monitoring during nesting season and have virtually eliminated poaching of turtles in the park. 

Just recently, Cuban scientists have initiated a project to assess and control growing populations of the deadly Pacific lionfish, a non-native species that threatens native fish and fishermen alike. We are working with them to develop strategies to combat this invasive and dangerous species.  We are also teaming up to assess the impacts of sea level rise along the southern coast of Cuba and to examine adaptation and mitigation opportunities.  By some estimates, all of the park’s mangrove forests could be submerged in ocean waters by 2050.  For more on these and other collaborative projects in Cuba go to

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Southeast fishery closures make the New York Times

SEfishingboat-smSoutheast fishermen recently finished the first month of closures on many popular fish. Many fisheries won’t open again for several months and reality is sinking in across the region.

The New York Times is even taking notice. When a region’s fishery woes make ink in one of the most prominent papers in the nation, you know it’s a big deal.

It’s apparent that closures aren’t working for fishing businesses, restaurants or local economies.  Fishermen can’t make a living when they can’t fish. Businesses that rely on local fish must turn to far off places to get it.  What’s not as apparent is that closures aren’t even very good for the region’s ecosystem, because they force fishermen to fish harder on other species that aren’t closed. This can cause market gluts and an early end to the fishing season for many species, which just multiplies current problems.

However, in all the sobering news coverage that’s come out lately, outlets are overlooking a solution that’s good for fish and fishing businesses.

Southeast fishermen need catch shares, which allow fishermen the flexibility to fish when the weather and prices are good and improve collection of fishery data, all while rebuilding fish populations. 

The good news is that the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is already exploring this solution. In fact, the Council has scheduled a catch shares workshop for March 1 preceding the Council’s next regular meeting. If you’re interested in learning more about the best solution for Southeast fisheries, I encourage you to attend. The meeting is open to the public.

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Another day another closure

safmcwebsite4 Feb2010arrows

I recently spent a few hours taking stock of how our Nation is doing, using traditional approaches to fisheries management. My conclusion: not very well. As of December 31st, sixty federally managed fish stocks and stock complexes (containing an additional twenty species or so) were either overfished, being over fished, or both. That doesn’t even count the stocks for which the scientific information is so poor that we are “flying” blind or, many important but overfished non-federal stocks.

Take a look at the homepage of the South Atlantic Council‘s website (to the right). It shows closures for most of the “money fish” in the region – king mackerel, black sea bass, vermilion snapper, red snapper, groupers, and most of the other shallow-water reef fish. The costs of business-as-usual to commercial and recreational fishermen, fishing families, coastal communities, and coastal economies is staggering . . . not to mention to ocean ecosystems.

Thankfully, there is a better way — catch shares. While there are no silver bullets that will fix these fishery problems overnight – the problems been decades in the making – catch shares are the clear solution. You can read more about how to design a catch share at EDF’s Catch Share Design Center.

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Maryland Watermen Keep Open Mind Towards Future and Catch Shares

Kate Culzoni speaks to watermen at the East Coast Commercial Fishermen's & Aquaculture Trade Exposition in Ocean City, Maryland.

Kate Culzoni speaks to watermen at the East Coast Commercial Fishermen's & Aquaculture Trade Exposition in Ocean City, Maryland.

Over a half a foot of snow couldn’t keep watermen away from the East Coast Commercial Fishermen’s & Aquaculture Trade Exposition in Ocean City, Maryland this past weekend.  The state’s biggest fishing association, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, organized a weekend full of events and seminars highlighting issues on watermen’s minds.  Environmental Defense Fund had the honor of participating in this event by organizing a seminar called “Co-Managing the Future of Your Fishery – Experiences and Lessons from Fishermen across the Country.” 

To bring some context to the subject, we brought in fishermen from around the nation including the President and Treasurer of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, David Krebs and Buddy Guindon.  We also tapped the expertise of Alaska halibut fisherman, Mark Lundsten and New England fisherman and catch shares expert, Dick Allen.  These fishermen led a panel discussion on their experiences and lessons going from traditional fisheries management systems to catch shares management.   

Gulf fishermen and Maryland watermen talk at the East Coast Commercial Fishermen's & Aquaculture Trade Exposition in Ocean City, Maryland.

Gulf fishermen and Maryland watermen talk at the East Coast Commercial Fishermen's & Aquaculture Trade Exposition in Ocean City, Maryland.

The President of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, Larry Simns, opened the session requesting something from the 50 or so watermen in the audience.  “Whether you are for or against catch shares, we all need to keep an open mind and see how at least parts of this system can help the future of our fisheries,” Simns stated. 

Maryland watermen asked many questions and raised concerns about catch shares but repeatedly said they were maintaining an open mind about the solutions that catch shares can offer to fisheries.

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