NOAA’s New National Catch Shares Program: An investment that makes (dollars and) cents

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans National Policy Director.

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.

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  1. Mary Beth de Poutiloff
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Fishermen are NOT embracing catch shares. This is evident by the protest in October in Gloucester & The DC rally scheduled for Feb. 24.

    Boosts wages, profitability & safety? Yes, for investors, but no for the fishermen.

    Thank you, Amanda, I guess fishermen will have to make sure Congress doesn’t waste the country’s money on privatizing our resources. This money should be spent on science.
    Which is an investment for our resources future, not an investment for you & your cronies.

  2. fishersofmen
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    50 million dollars?! What a colossal waste of taxpayer money. Mary Beth de Poutiloff is absolutely right – if only this money were being used for better science, which even NMFS admits is lacking.

    So EDF is promoting a program that creates winners and losers out of fishermen, based on arbitrary catch history. Making sure that there are more fish to catch the next day is one thing. Deciding who gets to catch them is something entirely different.

    Stop confusing the two!

  3. Greg Connors
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I know of no fishermen who are embracing catch shares.
    Fish stocks are not declining they are increasing.
    And this abomination that is going to land on the northeast
    groundfishing fleet in may is not “well designed”.
    Please stop with the rhetoric.
    No one buys it.

  4. dakfish
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    As a commercial fisherman in the gulf of Mexico I thank the current administration for providing the funding that will allow us the commercial
    fisherman design and implement a catch share system. For the first time in my 40 years of fishing I can participate in designing regulations that will keep me and my family fishing for future generations. There will be greed in any business but for the first time I get to make decisions on when and how I fish, not the government.

  5. Posted March 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Catch shares are not a management tool.
    Please provide a coherant response to the following Ms. Leland:
    1) The term “catch shares” originated with the EDF (Environmental Defense Fund). 2) The EDF is funded primarily by Walmart or its subsidiaries. 3) The EDF used to be chaired by Jane Lubchenco. 4) Jane Lubchenco now heads NOAA. 5) Lubchenco was as a witness for the first of two congressional field hearings on federal fisheries law enforcement failings identified by the U.S. Commerce Department. When asked to define a “catch share,” Lubchenco replied that a catch share was “a negotiable stock that fishermen can sell as they go out of business, allowing them to exit with some cash.”
    Lubchenco’s reply is telling of a crucial issue with respect to catch shares, one insidiously hidden in plain sight by the EDF’s control of the language of the argument: Catch shares are not, nor were they created to be, a management tool. Catch shares have nothing more to do with fisheries management than the man on the moon. Fisheries management is everything else being implemented to maintain a safe, sustainable harvest – everything except the transfer of ownership, the creation of an individual property right in a public natural resource. Any management scheme that can be used in conjunction with catch shares can be used with per vessel or permit entry. Stated simply, catch shares is intellectually and practically separable from any coherent fisheries management plan. I’m not just saying that; think about it. Catch shares weren’t conceived of by a fisheries biologist looking to “ensure optimum yields from the fishery resources of the United States” as required by the Magnuson Act.