Monthly Archives: May 2010

South Carolina Fisherman Wants Catch Shares, Not Closures

A recent op-ed by Chris Conklin in The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, voiced frustration over the cascading closures now hitting the Southeast. Conklin comes from a fishing family and wonders if he’ll be able to stay in the fishing industry unless catch shares are instituted. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is considering a number of options – including catch shares – to reduce fishing closures and get fishermen back on the water. 

Conklin points to the success of the red snapper catch share in the Gulf of  Mexico.  Not too long ago, Gulf red snapper fishermen were in a similar situation to fishermen in the Southeast. Now, they are now enjoying the third successful year of a catch share. They have a year-round season and dockside prices are higher. These fishermen will likely receive more fish this year because fish population rebuilding is going so well.

Even as Gulf commercial fishermen deal with the worsening oil spill, the flexibility they have to fish throughout the year lets them plan their businesses in the face of natural or man-made problems better than those not under a catch share.

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New England Groundfish Sectors: Things to Look for 2 1/2 Weeks In

Julie Wormser, New England and Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for EDF Oceans program.

Julie Wormser, New England and Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for EDF Oceans program.

New England groundfish sectors, a kind of a catch share management system, are entering their third week of operation.  It’s far too early to pass judgment, but here’s what we’re watching for: 

1) The ability of individual fishermen to maximize their profits and minimize their costs, and

2) The total 2010 harvest of groundfish compared to annual catch limits (ACLs).

An article from that we cited last week discussed these two measures, but was criticized for comparing the first week of landings versus last year’s harvest.  However, since fishermen fishing under sectors no longer have any time constraints to their harvests, weekly landings are not a meaningful measure of success or failure

More important and interesting were the article’s insights into fishermen’s ability to selectively harvest strong stocks and avoid weak stocks, and fishermen’s ability to maximize catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) by landing all legal species that they catch rather than being required to dump good fish overboard.

A key way fishermen are successfully avoiding weak stocks is through their knowledge of fish behavior and life cycles and through the use of conservation gear such as the Ruhle trawl.

Using this gear, one fisherman in the Rhode Island sector reported landing 8,500 lbs of haddock and only 120 lbs of cod and 140 lbs of yellowtail on a one-day trip to Georges Bank.  That’s a strong stock/weak stock ratio of between 60 and 70 to one.  He said it was the best day of fishing he had had in years. 

Another vessel fishing on Georges Bank, as reported in the article, reported a strong stock to weak stock harvesting ratio of 140:1 haddock to yellowtail and 25:1 haddock to Georges Bank cod. 

Finally, the article reported a six-figure harvest in one trip by one New Bedford sector vessel; we have heard about several others of the same magnitude.

Unquestionably the fact that sectors are being implemented at a time of low catch limits is causing a great deal of stress for a significant number of groundfish fishermen.  It is all the more impressive and hopeful to see these kinds of conservation and business benefits emerging so soon under the new system.

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Fishery Research Accelerated by Oil Spill


EDF staff recently had the privilege to participate in a university-fishing industry research expedition conducted by graduate students from the University of West Florida, on Captain Gary Jarvis’ boat, the Back Down 2, in Destin, Florida.

Underwater surveys explored reef fish populations and their habitat. They were originally scheduled throughout summer, but have been sped-up to serve as baseline samples in case the oil spill spreads as far as Alabama and Florida. These may be particularly important given this weekend’s news that large plumes of oil have been found at deep depths offshore.

The researchers have several objectives including exploring fish population structure and habitat and examining fish tissue and stomach contents. Their methods include use of a Remotely Operated Vehicle to view the underwater environment to identify, measure and count fish. The researchers were also studying how varyingly skilled anglers catch fish on different sizes of circle hooks.

Cooperative research has many benefits

Cooperative research trips like this one are good for science and fishing businesses. UWF researchers chartered boats out of ports in Alabama and Pensacola in the week prior, and have scheduled several additional trips with Captain Jarvis and others.  The research rapidly provides much needed data on the health of fish stocks, and provides an opportunity to help charter businesses struggling with lost business from the oil spill.

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New England Auction Managers Question Reports of Positive First Week Under Catch Shares

As published by John Sackton on

SEAFOOD.COM NEWS, May 12, 2010 – New Bedford, Boston, and Gloucester Auction owners question reports that suggest the first week of New England Fisheries under catch share managment were good.

In a May 11, 2010 report on the first week of landing reports under catch shares, Seafood News reported that offshore boats are thriving under new catch share rules in New England with regional landings up 4% in the first week.

While Seafood News’ reporting of the numbers is accurate, the owners of the New Bedford, Boston, and Gloucester Seafood Display Auctions told Saving Seafood that the positive numbers mask the current realities and challenges facing fishermen.

Larry Ciulla of the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction told Saving Seafood that dayboats are not fishing. He noted that in a typical year, the first week of the fishery brings in 150,000 – 200,000 lbs. of grounfish, but this year only 30,000 lbs. were landed during the first week. He also noted that many vessels went out during the last week in April to use up allocations under the old system, and landed that product during the first week of May.

Richie Canastra of the New Bedford and Boston auctions also said that many vessels went out at the end of April with the specific intention of fishing under the old rules. He noted that vessels go out at the end of April and come in during early May in order to supply restaurant and market demand for seafood that spikes over Mothers’ Day weekend.

Both Mr. Ciulla and Mr. Canastra pointed out that none of the boats that landed during the first week of May had fished entirely under the Sector regime. All of the landings reported during the first week of May included fish caught in April under the old system. The first landing of fish caught entirely under the new system at the Gloucester auction occurred during the day on May 11. At the New Bedford Auction, the first vessel landing with product caught entirely under the new system was expected late overnight on May 11-12.

Both Mr. Ciulla and Mr. Canastra indicated that an accurate comparison of data between this year’s landings under the new system and last year’s landings under the former system cannot be made until a full week has lapsed during which all landings are of catches caught under the new system.

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Oil Spill Exposes the Flaws of Gulf Recreational Fishing Management


As a massive oil spill and its underwater plumes continue to threaten fisheries in parts of the Gulf, charter captains are in an immediate pinch: their prized red snapper season is about to open on June 1 for just 53 days, but clients are foregoing fishing trips because they are worried about whether it is safe to visit the coast and fish in the Gulf during the oil spill. Offshore fishing outside the closed spill area remains good, and fishing captains are ready to accommodate customers.

But, Captain Gary Jarvis of Destin, Florida, points to an unexpected impact:  “This oil spill exposes the failure of Gulf recreational fisheries management.” 

With so many cancelled trips, and a short government-set red snapper season, charter fishermen are looking for ways to stay afloat. While traveling the Gulf Coast, I heard a lot of ideas for moving around or extending the 53 day red snapper season.

Click here to learn more about the latest oil spill-related fishing closures in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We need a new way to manage our fishery that gives us the flexibility to deal with these kinds of disasters and run stable businesses,” Jarvis said.

Thankfully, they don’t have to look far for a working model.

“In addition to my charter business, I have a small commercial fishing business,” Jarvis explained. “The commercial side of my business is doing fine. For now, I’m not worried about it because the fishery is managed smartly.”

Gulf commercial red snapper fishermen currently fish under a system called “individual fishing quotas” that allows them to harvest a portion of fish throughout the year when it makes most sense for their business, instead of during a set season.  In exchange for this flexibility, each fishermen is held accountable for his harvest.

“Some form of catch share suitable for the for-hire industry needs to be looked into to see if we can be managed with the flexibility needed to stay profitable and keep the public access open for recreational fisheries,” Jarvis said.

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New England Sectors Will Ultimately Serve the Fishermen and the Fisheries Better

New England is going through a sea change this month. Fishermen who catch groundfish (cod, haddock, flounder) are shifting away from decades of failed management, which has led to the decline of fish populations and the loss of thousands of jobs. On May 1st, a type of catch share called sectors began for the groundfish fishery.

There are numerous benefits to fishermen who operate under sectors, as compared to traditional fishery management systems, such as a Days-at-Sea program:

  • Now fishermen have the freedom to decide how, when and where to fish.
  • Fishermen can keep a higher percentage of the fish they catch and are no longer legally forced to discard large amounts of economically valuable fish.
  • For the first time in decades, fishermen have the flexibility to create and follow an actual business plan.
  • For the first time, now fishermen can cooperate and time their landings so that they get a higher price for their fish and avoid market gluts.
  • The days of dangerous “derby-style” fishing are over. Fishermen don’t have to race the clock anymore and can develop innovative ways to avoid bycatch and fish more selectively.
  • Under sectors, fishermen are allowed to fish in portions of the Gulf of Maine Rolling Closure Areas and Georges Bank Seasonal Closure Area which were previously completely off limits to them.
  • Under sectors, fishermen no longer have to worry about “cod jail,” when they had to wait out the clock on the other side of the demarcation line to land their fish.

The transition to catch shares, particularly timed with new MSA requirements of annual catch limits and accountability measures will be challenging for many in New England’s fishing industry. Yet catch shares are an improvement from the alternative — the old days-at-sea system –which is broadly agreed to be broken.  This new system of management will take some getting used to but ultimately will serve the fishermen and the fisheries better.

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