Monthly Archives: June 2010

Wisconsin Great Lakes ITQ Program: Stability and Profitability in a Changing Ecosystem

Kate Bonzon, EDF Director of Design Advisory Services

Kate Bonzon, EDF Director of Design Advisory Services

When you think about catch shares, do you imagine marine fisheries? While catch shares are generally used in the salty world of the ocean, there are actually a number of catch share programs in freshwater lake fisheries as well. In fact, the United States’ oldest catch shares occur in the Great Lakes!

In 1971, in response to concerns about stock sustainability and increasing conflicts between user groups, the state of Wisconsin developed a catch share for the Lake Superior commercial lake trout fishery.1  Following the success of this program, and in response to shorter and shorter seasons, managers expanded the Wisconsin catch share program to fisheries on Lake Michigan.  Chub and yellow perch came under a catch share in 1983, and rainbow smelt, lake whitefish and round whitefish were added in 1989.2 Fishermen and managers agree that the catch share program has successfully maintained stable and profitable commercial fisheries in the Wisconsin waters of the Great Lakes. 

“ITQs [Individual Transferable Quotas] allow you to make business decisions, and feel confident in those decisions; in general, the fishery is more professional.”3

– Charlie Henriksen, President
   Wisconsin Commercial Fishermen’s Association and Lake Michigan whitefish fisherman

A Declining Ecosystem
The Wisconsin waters of the Great Lakes have supported fishing operation since the 1800s, fishing operations that led to significant decline in stocks in the early and mid-1900s.  While fishing effort and harvests have been stabilized with more effective management, other factors continue to contribute to changes in the lakes’ ecosystems. Wetlands degradation, invasive species and pollution all threaten the health of the lakes and fish stocks that live in them. Development of coastal lands has contributed to extensive reduction of coastal wetlands on Lake Michigan.4

The remaining wetlands provide vital habitat for fish stocks that contributes to fish health and productivity, and these are threatened by dredging and nutrient runoff.  Invasive species are also a threat to the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior ecosystems.  By 1999, new species were being introduced to Lake Michigan at a rate of one per year.5 Species such as sea lampreys, zebra mussels and quagga mussels negatively impact fish stocks through predation and resource competition. Read More »

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As Attempts to Plug Spill Continue to Fail, Use of Dispersants Will Likely Grow

A plane unloading dispersants passes over an oil skimmer near the site of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Tuesday, April 27 (Source: Associated Press)

As attempt after attempt to plug the BP Oil Disaster fails, and the ability to drill relief wells lies months in the future, BP may spread many more dispersants into Gulf waters in the near future. Read this week’s Wall Street Journal article on this topic.

EDF’s goal for the Gulf of Mexico is to ensure that people can enjoy fishing, run profitable and safe fishing businesses and eat fresh Gulf seafood, while conserving a healthy ecosystem for the future. Dispersants are a direct threat because scientists don’t know much about how the droplets of oil and dispersant chemicals that float around will affect fish habitat or the marine food chain.

EDF senior scientist Richard Denison asks several basic questions about dispersants on his Chemicals Blog, including:

The bottom line is that scientists have little understanding of how dispersant chemicals will affect the Gulf and marine life. If their use is allowed to continue, BP should use the safest and most effective products available, and make a long-term commitment to support research that evaluates their ecological and human-health impacts.

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Nature News Reports on Catch Shares

Earlier this week Nature News published an informative article on the many noted benefits of well-designed catch shares, and fairly covers the hesitations some have about the innovative fisheries management system. Specifically covering the transition to ‘sector’ catch share mangement in the New England groundfish fishery, the article makes it clear that ‘days at sea’ management hasn’t worked to the benefit of fish populations and fishermen. Through effective program design, catch shares do just that.

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Cuba’s Marine Life and Coastal Communities at Risk from BP Oil Disaster

Surface Horitzonal Current - NOAA/National Weather Service May 23rd

Surface Horizontal Current - NOAA/National Weather Service May 23rd

This week, federal regulators increased the size of the Gulf fishery closure to 37% percent of federal waters.  As the disaster continues, concerns are spreading across international boundaries, including to Cuba where the U.S. closure already abuts 250 miles of that nation’s waters. 

Most at risk is the ecologically rich northwest coast of Cuba, home to coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests.  These ecosystems are breeding, nursery and feeding grounds for fish, sea turtles, sharks and manatees.  At the same time, these systems protect coastal communities from hurricanes and storm surges.  Like the U.S., this disaster threatens important economic activity and livelihoods from commercial fishing to eco-tourism.

EDF’s Cuba program is sharing information with Cuban officials, scientists, and conservationists, helping the country keep a watchful eye on the path of the oil.   Unfortunately, the political differences between the U.S. and Cuba means there are no official mechanisms to communicate and cooperate on the crisis. 

I recently spoke at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., calling on the Obama Administration to work with Cuba.  EDF also supports similar recommendations in a report from the Brookings Institution entitled, Coping with the Next Spill: Why U.S.-Cuba Environmental Cooperation is Critical. 

For half a century, a political gulf has divided our two countries.  Finding ways to collaborate to respond to the BP oil disaster is in our mutual interest—to help Cuba prepare and respond to the worst, and to develop a strong foundation for the future to protect our shared environment.  It is time for a pragmatic approach.

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Iceland’s ITQ Fisheries Management Demonstrates the Benefits of Well Designed Catch Shares

Icelandic Fishing Boat -

Icelandic Fishing Boat - Source:

While the world has been recently transfixed with the awe, beauty and power of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull, we at EDFish have been thinking about the other wonders of Iceland, namely what occurs under the vast ocean surrounding the island nation.  Located on some of the most historically productive fishing banks in the world, Iceland has long been a nation based on fishing, and this is reflected in their aim “to ensure the sustainability of the fisheries while emphasizing the economic benefits of the fisheries sector.”  

In fact, Iceland’s annual marine catch has average 1.1 million metric tons; almost 2% of the global marine harvest.  This catch is directly responsible for 8% of Iceland’s gross domestic product. Up to 1/5 of the nation’s GDP is directly and indirectly attributable to the fishing industry!  At the same time the industry has been very profitable in recent years. Clearly the entire nation benefits from the fishing sector. But, this hasn’t always been the case. 

Profitability of the Icelandic fishing industry was poor and declining until the implementation of Individual Transferable Quota systems, a form of catch shares.  Iceland first implemented ITQs in the herring fishing in 1976.  The program was expanded to demersal fisheries in 1984, to nearly all fisheries in 1991, and in 2004 to incorporate all commercial vessels into the system.  The catch share system is “the cornerstone of the fisheries management system.”   The value of the ITQs has increased greatly since 1984 (from about US $25 million to around US$4 billion) due to introduction of more species and sectors into the system and higher unit value of ITQs.

The ITQs haven’t just improved the value of the fisheries; they have been a key ingredient for successful resource management.  In fact, Iceland stands out as a global example: while fisheries around the world are declining, no stocks have collapsed in Iceland since the implementation of ITQs decades ago, and several have substantially improved including herring and haddock.

Effective management has made the difference. Dr. Ragnar Arnason, Professor of fisheries economics at University of Iceland, reports

“There is evidence of substantially improved resource stewardship under the ITQ system.  First, TACs are now generally adhered to.  Second, and more importantly, there are pretty clear indications that the fishing industry, i.e. the holders of ITQs, are much more willing now than before to accept and even support radical reduction in TACs in order to rebuild fish stocks.”  

For a nation largely dependent on fishing, this is critical to their prosperity.

Icelandic Fishing Boats -

Icelandic Fishing Boats - Source:

In 2008, Iceland came under international scrutiny as the financial system crumbled on the world’s stage. The collapse of the three biggest banks in Iceland left the country with a crippling national debt.  Despite the difficulty from the financial meltdown fisheries have continued to provide stability and strength to the Icelandic economy. 

In an atmosphere where the national stock market lost 97% of its value and more than 780 companies have been bankrupted, Iceland fishing companies have remained stable. In fact, the largest fishing company in Iceland, HB Grandi hf, kept all 650 employees on the payroll during the financial crisis and some even received a raise. 

In 2009, Iceland’s export production of marine products increased by 10.9%, in addition to a 21.4% increase in product value.  Under the catch share program, fishing fleets increased in size by 53 vessels, compared to 2008, while staying within the catch limit.  Every year since 2001 profits in the fishing industry has exceeded 5% of revenues.  Clearly in a time of significant economic upheaval, Iceland’s sustainable management of fisheries has bolstered the nation.

The wealth of Iceland’s fishing grounds is one of the main sources of debate in the Iceland’s application to become a full member of the EU.  The country is concerned about the potential impact to their fisheries. As a member of the EU, fishing resources would be managed under Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy and foreign fleets could potentially have access to Iceland’s fish stocks. Fishermen and fishing companies are not keen to open their well managed fisheries to exploitation by other countries.  Icelandic fishing companies are required by law to be controlled by Icelandic entities and not to exceed 25% ownership by foreign entities.

Design is critical to all catch share systems and Iceland has designed their system to meet their goal of responsible fisheries, specifically focusing on resource sustainability and economic benefits.  Iceland uses an individual-based approach with certain stipulations on limiting concentration and, to a certain extent, trading to meet specific goals.  For example, no fishing entity (individual, company or group of companies) can hold more than 12% of the value of ITQ fisheries and a there is a separate small boat quota system for boats less than 15 gross tons in which the quota can only be transferred with other small boats in the system. 

The ITQ system in Iceland’s fisheries provides a window into the environmental, economic, and other broader public benefits that well-designed catch shares can provide.

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As oil-related fishery closures quickly grow, EDF supports Senator Nelson’s Florida fishery disaster designation request

NOAA 6/2/10 Fishery Closure Map

Click the map to learn more about the current fishery closure covering 37% of the Gulf (6/2/10).

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) requested a fishery disaster designation for the state of Florida to assist fishermen, their families, and associated businesses who are feeling the impacts of the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a closure of 37% of federal fishing waters, many along the coast of Florida. Just yesterday, 31% of the Gulf was closed and on Monday 26% was closed. These extensive and growing closures are already impacting the Gulf’s multi-billion dollar fishing and tourist industries.

EDF supports Senator Nelson’s request, which will provide federal assistance to affected Florida fishermen and communities, and encourages U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke to make this designation.

On May 24, the Department of Commerce made a disaster designation for Gulf of Mexico fisheries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

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