Fishermen Speak Out about Safety Benefits of Catch Shares

Fishing is the deadliest occupation in the United States. In recent media coverage, individuals from the fishing industry described how catch shares can make fishing safer. By giving fishermen the flexibility to choose when to fish, catch shares end the dangerous race for the fish.

The article below from recaps testimony during a hearing in Seattle that NOAA convened to get public comments as the agency updates a national standard on fishing safety. One attendee noted that “prior to the Halibut IFQ program, there averaged 30 Search And Rescue (SAR) missions per halibut opener.  After the implementation of the IFQ program, the fishery averages 5 SARs per year.”

In addition, the Alaska Journal of Commerce ran a compelling letter from the President of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, Jim Stone. Mr. Stone points to data from National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that illustrates the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab fishery has become less deadly with one fatality since the switch to catch shares.

At Seattle hearing, NOAA told how catch share programs save lives
By John Sackton
July 20, 2011

Fisheries management in the U.S. is based on ten national standards that were developed in the original Magnuson Stevens Act. These national standards are the underpinnings of fishery management plans developed throughout the U.S.

Standard number 10 says: Conservation and management measures shall, to the extent practicable, promote the safety of human life at sea.

NOAA has said that this standard, now 13 years old, should be revisited because major changes in fisheries management that change the way fishing operations are conducted, including catch share programs, could impact the safety of fishermen at sea, and those impacts should be assessed during the management process.

The Coast Guard also supports the updating of this standard due to the improved technology and vessel safety requirements of the past 13 years.

Accordingly, NOAA has been holding public hearing to take testimony during a public comment period.

One such hearing was held in Seattle yesterday.

The message from the public was profound:  Catch shares save lives.

According to Merrick Burden, head of the Marine Conservation Alliance who attended the meeting, over half of the roughly 30 attendees testified.

They ranged from independent halibut vessel owners, crab and longline association representatives, representatives from large seafood companies, employees of NIOSH and the USCG, and others.  Each and every one of the testifiers spoke to the dramatically improved safety conditions that have come about due to the implementation of IFQs, coops, or other forms of catch shares in the Bering Sea and Pacific.

Several of those testifying presented facts on the safety impact of catch shares:

Bob Alverson:  prior to the Halibut IFQ program, there averaged 30 Search And Rescue (SAR) missions per halibut opener.  After the implementation of the IFQ program, the fishery averages 5 SARs per year

Edward Poulsen:  From 1990 to 2005 82 lives were lost in the Bering Sea crab fishery.  Since implementation in 2005, one life has been lost
Arni Thompson:  Referenced three thick folders which hold records of lives lost in the BS crab fishery since 1987.  From 1990 to 2005 the fishery averaged 5 lives lost per year.  Since rationalization there has been one life lost

Dorothy Lowman:  A Redstone report indicates that catch share fisheries are 2.5 times safer than non-catch share fisheries
Other things were pointed worth noting at the hearing included that ending the race for fish through catch shares led to hiring more professional full time crew, and having larger and better maintained vessels.

Dorothy Lowman, vice chair of the Pacific Fishery Mgt Council, noted one driving factor in the Pacific groundfish IFQ program was the poor economic state of the fishery and neglected maintenance.  Industry saw this as a ‘ticking time bomb’ and justification for pursuing an IFQ program.
Both Bob Alverson and Lori Swanson noted concerns about regulations that required certain vessel lengths as this can lead to the construction of unsafe vessels or in using small vessels to fish in weather they should not be in.

According to those testifying in the BS crab fishery, the AK halibut fishery, and the Pacific groundfish fishery safety was a motivating factor in pursuing rationalization.

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