Congress Should Keep Options On the Table to Help Fishermen

Catch shares have become integral to the success and sustainability of many fisheries across the country, but today their future is unclear. A ban on catch shares is now being decided behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, without any public debate or vote.  This is a desperate move in response to the House and Senate rejecting the ban their spending bills.

Nineteen members of Congress have written to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House Appropriations Committee and the Commerce subcommittee asking to ban further funding for this innovative tool in the Atlantic, effectively eliminating an important option available to fishermen and fisheries managers.

The ban would be added into an appropriations “minibus” package that the House Appropriations Committee and the Commerce subcommittee are currently working on.  This is the last opportunity to get this measure into appropriations legislation this year.  This measure would block work on, and implementation of, any new catch shares programs even where local fishermen and others are eager to adopt them.

Under many of the current management systems, overfishing, fishery closures and reduced fishing days have hurt local economies and threatened the very livelihood of commercial fishermen. Increasingly, fishermen and fisheries managers have turned to catch shares to help solve these problems. Catch share management does away with closures, allowing fishermen to keep working even as stocks recover, and has been shown to rebuild fish populations, improve fishing safety, and create better paying fishing jobs.

From grouper and tile fishermen in the Gulf region to Bering Sea crabbers, fishermen across our country are seeing tremendous benefits from catch shares. The facts show that many fisheries that have adopted catch shares are now on the rebound due to:

Longer Fishing Seasons:  The Gulf of Mexico commercial red snapper catch share program, implemented in 2007, has increased fishing time from 52 to 365 days per year.  The Alaskan commercial halibut and sablefish catch share program, implemented in 1995, has increased fishing time from 2 days to 245 days.

Greater Revenues:  Catch shares help fishermen and fleets recover economically.  In just the first ten months of the 2010 fishing season, fishermen participating in a new catch share program in New England saw their revenue for each pound of fish they caught climb by 20 percent from 2009. The value of the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery has risen 86 percent since the catch share program began.  Fishermen in the Alaskan halibut and sablefish catch share program have realized an increase in dock-side revenues of 14 percent.

Improved Safety:  In the Alaska commercial king crab catch share program fatalities declined in the fishery from an average of 5 per year to only 1 casualty in the last five years. In the Alaskan halibut and sablefish fishery, fatalities declined from 3 to 4 per year under the old derby system to less than 1 per year under catch share management.

Higher Wages:  Crew members’ income averaged more than 66 percent more per season in the Alaskan king crab fishery than before the implementation of a catch share program.

More Fish for Everyone:  Less waste and better adherence to science-based catch limits means fish populations can rebound, which has resulted in larger fish populations and more fish that can be caught.  For example, in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishermen saw catch limits grow by nearly 40 percent in just the 3rd year of the catch share program.

Congress should not meddle with the well-established and successful policy that lets local communities decide how best to manage their fisheries.  Taking catch shares off the table is a top-down mandate that limits options for communities reeling from years of mismanagement of their fisheries.

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