Sharing the catch means more for everyone

It may seem counter-intuitive that sharing the catch yields more fish and economic benefits for fishermen and coastal communities, but that is exactly what catch shares are proven to do.

NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) recently released its first national report assessing the economic performance of catch share programs in the United States. This report further validates the findings outlined in a 2011 Marine Policy Paper,  “Assessing Catch Shares’ effects evidence from Federal United States and associated British Columbian Fisheries (Grimm et. al),  which examined 15 catch share programs in the U.S and British Columbia before and after catch share implementation.

While these two studies differ slightly in selected fisheries, variables and time frame, they both conclude that catch shares consistently outperform conventional management systems across the board. Graduating to catch shares yields a robust return on investment: longer seasons, fewer risks, higher revenues, less waste and more full time jobs. An overview of the findings from Grimm et al. is presented in the table below.

[Chart summarizing catch share benefits. Data adapted from Grimm ]

NMFS’ research surveyed 14 US catch share fisheries, finding economic and management improvements resulting in increased compliance with regulations, greater fishing revenues, and safer fishing conditions. According to the executive summary, “Overall, these programs were successful in having fishermen observe quota limits, improving overall economic benefits and efficiency, and ending the race to fish, thereby reducing pressure on fishermen to fish during unsafe conditions.”


Catch shares lead to increased compliance with catch limits:

Catch limits are target harvest levels designed to maintain or rebuild the size of fish stocks to productive levels. A primary challenge of any fishery management approach is in ensuring catch limits are not exceeded each year. The NMFS study found that catch shares nearly eliminated overages when compared to more conventional approaches like season lengths or trip limits.  Limits were exceeded only twice in the study period under catch shares. Furthermore, for those fisheries in which landings had previously exceeded quota, such as in North Pacific Halibut, the adoption of catch shares reversed this trend. This confirms findings from Grimm et. al, which showed that catch limits were rarely exceeded and by small amounts, compared to frequent and large overages under traditional management.  Increased compliance with regulation maintains fish stock or rebuilds them to sustainable levels that will continue to support profitable U.S. fishing businesses.


Fishermen earn more in catch share fisheries:

The NMFS study also evaluated revenue per vessel, which increased under catch shares for all fisheries in the long run. While a few fisheries had initial decreases in revenues per vessel due to temporary catch reductions, they soon recovered and revenues increased relative to baseline. These increased revenues are most likely due to increased fish prices; under traditional management, the race to fish results in more frozen fish than fresh sold at the market (hence, lower fish prices and revenue). Furthermore, catch shares increase the flexibility fishermen have to time their harvest to meet market demand, rather than producing a glut of fish caught in a short period of time. This ensures a consistent supply of seafood, and generates more revenue for fishermen. NMFS’ findings support the Grimm et al. paper which found revenue increases of 27% in the first year and 68% after 10 years of the program.


Catch shares eliminate the race to fish, which can improve fishing safety:

Fishing is the second deadliest occupation in the U.S. It is inherently dangerous, but management measures can be taken to reduce some of those risks. Longer fishing seasons also improve safety by eliminating the race to fish and allowing fishermen to choose which days to fish during the year, thus avoiding stormy weather and dangerous conditions. The NMFS study found that season length increased in all fisheries under catch shares relative to traditional management; similarly, Grimm et al. concluded that average season length increased from 63 to 245 days per year.


Looking forward:

Measuring the outcomes of fishery management practices is vital given the urgent need to identify proven strategies that sustain fish stocks and the livelihoods of fishermen and industries dependent upon them. NMFS findings are a positive step towards understanding the impacts of different regulations in order to bring about data-driven management reform of US fisheries. In future assessments, it will be important for NMFS to assess all approaches—not just catch shares—to build understanding about how to best manage fisheries in an economically beneficial way.

The NMFS study provides strong evidence that catch shares are working. Moving forward, more evaluation and research is needed to guide and inform policymakers of the many benefits of catch shares and how improved design can better meet the needs of a given fishery and fishing community. Many challenges exist in fisheries management, but this report is cause for optimism.

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