Selected tag(s): Crab

‘Deadliest Catch’ Star Says Catch Share Management Brought Major Benefits


The F/V Seabrooke. Photo credit: Discovery Channel

Scott Campbell Jr, a captain on Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch,” one of cable’s most popular shows, told CNNMONEY that catch shares have brought significant safety, environmental and financial benefits for crab fishermen in Alaska’s Bering Sea.

While crabbing in the Bering Sea is inherently dangerous, catch shares have made it less deadly.  Before crabbers were racing in an intense derby as short as two days, and 8 crabbers perished during the last five years of traditional management compared to one since the switch to catch shares in 2005.

According to CNNMONEY, Campbell explained that prices have improved. In addition, with longer seasons, crab pots can “soak” in the water longer, which gives the small crabs more time to escape, as intended.   For those that don’t escape, fishermen have more time to sort through crabs they catch and carefully return the small ones you’re not allowed to catch back to the water unharmed.

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New Study Finds Crew in Bering Sea Crab Fisheries Benefitted from Catch Shares

Guest blogger, Joshua Abbott, is an Assistant Professor in Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability. Abbott is an expert in environmental and natural resource economics, including fisheries economics and policy.

Joshua Abbott, Assistant Professor, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University

EDFish Guest Blogger - Joshua Abbott, Assistant Professor, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University

A recent assessment of the Bering Sea red king crab and snow crab fisheries finds that the majority of working crew have benefitted from the transition to catch shares in the first three years of its implementation.

The peer-reviewed article, coauthored by  James Wilen,  Brian Garber-Yonts and I, is published in the current issue of Marine Resource Economics.

Historically, over 200 vessels competed for the annual crab catch, leading to “derby” fisheries in which an entire year’s quota was exhausted in the space of a few days. This type of management led to boom and bust cycles, which often had negative environmental, social, and economic consequences.

Starting in the 2005/2006 season the derby was supplanted by a catch share system in which each vessel has an individual allocation of quota and can adjust this allocation by lease arrangements or permanent transfers with other quota owners.

Seasons are now two to three times the typical derby season and thus a larger number of short derby fishery jobs have been replaced by a smaller number of longer, safer, more stable and often more lucrative positions. When measured in total crew hours engaged in fishing, employment has remained stable following implementation of catch shares.  

Crew wages, as in many fisheries around the world, are determined using the “share” system. Payments are based on a defined share of fishing revenues minus costs such as fuel, food and bait. Comparisons of these contracts suggest that the crew’s share of net revenues has been fairly stable since catch-share implementation – hovering around 40% for a typical vessel. However, this stability masks important, and generally positive, changes in pay for crewmembers relative to before 2005.

The seasonal pay of crew has increased substantially. The analysis found that the median crew member on king crab vessels earned 66% more in a season than in prior seasons while approximately 87% of crew saw their wage rise. These increases occurred despite large coinciding price decreases for crab, which were largely driven by market factors unrelated to the catch share program. When this decrease in value is controlled for (by measuring pay in terms of the quantity of crab), increases in seasonal crew wages are even more dramatic – 122% and 109% for the median crew member on king crab and snow crab vessels, respectively. 

These increases in pay are partially attributable to the stacking of quota on fewer vessels over longer seasons. However, the daily “wage” of crew has also risen for many crewmembers. For instance, the daily pay of a typical king crab fishermen rose by 12% after catch share implementation. And despite the new cost of deducting the cost of quota from net revenues (a product of recognizing the value of the crab stock in fishing profits), daily pay has remained relatively stable and crew have prospered.

Many of these changes originate from improvements in the productivity of fishing. Live landings of crab per day have improved by 16% for snow crab and 38% for king crab since the implementation of catch shares. Research into the source of these productivity improvements continues, but some of the credit lies in the dramatic reduction of time spent waiting in port to offload crab. The coordination of delivery dates and slowing of the pace of fishing made possible by catch shares have increased the proportion of time actually spent fishing. 
Catch share management has also substantially changed the nature of a fishing job. Since each vessel knows its annual allocation of crab prior to the fishing season, the prospective wage is far less uncertain to crew than in the derby fishery where luck and skipper skill once played a large role in one’s prospects. Risk to life and limb has also decreased considerably, as skippers avoid fishing in the worst weather and often work their crew for fewer hours in a day.

While these fisheries are still adapting to catch shares, the negative scenarios often levied at this catch share program have not materialized. Rather, the early evidence is that catch shares have provided longer, safer, more reliable jobs to fishermen that are often more lucrative than those available before the management change.

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Bering Sea Crabbers Say Catch Shares Have Been an ”Unqualified Success”

Reprinted with permission from SEAFOODNEWS.COM

SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [seafoodnews.com] – December 10, 2010 – Alaska’s Bering Sea crabbers are calling the catch share program that has been operating in their crab fisheries since 2005 an “unqualified success.”

This assesssment came in a five-year review of the catch share program by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council which is meeting in Anchorage.

Prior to catch shares, hundreds of boats would race to load up with crab in wild winter conditions in a fishery that would lasting mere days or weeks. Under the catch share system, each vessel has a set amount of crabs to catch during extended seasons.

Crabbers claim their “grounds truth” proves that the new way of crab fishing is achieving the goals set out by managers and industry five years ago.

The problems associated with the crab fishery were identified in 2002 as resource conservation, reducing bycatch, excess harvesting and processing capacity, economic instability, high loss of life and injuries. The results of the five-year review released last month by Council staff concluded that the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Crab Catch Share Program is performing better than expected in reaching its objectives.

The report also said remaining crew positions in the crab fisheries are more stable, and crew generally make better pay under the catch share program.

Crabbers were pleased with the review findings, said Edward Poulsen, director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade group representing 70% of the vessels fishing crab in the Bering Sea.

“From the harvesters’ perspective, we feel the catch share program has met or exceeded expectations in delivering against the problems it was intending to solve,” Poulsen said.

Notably, the Bering Sea crab fisheries have gone from being the deadliest catch to the safest catch.

Arni Thomson, director of the Alaska Crab Coalition said: “We lost 85 crabbers between 1989 and 2005, an average of 5.3 men per year. Since then, there has been one fatality and no vessel sinkings. The catch share program has saved 25 lives so far.”

Crabbers say the slower paced fishery is far more eco-friendly, with less impact on the crab and their habitat. Pot usage in the red king crab fishery, for example, has gone from 50,000 to 12,000 pots, a 76% reduction. By fishing more strategically, the crab fleet uses far less fuel, cutting its carbon footprint by more than half.

Poulsen said the catch share program encourages being “co-operators instead of cutthroat competitors who all benefit by working together”.

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Crabbing in South Carolina: A Day on the Water Provides Real-World Perspective

South Carolina waterman, Fred Dockery, hauling crab traps on Stono River in SC.

South Carolina waterman, Fred Dockery, hauling crab traps on Stono River in SC.

Last week, I made my first visit to Charleston, South Carolina for a national meeting of fisheries scientists. Before settling into the meeting room for three long days, I spent a day on the water with Fred Dockery, a local commercial fisherman, to learn more about his work.

Fred and I first got in touch more than a year ago and began a correspondence based on our shared interest in oyster toadfish, a species once described in a scientific paper as “grotesque” and one that only a fisherman or ichthyologist can truly love! Although many people look down upon them, toadfish have made important contributions to neurological research, boost production of natural and cultured shellfish by controlling predators of young clams, oysters, scallops and mussels, and support small commercial fisheries in Delaware Bay and Long Island.

Toadfish were not, however, the order of the day. Instead, our quarry was the famous blue crab, an icon of the Chesapeake Bay but also plentiful in South Carolina waters. Fred primarily fishes for blue crab, but like many small-scale coastal fishermen he earns his living harvesting a variety of local resources, including shrimp, clams and oysters. We also encountered stone crabs in his traps and did so carefully, for their tasty claws are much more powerful than those of a blue crab and can do much more damage.

Stone crabs and blue crabs from the South Carolina Stono River.

Stone crabs and blue crabs from the South Carolina Stono River.

I was not the first guest Fred had welcomed aboard his boat.  Writers from the Food & Wine blog and Hugging the Coast magazine had previously fished with Fred and written about the experience, tying his livelihood with the splendid cuisine of the Carolina lowcountry. In fact, I wasn’t even the first scientist to accompany Fred who has participated in collaborative research with state and federal biologists, and even co-authored a scientific report on a study of dolphin entanglements that he helped conduct.

Fred and I launched his 19-foot boat near the eastern mouth of the Stono River from James Island. The Stono has no purely freshwater stretch along its length, and instead is primarily flooded and drained by tides rising and falling from the Atlantic. At its most upstream reaches, the Stono connects with the North Edisto River and together they form the semicircular backbone of a productive system of tidal creeks and marshes.

Aerial view of the Stono River in South Carolina.

Aerial view of the Stono River in South Carolina.

Hailing from the Northeast, where natural oyster beds and reefs have all but vanished from most coastal waters, I was particularly struck by the abundance of oysters. I noticed how, in many places along the Stono, oysters grow right along the marsh edge, helping to trap and stabilize sediments and buffer the marsh from erosion due to storms and boat wake. The importance of these types of habitat mosaics is a poorly understood and even more poorly appreciated aspect of coastal ecosystems, although a developing restoration plan for the Hudson-Raritan estuary in New York and New Jersey notably includes habitat mosaics as a key goal.

Fred and I worked our way north on the Stono for nearly 10 miles, pulling and resetting traps, and sorting the catch. I saw first-hand the upstream shift from female- to male-dominated catch, and felt the sharp sting resulting from the inescapable reality that blue crabs are much faster than I am, even out of the water and on my turf. Fred, on the other hand, long ago perfected moves that allow him to avoid the steady grunts of “ouch!” coming from my end of the culling board. Still, as the day wore on, practice and trust in my heavy rubber gloves made me bolder with the crabs and quicker with the cull.

Blue crabs by the marsh on the Stono River in SC.

Blue crabs by the marsh on the Stono River in SC.

Our fishing day ended in time for Fred to head downtown for a meeting.  Fred is a fisherman who takes very seriously his responsibilities off the water. He serves on the Board of Directors of the South Carolina Seafood Alliance, and is an active advocate for limited entry in the South Carolina blue crab fishery. The primary goal of limited entry is trap reduction in order to ensure that fishing effort is commensurate with resource productivity. Reducing effort as permits expire and are not renewed will eliminate opportunistic and out-of-state fishermen, and in doing so secure fishing businesses for those who are truly invested (financially and through their identity) in the fishery on a regular basis and for the long-haul.

The timing of my trip with Fred could not have been better, given that my next few days were spent buried in the intricacies of fisheries science. Our excursion provided a renewed awareness of the importance of scientists keeping close to the water through field research, time on commercial fishing boats, or simply sport fishing in their spare time in order to keep the math and models in our heads balanced alongside real-world perspective. I was also reminded of the importance of regular dialogue and cooperation between scientists and fishermen so that each can understand and incorporate the other’s perspectives and ideas in meeting shared goals of productive and sustainable fisheries.

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High Country News Reports on the Successes and Challenges of Catch Shares

Diane Regas is Associate Vice President for EDFThe latest issue of High Country News has a good story on one type of catch share program—for crab in Alaska. I found Matt Jenkins’ take on catch shares balanced and engaging—he covers the benefits of catch shares and fairly points out some of the challenges this fishery has faced.

Among Alaska crab fishermen, safety, economic stability and resource sustainability have all improved. And while crew pay has doubled, there are fewer crew jobs than there were. Jenkins also explains why crew members are finding it is a lot harder to work their way up from deckhand to captaining their own boat. (Some of the design mistakes in the crab program, I am glad to say, are not allowed under the current fisheries law.)

The good news is that well-designed catch shares have been and can be designed to protect community and crew interests too. The red snapper catch share in the Gulf of Mexico and the halibut and sablefish catch share in Alaska are good examples of how catch shares have improved economics and resource sustainability while at the same time enhancing the stability of fishing communities. 

And other new ideas are being tried out across the country, including limiting consolidation, devoting a part of the quota to conservation or to address community concerns, creating community quota banks, and creating loan funds that can help keep quota in local communities. (Interestingly, the design of the crab program was determined by a special Act of Congress which helped lock in some serious problems—and the design did not include some of these creative options.)

Catch shares are already proving that they can end the race for fish and prevent – and even reverse – the global collapse of fisheries.  Catch shares present a new opportunity for fisheries at a time when many ocean fisheries and the communities that depend on them face a steep decline. As more fisheries move to catch shares, careful and creative design solutions will help improve catch shares for all the stakeholders.

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