Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Individual Fishing Quotas at Work -- west coast groundfish program seeks Commerce approval


In recent years, West Coast groundfish stocks -- including soles and cod as well as deep-water rockfish like colorful canary and thorny heads -- have sharply declined due to decades of overfishing and fisheries management that failed to align the needs of the resource with the long term interests of the fishermen.  In 2000, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce declared the Pacific groundfish commercial trawl fishery a disaster. In fact, landings for West Coast trawlers have plummeted 70 percent in the last two decades. Since 1998, revenues have dropped from $47.3 million to $22.2 million.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, Environmental Defense Fund and other NGOs and stakeholders have collaborated on creating a catch share program based on individual fishing quotas, which was passed by the Council in November.  Under the plan, the entire fishery will operate under a catch limit and each fisherman will be awarded a guaranteed percentage of the total catch based on fishing history.  Fishermen will no longer be forced to compete for ever-dwindling numbers of fish. Instead, the certainty provided by each fisherman's guaranteed share will foster conservation and cooperation.
Profits may increase by as much as 80% per boat due to increased efficiency and flexibility along with higher prices at the dock.

Studies recently published in the journals Nature and Science show that catch share systems reverse overfishing and even replenish depleted stocks.  Catch shares also decrease wasteful discards and improve safety for fishermen.

To see how a similar program has worked well for Alaska halibut fishermen, view a short video presentation: http://action.edf.org/ct/6d1CLAM1BRKj/

The new Secretary of Commerce will be asked to approve the Council's program this spring. 

Recently, Environmental Defense provided some information about the West Coast groundfish ITQ program.  While the program is grounded in sound economic theory, I wonder whether the program continues to rely on trawling that causes long-term damage to the marine ecosystem.  If so, it solves the overfishing problem, without reaching the heart of the matter.  Fortunately, NOAA is now going to be headed by a woman who actually knows the answer to that question!!!
d.

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