Chapter 15 preface: Catch Shares Managment


Safeguarding New England's Groundfish Fishery and Marine Ecosystem through Market-based Management Programs

Catch shares are market-based fisheries management that make it possible to protect the environment, increase profits, create more full-time jobs and save fishermen’s lives. EDF is overcoming barriers to making catch shares the default management tool for fisheries across the U.S. We are working with fishermen and managers to design catch share systems that best fit local economic and ecological conditions.
Recently published research (Science, 9/18/2008) that looked at data from 11,000 fisheries worldwide from 1950 to 2003 found that fisheries that were managed through “catch share” cap-and-trade systems halted and even reversed steep population declines, while traditionally managed fisheries did not. Environmental Defense Fund, along with partner groups, seeks to replace failed “days-at-sea” regulations for New England’s declining marine fisheries with this proven market-based solution to improve their ecological and economic health and resilience.

The New England Fishery Management Council is poised to adopt a new groundfish management plan that converts more than half the fleet to catch share management. The Northeast Seafood Coalition, the largest groundfish trade association in New England, has committed to designing and managing 13 of the 19 "sectors" or fishing cooperative-based catch shares. NSC has asked EDF for help in designing business plans for the sectors. This is one of the most highly leveraged opportunities we have to ensure that the fishery successfully moves to catch share management.
The ocean’s once bountiful fishery resource now teeters on the brink of environmental and economic disaster in many regions in the U.S. A recent assessment of New England groundfish found that 15 of 20 groundfish stocks are either overfished, undergoing overfishing or both. New research provides a clear road map for fisheries managers to reverse years of declining fish stocks by implementing catch shares, a market-based management approach. Catch share programs replace complex rules dictating how fishing will be practiced, with a method to hold fishermen directly accountable for meeting a vital conservation target: scientifically determined catch limits. Enthusiasm for catch share programs is mounting among fishermen and managers and the required federal legislative framework is in place. There are 19 proposals for catch shares within the New England groundfish fishery alone. Success in the New England groundfish fishery will help provide a model for the region and the country.
In 2003, the New England Fishery Management Council approved a proposal for a voluntary fishing cooperative-based catch share for any hook and line fisherman willing to fish under a fixed quota. This proposal came from a group of fishermen on Cape Cod who knew that the existing system--the days-at-sea system--was failing them. Two years later, most groundfish fishermen were still struggling under the old system, but they were also seeing the flexibility that sector participants were enjoying. Another small group of fishermen came forward, also willing to fish under fixed quotas in exchange for relief from other rules. The Council approved another sector, this time for gillnetters, in 2005.

Amendment 16 to the groundfish plan, more than three years in the making, included a total of 19 voluntary sectors/fishing cooperatives. These were approved unanimously in June 2009. As of a September 1, 2009 deadline, 723 boats, representing over 90 percent of the possible harvest and 82 percent of the days-at-sea permits in the groundfish fishery, signed up to fish under sectors in 2010.

New NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco played a leadership role in securing $35 million in combined FY09 and FY10 federal appropriations to help the groundfish industry transition to sectors. EDF staff played key roles in broadening consensus support for her leadership. We continue to coordinate closely with NGO, fishing industry and agency allies to work through priority issues critical to the successful implementation of sectors by May 1, 2010.

Prior to the June 2009 unanimous vote by the New England Fishery Management Council to adopt groundfish sectors, EDF staff and our allies generated dozens of pro-sector articles, op-eds and editorials. We coordinated meetings between British Columbia catch share experts and fishermen and fishery managers. We worked together to identify swing votes on the council and lobby for their support. In addition to the unanimous vote for sectors, the Council achieved lopsided consensus votes on every other key issue, including a groundfish allocation formula, catch monitoring, and the requirement that by 2012, every fisherman in this 400-year-old fishery will be required to fish under a hard Total Allowable Catch (TAC).

Unfortunately, groundfish sectors are coming into being at the same time that fishermen are faced with historic cuts in annual allowable catch limits. These low limits are due both to the failures of the current system to prevent overfishing and to new conservation requirements in the Magnuson Stevens Act. As a result, many fishermen who, all else equal, would do considerably better under sectors than the current system will be struggling to stay financially solvent over the next few years.
Source: Excerpts from the Walker Foundation Grant to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the EDF report on Catch-Shares Management.

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