Q&A: Eric Schwaab, NOAA Fisheries


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
May 10, 2011

With just a little more than a year under his belt as director of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries, Eric Schwaab seems quite comfortable in the deep end. Last May, East Coast fishermen began working under a new set of rules called sector-based management, which set strict catch limits on popular, iconic groundfish species like cod, haddock and flounder to ensure their long-term sustainability. While the new regulatory regime has been the source of considerable consternation, Schwaab says it’s bound to work. After all, catch shares have worked in other regions like Alaska.

I met with Schwaab at the International Boston Seafood Show in March — where he announced that all domestic fisheries are on the path to sustainability — to discuss his first year on the job, how important good science is to the implementation of tough regulations and the progress that NOAA Fisheries has made in ending overfishing in domestic waters.

Wright: Are catch shares going to work with East Coast fisheries, and do you think fishermen will embrace them as time goes on?

Schwaab: We know that fishermen are embracing them as time goes on. We see evidence of that in fisheries all over the country. The important thing for us, particularly in New England, is to separate the challenges associated with setting catch limits that end overfishing and ensure the rebirth of stocks from the implementation of the management tool, which is sector-based management in this case, and catch shares. So, what we think that sector-based management does here is focus our attention on controlling the output of the catch. That unleashes the innovation and the business acumen of the fishermen to do a better job to more effectively run their businesses, minimize bycatch, maximize the harvest and the dockside value of the targeted catch and thereby continue to manage businesses effectively. So, despite the fact that, across the groundfish fisheries, catches are down because of rebuilding requirements, revenue is up. Now we don’t want to attribute that necessarily entirely to sector-based management, but we think it is part of it.

Click here to view the rest of the Q&A with Schwaab, which was written by SeaFood Business Associate Editor James Wright and appeared in the magazine’s May issue. 

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