Update: NOAA 'encourages' catch share system


April Forristall, SeafoodSource.com assistant editor

Published on
December 10, 2009

 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday released a draft national policy encouraging the use of catch shares.

The agency said it recognizes that catch share systems are not the cure-all for ailing fisheries but are a proven way to promote sustainable fisheries when designed properly.

Catch shares allow fishermen to better plan their businesses and be more selective about when and how they catch their allotment, which helps eliminate derby-style fishing, reduce fleet overcapacity and bycatch and improve economic efficiency, said NOAA.

The programs also help ensure fishermen adhere to annual catch limits because the value of their share is directly linked to the overall health of the fish stock and its habitat, added the agency.

Catch share programs such as limited access privilege and individual fishing quotas have been used in the United States since 1990 and are currently used in 13 commercial fisheries; four new programs will begin next year.

NOAA said that while progress has been made in rebuilding many fisheries, more than 20 percent of U.S. fish stocks have not been rebuilt and even more are not meeting their full economic potential.

The agency estimated that rebuilding U.S. fish stocks will increase the annual catch by about USD 2.2 billion (EUR 1.5 billion), a 54 percent increase from the current annual value of USD 4.1 billion (EUR 2.8 billion).

"From Florida to Alaska, catch share programs help fishing communities provide good jobs while rebuilding and sustaining healthy fisheries and ocean ecosystems," said NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco. "Although this is a national policy, our emphasis is on local consideration and design of catch shares that take into consideration commercial and recreational fishing interests."

The draft policy is available for comment on NOAA's Web site until 28 February.

Lee Crockett, director of federal fisheries policy at the Pew Environment Group, applauded NOAA's move to encourage, not mandate, catch shares.

"NOAA and its Catch Shares Task Force recognize that catch shares are not a one-size-fits-all fisheries solution and not all fisheries can or should be managed by them," said Crockett.

"Any catch shares program must be implemented in a way that strengthens conservation, supports local fishing communities and provides access for recreational anglers and diverse commercial fishing fleets," added Crockett. "Catch shares give fishermen exclusive access to, not ownership of, a portion of the catch. They have been praised as a way of achieving sustainable fish populations by giving fishermen an incentive to conserve the resource.

"This policy will help reverse the freefall that U.S. fish stocks have been in for decades," added David Festa, VP of Environmental Defense Fund. "It moves fisheries management into the 21st century."

"Catch shares have brought job stability and security to our longline fishing fleet," said Bob Alverson, manager of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association, whose members fish for halibut and sablefish in the North Pacific. "Catch shares have helped increase the dockside value of our catch by more than 150 percent while improving the quality, eliminating dangerous derby fishing and bringing job stability to vessel owners, crews and communities."

However, some fishermen's organizations argue that catch shares privatize fisheries and are often based on flawed stock estimates. New England fishermen have held several rallies this year in opposition of catch shares.

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