Sharing the (reduced) bounty


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hasn't made a secret of its preference for catch shares as a management tool for the nation's fisheries. And Friday, the agency, which is headed by marine biologist and fishing quota proponent Jane Lubchenco, released a formal policy that pushes catch shares as the primary management tool for America's commercial fisheries.

Catch shares, as detailed in Matt Jenkins' article "The Most Cooked Up Catch," are a little like cap and trade for the ocean. Managers set a total number of fish to be caught, then divide that number up into shares. Those shares can be bought and sold, or even temporarily leased, among fishermen in an area. The total number set is determined by the best available science and is supposed to be a sustainable level of catch for the fishery. For many fishermen, the new quotas will likely be lower than they're used to harvesting.

Fishing boats in Monterey Bay, Calif. California will institute a catch share program for groundfish in January 2010. Photo courtesy Flickr user John Beagle.

Responses to catch share management programs have typically been mixed, with extreme positions and rhetoric on both sides. Some opponents, like the groups Ecotrust and Food and Water Watch, argue that catch share programs are "privatizing the ocean" and that they push out smaller fishermen, who, when given a smaller catch under the share system, are pressured into selling their allocations to bigger fisherman.

Some scientists concerned about the collapse of fisheries worldwide have high praise for the ability of catch shares to halt and reverse catastrophic ecosystem failure caused by overfishing, while others offer a more nuanced perspective, saying the success depends on how you measure baselines and the total catch numbers set, which often need tweaking as seasons pass. Pro-market, cap and trade environmental groups like Environmental Defense seem so in love with the management tool they would  likely put a catch share on every fishery -- something the NOAA policy shies away from, saying "Catch shares may not be the best management option for every fishery or sector." (Read the full 25-page NOAA policy [PDF])

The policy's language is cautious. NOAA stresses the need for setting scientifically-based fish recovery targets. It also offers technical expertise and support in helping overfished regions set up these management plans.  The agency also encourages allowing fishermen to trade and sell shares amongst themselves, but also recognizes that share transfers have frequently led to large shifts in who controls the catch.

Catch share programs almost inevitably lead to more control of the ocean's bounty by big operators and big boats. Small fisherman, frequently operating on thin margins already, will sell their shares to bigger boats. This may be a good deal for the boat owner selling their allocations, but crews on beached boats often find themselves S.O.L., joining the ranks of America's blue collar unemployed. And fishing towns, once home to diversified small businesses, end up being dominated by a few big players. Edward Backus, the president of Ecotrust, a group that works on environmental and social issues, offered compelling testimony [PDF] before Congress in March that laid out his reservations about catch share programs and outlined some of the negative impacts to fishing communities.

Scientists may be figuring out how to solve the critical problem of overfishing. The trickier problem -- that the economic shakeup caused by their solutions often devastates the economies of fishing communities -- has yet to be addressed.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn is HCN's Online Editor

catch shares are not one-size-fits-all
Tom Lalley
Tom Lalley
Nov 08, 2010 11:18 AM
This piece assumes that catch shares are a one-size-fits-all management system. They are not. Each catch share is designed differently. If a community wants to protect small boats in a catch share, it can do that. If it wants fish stocks to rise, catch shares can do that too. There are trade-offs of course, often in economic efficiency. Read about catch shares design here -

While Ms. Ogburn cites critics of catch shares she fails to mention that the alternative to catch shares - conventional management - has an abysmal track record. Under it, overfishing has depleted fisheries around the nation and caused far greater economic hardship than catch shares ever could.

Studies have shown that, under catch shares, overfishing ends, the amount of wasteful bycatch plummets, and revenues go up. Show me a conventionally managed fishery with that kind of track record.

While EDF is indeed an advocate for catch shares it is not "so in love" with catch shares that it "would likely put a catch share on ever fishery." EDF does not believe that catch shares is an appropriate tool for individual anglers for instance. EDF is focused on results and is agnostic about the management system. It's just that, for a lot of fisheries, catch shares delivers those results better than anything else out there.
catch shares
e irving
e irving
Nov 09, 2010 02:08 PM
 "EDF does not believe that catch shares is an appropriate tool for individual anglers for instance. EDF is focused on results and is agnostic about the management system. It's just that, for a lot of fisheries, catch shares delivers those results better than anything else out there."
EDF is using this scheme to generate profit for corporate investors such as the Walmart Foundation. According to EDF profits up to 400%, will be realized, once they get rid of the traditional fishermen, owner operators, and the multinational corporations own our resource.
In New England, EDFs epicenter for catch shares, they have divided an industry to the haves, and have nots. The Have nots, are the very ones that conserved, and fished on underutilized species, while the haves were rewarded for taking the most. So much for conservation. The only con is EDF, and Jane Lubchenco.The lawsuits are stacking up, right along with unemployed fishermen and small businesses. Ther has been no overfishing in New England in thirty years, and anyone that tells you any different is a BALD FACED LIAR.
I back that strong statement with a powerful article, that will prove just the opposite. The article is linked to a site that is accurate,and honest, backed up with fact. The anti's have lied to America, and they need to answer for it.
Milken panel moderator Larry Band, who put in many years at Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that went down during the banking catastrophe, and now advises the Environmental Defense Fund, explained to the panel at the Milken conference that the ‘trick’ in executing the correct investment action involved a ‘little bit of a chicken and egg. The money needs to come in ahead of the catch shares coming in,’ But done right, Band said investors might achieve returns of 1,000 and 2,000 percent — far more than Festa projected.” (R.Gaines, Fishing catch shares suddenly become hot 'commodities, Gloucester Daily Times, June 30, 2009)