The science of sustainable seafood, explained

Catch Shares have not Worked in New England

Catch Shares have not Worked in New England

by Brian Rothschild

The catch-share program in New England was heralded by many to be the be- all and end- all of fisheries management. At the same time others predicted that catch shares would drive fishing industries into the ground.

In New England the fleet has collapsed from 571 boats in 2009 to 327 boats in 2013. In addition, a federal report has shown that economic indicators have fallen sharply during the brief reign of catch shares.

What do we know? In strict economic terms, there is often too much steel (boats) in the water. This leads to the race to fish where fishing season are shortened to a handful of days because the fleets are so large that they quickly capture the allowable catch.

This was the argument that led to the establishment of catch shares in New England groundfish. The fisheries management regime in New England before catch shares was based on a days-at-sea system. Stock assessments suggested that fishing had driven the stocks to a level where each boat could fish only several days a year. This led to the rapid adoption of catch shares, because under the new system, it was argued, fish could be removed in a more conservation friendly manner.

However, the truth was, that summing all the TACs for groundfish resulted in an allowable catch of 130,000 tons—yet the fishery was taking only 30,000 tons. Acknowledging this waste of 100,000 tons of fish each year would have bought time and allowed the consideration of the catch share program in a more thoughtful non-crisis mode.

If we were in a non-crises mode, we would have been able to arrive at an optimal temporal allocation of the multispecies catch in consultation with those most effected—the fishing industry. We would have realized that such allocations would have been consistent with our policy as articulated in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We would move in a thoughtful manner to establish fair property rights which have been shown to induce incentives for a more rational management.

The situation places in bold relief the need to provide more detailed real-time analysis of the interactions of fishing, the environment, and the economy to the managers, particularly since interactions of fishing and the environment and economics do not come under the umbrella of information provided to managers and are often not in synchronization with the requirements of a rational management system.

Brian Rothschild is the founding Dean and Montgomery Charter Professor Emeritus of Marine Science and Technology at the Department of Fisheries Oceanography in the School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Check out an interview we did with Brian, here.

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