“Catch Shares” have been the buzz words on fishing docks since December when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a draft policy on encouraging implementation of this fisheries management tool wherever appropriate.
Catch share management is an umbrella term that encompasses several programs including limited access privilege programs (LAPPs), individual fishing quotas (IFQs) and territorial use rights fisheries (TURFs). These types of management strategies allow each catch share holder to harvest a percentage of the total allowable catch from a fishery.
Catch share programs have been used in the United States since 1990 and now include 13 different fisheries from Alaska to Florida administered by six different fisheries management councils. Four new programs will begin over the next year. To date, catch share programs in the U.S. have only been implemented in the commercial fishing industry.
What is driving the proposed new national policy is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which mandates that annual catch limits be set to end overfishing of 41 fish and shellfish species identified by the National Marine Fisheries Service. In the Gulf of Mexico, this includes red snapper, greater amberjack, gag grouper, gray triggerfish and pink shrimp.
“We have made great progress in rebuilding many fisheries, but more than 20 percent of our fish stocks have not been rebuilt, and an even larger proportion of our fisheries are not meeting their full economic potential for the nation,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said in a news release. "Catch shares are a tool that can help us realize the full economic and biological benefits of rebuilt fisheries.”
Catch shares are often initially allocated based on historic catch levels, referred to as a “granting” of a share. An annual participation fee, such as a license, is typically still required. Another allocation method is auctioning shares. Some programs have combined the two approaches. Local fisheries management councils will determine whether or not to implement catch shares and the allocation process, according to the proposed policy.
One of the benefits of a catch share program is the rebuilding of fish stocks. This includes not only the targeted species but also bycatch species, as catch share fishing tends to be more selective and efficient. Additionally, with catch share management, seasonal harvesting restrictions are often reduced or removed, resulting to more stable and full-time fishing employment. Reduction or removal of seasonal restrictions under catch share management also allows fishermen flexibility in when to harvest so the need to fish in unsafe conditions is minimized.
However, anticipation of catch share implementation can prompt fishermen to increase harvest levels so they can receive a higher portion of the initial allocation – exacerbating existing stock depletion. Although full-time fishing employment tends to increase with catch share management, part-time jobs tends to decrease. And since a catch share is required for harvesting, catch share management does limit fishery entry.
Another drawback to catch share management arises from confusion over catch shares as a property right, since an individual’s catch share often can be leased or sold. However, the draft NOAA policy states catch shares are not a property right. Granting of catch share privileges to an individual or business is not made in perpetuity. Permits are issued for a period of not more than 10 years. The permit can, however, be renewed, limited or modified, according to the proposed policy.
“Fisheries management is an evolving process, especially since not every management tool is a perfect fit for every fishery,” said Dr. Matthew Freeman with LSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Louisiana Sea Grant. “In addition to some of the incentives created, one of the real benefits to catch share management is the ability to tailor programs to meet the needs of various fisheries.”
Public comment on the policy is being accepted through April 10. For more information, visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/domes_fish/catchshare/index.htm.
Since the 1980s, other countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Iceland and Canada have also used similar catch share programs.
An open discussion thread concerning catch shares is available at Louisiana Sea Grant’s Web site - http://sg-server.lsu.edu/forums/showthread.php?tid=8. Registration is required to utilize the Web forum. Comments made in the thread are not part of the official public comment process