(Washington DC, Dec. 10, 2009) A policy released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) charts an historic new course for the nation's fish stocks, giving hope for the recovery of struggling fishing communities and depleted fish resources. NOAA is seeking to correct decades of failed management that has resulted in economically-depressed, unsafe, and unsustainable fisheries around the country.
The policy promotes greater use of "catch shares," an innovative fisheries management approach proven to improve fishermen's lives and livelihoods and restore fish populations. In the five years after catch share implementation in the U.S., per boat revenues increased an average of 80 percent. NOAA's policy builds upon this success and the efforts of fishermen, fishing communities, scientists, fishery managers, and conservationists to design and implement catch shares. The policy has been released in draft form but will take effect immediately. NOAA will take public comments for the next 120 days through a new web site.
"This policy will help reverse the freefall that U.S. fish stocks have been in for decades," said David Festa, vice-president at Environmental Defense Fund. "It moves fisheries management into the 21st century."
Catch shares work for fishermen and fish populations because they include science-based annual catch limits, accountability measures to ensure compliance with those limits, and effective enforcement. At the same time, catch shares give fishermen greater flexibility for how to run their businesses which improves economic performance
Catch shares are not a one-size-fits-all management system. They can be designed to fit the needs of individual fisheries, which set them apart from conventional management. Catch shares have been implemented in more than 300 fisheries around the world from New Zealand to Namibia to Norway, in fisheries large and small. Today there are more than a dozen catch shares in the U.S. and many more under development.
"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 dock-side 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."
The policy does not mandate catch shares for fisheries but rather makes important changes in NOAA strategy and operations, providing incentives and support for fishery managers who pursue catch shares. In particular, the draft policy:
- Promotes the consideration and adoption, where appropriate, of catch share programs in federal fisheries.
- Removes technical and administrative impediments to catch shares.
- Provides technical and other support to those regional fishery management councils that choose to pursue catch shares.
- Enhances outreach, education and assistance to stakeholders.
- Promotes the development of technical guidance on specific program design elements.
- Supports adaptive management through new research and performance monitoring of catch share programs over time.
"New England loses a half-billion dollars of potential income every year just in its groundfishery through poor management," said David Preble, a long-time commercial and recreational fisherman who serves on the New England Fishery Management Council. "Catch shares can return prosperity to fishermen."
In the Gulf of Mexico, a catch share implemented in 2007 for commercially-caught red snapper immediately extended the fishing season from a few months to year round and significantly reduced the amount of fish that fishermen were required to throw overboard dead or dying. The success of the snapper catch share led commercial fishermen to pursue a catch share for grouper and tilefish that will go into effect Jan. 1. The region's fishery council is now exploring a catch share for all remaining reef fish.
"This policy is a giant victory for the oceans and for fishermen," said Diane Regas, associate vice-president for Oceans at EDF. "Catch shares blow away the myth that healthy oceans and vibrant fisheries are incompatible."
In contrast to catch shares, conventional fishery management has failed in most fisheries to maintain healthy fish populations and the fishing communities that depend on them. In New England alone, the collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery in the early 1990s resulted in the loss of an estimated 20,000 jobs and $349 million from the economy. In the Pacific halibut fishery, conventional management shrank a full year's fishing down to just 12 hours in some parts of Alaska.
Today over 50 federally-managed stocks are overfished or experiencing overfishing. Under current management, meeting a Congressionally-mandated deadline to end overfishing by 2011 will mean ever-shorter fishing seasons and long-term closures for many prized species which will have a devastating impact on coastal communities. Catch shares allow continued fishing even while fish stocks recover.
A leading national nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense Fund represents more than 700,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. Twitter: www.twitter.com/EDFOceans. Blog: http://blogs.edf.org/edfish. Visit www.edf.org.