National Academy of Sciences Calls on Congress to End Moratorium that Hurts U.S.

December 18, 1998

In a move that will help America’s troubled fishing industry, a National Academy of Sciences panel today recommended that Congress lift a 1996 moratorium on individual fishing quotas, allowing regional fishery management councils to use modern market mechanisms to preserve US fisheries. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) supports transferable fishing quotas, under which an annual total allowable catch is divided into individual fishing quotas and distributed to fishermen, who may then enter and leave the fishery, or adjust their individual catch by buying and selling quota shares.

“Congress tied the hands of fishery managers two years ago when it put the moratorium in place. Today a panel of top experts told Congress to end the moratorium and save America’s fishing industry,” said Doug Hopkins, an EDF senior attorney. “EDF joins the Academy in calling on Congress to lift the moratorium and let regional fishery management councils get back to work. The nation’s fishery management councils urgently need this new tool to solve the problems of overfishing, overcapitalization and fish stock depletion. In too many fishing communities, old-style fishery management has failed, creating severe economic hardships and devastating social and ecological disruptions.”

“Current fishery management is a maze of confusing regulations that create many destructive economic incentives,” said Pete Emerson, an EDF senior economist. “But transferable fishing quotas give each fisherman a direct economic stake in the long term sustainability of the fishery. As initially lower catch levels allow depleted fish stocks to gradually rebuild, the value of transferable fishing quotas rises, reflecting a healthy fishery which can sustain higher catch levels, longer seasons and better fishing jobs.”

“Transferable fishing quotas can help eliminate ecologically destructive fishing practices,” said EDF senior scientist Rod Fujita. “They should bring an end to the ruinous ‘derby’ seasons ? some as short as only a few days a year ? that are common in many overcapitalized fisheries where too many boats are chasing too few fish. By spreading their fishing over a long season and matching their vessel size and gear to their quota, fishermen can reduce the incidental killing of non-targeted species and will have the time to use fishing gear and techniques that are less habitat-destructive.”

Congress passed the 1996 moratorium in response to questions about the potential social and economic effects of transferable fishing quotas. The Academy’s report recommends several responsible approaches, strongly endorsed by EDF, to assure transferable fishing quota plans are developed in an equitable and fair manner.