‘CCA Blogs’ Articles
Coastal Conservation Association
The catch share issue is generating a lot of attention, and it is certainly warranted. Any concept that proposes to privatize a public resource should get a strong reaction from the public and every attempt should be made to beat it back.
However, some of the rhetoric about catch shares is overheated, and it is threatening to blur some other important concepts, like the very real differences between recreational and commercial fishing. Take for example the recent press release headlined, “Catch Share Activists Meet Heavy Resistance.” That release uses words like, “turncoats,” “sellouts,” “treachery,” and “sharecropping” to blast proponents of catch shares. Very provocative stuff that would get anyone’s blood boiling. Light the torches and grab your pitchforks!
The release goes on to laud elected officials for defending the “fishing industry,” and laments that too many fishermen are struggling to provide for themselves and their communities.
“Honest fishermen work very hard to make a living in our states every day,” it quotes representatives who are pushing an amendment to block funding for catch shares as saying. “We write to express our concern that NOAA’s catch share policy will further endanger the economic vitality of the already struggling fishing industry…”
The release is about an amendment filed by Rep. Walter Jones, who has been an unabashed, unapologetic champion of the commercial fishing industry, to keep any of the millions of dollars earmarked in NOAA’s budget from being used on catch share programs in the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic and New England areas. It is an amendment that Coastal Conservation Association happens to support – there are far better things for NOAA to be spending scarce resources on than catch share programs. Things like more frequent stock assessments, developing fishery independent data and improved recreational catch data. CCA is currently engaged in a lawsuit against the federal government and Environmental Defense Fund over a catch share program. A victory there, and passage of Rep. Jones’s amendment, will go a long way to slowing down the rush to embrace catch shares as a one-size-fits-all solution to any fisheries problem.
It is important, though, for anglers to keep an eye on the ball in this debate. Beneath the incendiary language of that press release is a continuing, subtle and somewhat sinister slide into defending the commercial fishing industry, which caused most of the problems in our fisheries in the first place. Rep. Jones has filed a potentially useful piece of legislation to derail a management tool that was developed for commercial fisheries, and as a side benefit it would also ward off the negative impacts of catch shares to recreational ones. You may recall that North Carolina made headlines recently for allowing trawlers to continue industrial fishing operations in state waters despite outrageously wasteful striped bass kills that were videotaped by recreational anglers.
So what exactly is this “hard-working fishing industry” described in this release that some groups are fighting to protect? I don’t know too many in the recreational sector who fall into that category other than those in the charterboat industry, which depends on and caters to recreational anglers. The marinas, and the tackle and boat manufacturers could conceivably be the “fishing industry,” but I don’t get the feeling that is who this release was talking about. After all, the same folks who wrote this release also marched on Washington DC last year and, although there were well-intentioned recreational anglers in their midst, for the most part they were arm in arm with trawlers and netters and longliners from all over New England to demand their right-to-fish at all costs.
I know lots of anglers who work hard to support their fishing habit. They aren’t supporting their families with it. They’re passionate, sure, and they spend a fortune buying boats and tackle and fuel and bait and equipment. They want to go fish whenever they can, which is never often enough, and they hope the resources are healthy enough that they can bring a pile home for dinner.
But are they a “hard-working industry” bent on bringing enough fish back to port to sell and support their community? That doesn’t sound like recreation. It doesn’t sound like the for-hire industry either. That sounds a lot like commercial fishing, and as we have seen historically, and most recently in Maryland and North Carolina, industrial fishing and recreational fishing don’t have the same goals on most issues.
In the fight to rein in this Administration’s zeal for catch shares, it is good to find common ground with Rep. Jones and others where we can. But it is also good to not get so caught up in overheated rhetoric that the recreational sector sells its soul and erases the lines between recreational angling and industrial fishing.
To re-rig an old saying, the rear-end you kiss today just might be connected to the trawler who dumps thousands of pounds of dead striped bass over the side tomorrow.
Tags: Catch Shares
Posted in CCA Blogs, Catch Shares | No Comments »
Much has been made about the catch share issue in recent months. Catch shares are a poorly understood issue that has been made more complicated by an absolute avalanche of mistruths, half-truths, and outright lies swirling about it in fishing chatrooms and blogs across the country.
Almost every facet of the past, present and future of catch shares has been grossly distorted. A glance at the average chatroom would lead casual readers to believe that there is a vast, strange conspiracy linking all-powerful environmental groups with oil companies with “double-agents” posing as anglers to rid the world of fishermen. One recurring theme is that the goal is to empty the oceans of all people so the oil companies can pillage at will. Another, green theme says the goal is to empty the oceans of all people so that the fish and whales are left alone to prosper. There are long, fantastical charts linking this group to that group, to prove the conspiracy of anti-fishers exists. Everyone is on Pew’s payroll, or Environmental Defense’s or Exxon’s.
The only thing missing is a good 007 character to save the day.
None of it is true, but it makes good reading. And nothing spoils a good tale like a few cold facts, but in the interest of setting at least some of the record straight, this column attempts to splash a little reality on the catch share mystery.
- Catch share programs have been used sporadically in commercial fisheries for decades. They were created to address a fundamental problem in some commercial fisheries – too many boats chasing too few fish, resulting in dangerous, wasteful derbies. If you have ever watched the early seasons of Deadliest Catch on The Discovery Channel, that was a derby fishery. The whistle blew, all the boats went to catch king crab no matter what the weather was, no one slept and they fished until someone, somewhere, calculated the quota had been caught and then the season ended. Some made a fortune, some went broke, and everyone fished in a manner to catch as much as possible as fast as possible regardless of the danger or bycatch involved. The fact that no one sleeps for 4 or 5 days at a time is the reason it’s called Deadliest Catch.
- Staying with the Deadliest Catch theme, catch shares took the whole quota for king crab and divided it up among boats based on their past catch history. Each boat’s percentage effectively became “theirs” to harvest, however and whenever they liked during the season. The Northwestern, the Cornelia Marie, the Wizard, the Time Bandit and others all now “own” shares of the king crab fishery.
- The goal of catch shares in that scenario is to eliminate the derbies and reduce bycatch. A by-product of catch shares is that inevitably, some boats will sell out or lease their share to other boats. The overall number of boats drops, until a relatively few big boats are left fishing. Ideally, the dangerous derbies are eliminated, bycatch is reduced and the economics improve. That is the goal of a catch share system in a purely commercial fishery.
- Some environmental groups, Environmental Defense Fund foremost among them, became enamored, somewhat naively, with the prospects of applying catch shares to all fisheries, including recreational ones, based on their use, implementation and success in purely commercial fisheries. The critical disconnect is that no one at EDF understood or appreciated the vast differences between recreational fisheries and commercial fisheries. In EDF’s mind, catch shares were a solution to all fisheries problems.
Now, in order to set the stage for what comes next, you have to understand a separate but connected issue, and that is how allocations are set in mixed-use fisheries – fisheries that have both commercial and recreational participation. Allocations between recreational and commercial sectors have historically been based on catch history, often using time frames as short as selected three-year segments. Given federal managers’ history of promoting commercial fisheries, the time frames were often not favorable to the recreational sector.
Those allocations are essentially frozen, despite the growth of recreational angling and the growing economic contribution of the recreational sector. They are frozen because the reallocation process is a political nightmare for a Fishery Management Council. It is long, convoluted and tortuous, with lots of emotion thrown in for good measure. No Council member or staffer willingly endures it if he or she can possibly avoid it.
As a result, allocations that were set 20 or 30 years ago are completely out of whack with the demographics, population and public demand that exists today. When a stagnant recreational allocation combines with the constant migration to the nation’s coasts, the end result is that more and more recreational anglers are trapped chasing a fixed allotment of fish, resulting in shorter seasons and greater restrictions for everyone. The red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico is a prime example. About 300 commercial boats currently chase 51 percent of the entire harvest of red snapper in the Gulf under a catch share system. Hundreds of thousands of recreational anglers get the other 49 percent.
And no one in NOAA Fisheries has been interested in cracking the egg on reallocation.
- Jumping back to catch shares, Dr. Jane Lubchenco was appointed to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2008. Dr. Lubchenco is a marine scientist with deep ties to EDF, including a stint on its board.
- Not long after that appointment, the Obama Administration created the Catch Share Policy Task Force, signaling a new focus to broadly impose catch share systems on federal fisheries, including those enjoyed by recreational anglers. Compounding the complexity of this issue is the fact that the Obama Administration is filled with people from places like San Francisco and Chicago who do not exactly understand or appreciate saltwater recreational angling.
- Promoted by a former board member of EDF – which doesn’t understand or appreciate recreational angling – in an Administration that doesn’t understand or appreciate recreational angling, the danger of a Catch Shares Policy Task Force was immediately clear. There was NOTHING to prevent catch shares from proceeding as a one-size-fits-all solution for the commercial and recreational sectors in every fishery.
- A coalition of marine industry and fishery conservation groups, recognizing the need to become involved in the process of shaping the new policy, engaged the Administration on the issue of catch shares. At the same time, the coalition engaged with environmental groups that were heavily promoting catch share systems, including Environmental Defense Fund. The goal of that engagement was to educate them on the problems catch shares present for recreational anglers and shape the policy so that at the very least it was not detrimental to recreational angling.
- That engagement is the source of a lot of confusion on the Internet. In the eyes of some conspiracy-theorist bloggers, by engaging the Administration and the environmental community on catch shares, the angling groups involved (CCA, CCC, TBF, IGFA, ASA, NMMA) were somehow “negotiating with the Devil,” “selling anglers out,” “getting on the EDF payroll,” etc. That line of thinking completely ignores the consequences of non-engagement. An outcome driven by an EDF-driven Catch Share Policy Task Force, in an Administration that has no interest in recreational angling, could only be bad for sport fishermen. The belief that anyone can achieve a favorable outcome merely by turning their back on this issue and “just saying No” is pure political fantasy.
- The coalition created a list of points to pursue in discussions with the administration, most of which are now included in the NOAA Catch Share Policy released in late 2010, such as:
- The coalition is and always has been firmly against catch shares for recreational anglers. The coalition does not believe they are an appropriate tool to manage recreational anglers under any circumstances.
- The coalition is firmly against separating the recreational sector into for-hire/charter and private boat designations.
- In mixed-use fisheries, those that have a quota for both recreational and commercial fishers, it may be determined that catch shares are an appropriate tool for the commercial sector. However, before implementing a commercial catch share system, the allocation must be redefined and updated using economic, social and conservation criteria.
- Once set, the new allocation must be reviewed periodically using those same criteria.
- In mixed-use fisheries that employ a catch share system for the commercial sector, the commercial shares must be made available for transfer to the recreational sector to allow for the growth of the recreational sector. The mechanism for transferring commercial shares could include state agencies, but is as yet undefined.
- The coalition’s engagement effectively changed the Catch Share Policy from one that was initially poised to work against recreational anglers, to a tool that may be used to address the persistent allocation problems that have short-changed anglers for decades. Would this be the case if the coalition had not engaged? Absolutely not. We would certainly have a catch share policy, but there would be very little in it that might work FOR anglers.
- Ideally, applying the current catch share policy in the Gulf of Mexico for red snapper, for example, could result in a 70% or 80% recreational share, with the potential to shift more commercial quota to the recreational side if economic, conservation and social factors determine it is warranted. Unfortunately, the policy does not apply to Gulf red snapper since a catch share system was implemented for that fishery in 2006. The outdated allocation for Gulf red snapper remains a stubborn problem seeking a solution. However, CCA is currently pursuing reallocation and transferability of commercial red snapper shares at the Gulf Council.
The coalition of groups that engaged with the Administration and the environmental community on catch shares stepped in to prevent a disaster for recreational anglers. Perhaps that is not as interesting as a good spy novel, full of intrigue, deception and betrayal, but this is not some daytime soap opera. This is a real-life fisheries debate, with real political consequences that must be confronted and dealt with.
When it comes to the Internet, it is good to remember that often the simplest explanation is correct. If it starts to sound like something Ian Fleming wrote, then maybe it has been written for entertainment purposes only. In fact, you should be suspicious of everything you read in chatrooms and online forums, which means you should even take this article with a grain of salt. At the very least, go see the complete text of CCA’s documents and testimony before Congress and letters to the Administration, and check out information about our lawsuit against the federal government and Environmental Defense Fund over the Gulf grouper catch share program. It’s all on the Catch Shares page in the Newsroom section of www.JoinCCA.org. Do some research and, by all means, decide for yourself.
Tags: Catch Shares, EDF, NOAA Catch Share Policy
Posted in CCA Atlantic States, CCA Blogs, CCA Gulf of Mexico, CCA South Atlantic, Catch Shares | 8 Comments »
By Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
They say that fishing is the world’s second oldest occupation, so it is likely there have been more ironic events in its long, storied history, but the recent letter from Massachusetts’s Governor Deval Patrick to President Obama must rank near the top of the list.
For those of you who missed it, Gov. Patrick expressed his “extraordinary frustration” with the lack of responsiveness the Commonwealth has experienced with the U.S. Department of Commerce and its agencies on the challenges facing commercial fishermen in Massachusetts. The Governor is upset with the severe regulations that have been placed on his hard-working commercial fishing community and the effect it is having on the state’s economy.
To back up his arguments, Gov. Patrick cited economic statistics to demonstrate commercial fishing’s vital role in Massachusetts’s history and economy. The industry, he said, employs approximately 80,000 people in fisheries and related shore side businesses, and generates $4.4 billion in sales. Those figures are slightly suspect – using the federal economic impact model puts the commercial fishery economic impact of Massachusetts at $416.9 million in landed value, producing $1.9 billion in total sales and 35,609 jobs. The additional jobs and dollars come from the retail sector involved with importing seafood that is not even from the State of Massachusetts. But let’s play along.
There is no doubt that commercial fishing is a huge part of Massachusetts’s culture. Anyone who has read “Cod” by Mark Kurlansky will appreciate how fishermen essentially built the state. There is a reason a wooden replica of a cod has hung in the Massachusetts’s statehouse.
Conversely, anyone who has read “Cod” will also be familiar with the ironic part of this story. In “building” the state of Massachusetts, commercial fishing also proceeded to essentially destroy what was once some of the most prolific, profitable fishing grounds in the world. Serial, rampant commercial overfishing reduced stocks to mere shadows of their former productivity, and there are doubts whether cod will ever return to its former abundance. Among other hurdles, many of the nooks and crannies in the rocks of the ocean bottom that served as cod habitat have been smashed flat by decades of rock-hopper trawls, creating the possibility that cod simply can’t come back.
The signs that groundfish stocks were in serious trouble have been apparent for decades, but every time anyone attempted to rein in commercial fishing, the howl and cry from the fishing industry was enough to beat it back. Management plans that had no real chance of success were adopted again and again in response to enormous political pressure. Pressure not unlike the current letter from Gov. Patrick to President Obama.
It became apparent to powerful groups in the environmental community that managers were in an impossible situation when it came to Northeast fisheries. There was no way to effectively manage those stocks if it meant impinging on such a vital and revered cog in the region’s economy. So in 2006, those groups acted. In an effort to directly address the chronic problems in the Northeast, certain provisions were incorporated into the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the overarching federal law that manages the nation’s fisheries.
Those provisions required Annual Catch Limits (ACLs), Accountability Measures (AMs), and an end to all overfishing by a date certain (2010). They were heavily promoted by environmental groups, some of which are expending enormous amounts of time and resources on oceans programs. Those provisions were directly aimed at installing some backbone to manage New England’s disastrous commercial groundfish fisheries.
Any attempt to end overfishing is generally appealing to a conservationist, but the ramifications of those provisions on the recreational sector were not truly appreciated or even understood at the time. Over the past few years, it has become painfully apparent to anyone associated with marine recreational fisheries that the federal agency in charge of managing those fisheries – NOAA Fisheries (formerly the National Marine Fisheries Service, formerly the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries) – has not the science or data or even the interest to properly manage recreational fisheries to the requirements of those provisions. The terrestrial model of wildlife management that has been applied so successfully to ducks, geese, turkey, deer, elk, bass, etc, is nowhere to be found in the nation’s oceans.
Because NOAA Fisheries has failed to collect the required data and science, it has a very limited ability to properly manage recreational fisheries. Nonetheless, the provisions that were aimed directly at New England’s commercial groundfish disaster are now being applied to ALL fisheries in ALL other regions, including highly valuable recreational fisheries. The most dramatic examples can be found in the South Atlantic where fishery after fishery is being impacted to comply with the letter of the law. In one case, black sea bass, which hasn’t had a full assessment in 10 years, is being closed down. Dolphin, wahoo and cobia have never even had an assessment and there are no indications of trouble, but dramatic reductions are on the table as an ultra-conservative way to comply with the provision to end overfishing.
The painfully ironic part to this whole sordid tale is that while Gov. Patrick tries to roll back the New England provisions to preserve New England commercial fishermen, those same provisions are wreaking havoc in Florida, for example, where recreational fishing expenditures dwarf the vaunted economic might of the Massachusetts commercial sector. In Florida, recreational expenditures are calculated at $17.6 billion and support $15.1 billion in sales and 138,754 jobs. Even in Massachusetts, recreational anglers are not an insignificant part of the economic picture, spending $817.6 million dollars on trip and annual expenditures, supporting $850.5 million in sales and supporting 6,446 jobs.
There is a chance that Gov. Patrick, in order to preserve the commercial sector that decimated the stocks in the first place, will find some success. Like so many before him, he may actually be able to apply the same political pressure that provoked those provisions in Magnuson so that his fishing industry can keep fishing. That would be truly ironic, since recreational fisheries that are far more valuable to the country are being penalized and discouraged by the laws that were created to correct the sins of the commercial sector.
Sadly, there are not many indications that anyone in federal fisheries management is serious about changing the way this country elects to manage its marine resources either.
Gov. Patrick is right to express his “extraordinary frustration” with federal fisheries management. Ironically enough, I’m frustrated, too.
Tags: Magnuson-Stevens Act, MSA
Posted in CCA Atlantic States, CCA Blogs, CCA Federal Fisheries, CCA Gulf of Mexico, CCA Pacific Northwest, CCA South Atlantic, Magnuson-Stevens Act | No Comments »