In 2010 CSF board member Nils Stolpe conducted some exhaustive research into catch shares as a management tool and given what has transpired since it is worth looking over his findings today.
Here, for example is a prophetic quote from the NEFMC’S June 2010 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Amendment 15 to the Council’s Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan : “…consolidation measures like ITQs, but also more generally leasing and stacking, tend to have their negative impacts on those less powerful segments of the fishing industry, namely the crew, or the small business owners without a fleet of vessels or vertically integrated business. Those who are better able to take advantage of measures like leasing or stacking are then increasingly able to exert control in various markets, such as leasing quota, hiring crew, or even affecting prices that fishermen receive for their product. These kinds of changes, in turn, affect the structure of communities—through changing relations between people and shifts in dominant values—and affect the viability of fishing communities as some are disproportionally impacted by geographic shifts in fishing businesses.”
That was about the scallop fleet but the impact is now decimating single boat owners in our New England groundfishery.
The complete report (three papers) is included here:
Who needs research? We’re going to have catch shares February 13, 2010
When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar Then you know that fishing heaven’s not very far Shovel all the coal in Gotta keep it rollin’ Woo, woo, Catch Shares there you are (With apologies to the memory and the art of Glenn Miller)
First off, a disclaimer of sorts. I am not an opponent of catch shares, limited access privilege programs, individual transferable quotas, sectors, or any other management tool. However, I am seriously opposed to any form of management being forced on a fishery and the people in it and I am just as opposed to it being misrepresented to gain industry, public or political support for its imposition. To suggest that the people in charge at NOAA/NMFS aren’t using their position in the Obama Administration to force catch shares on US fishermen would be tantamount to suggesting that black is white, night is day and foul is fair. And to claim that the New England groundfish fishermen have enthusiastically accepted catch shares, as the catch shares bully boys and girls have become so adept at doing, couldn’t pass the straight face test with anyone who was actually following what’s been going on in that fishery. So, with that taken care of…
It seems as if Dr. Jane Lubchenco, as the newly appointed head of the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, didn’t even stop off at her new digs in DC to check on the freshly printed stationery before travelling to Boston and announcing that her agency was going to solve the ills of our fisheries by instituting a national policy “encouraging” the use of catch shares as the management technique of choice. Boston, of course, is ground zero for ineffectual fisheries management revolving around the Northeast groundfish complex (to discover what ineffectual is really all about, read Chronic Underfishing at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/chronic_underfishing.htm).
This was hardly surprising. Dr. Lubchenco had been on the Board of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an ENGO that has been among the leaders in enthusiastically inflicting damage on fishermen, fishing-related businesses and fishing communities since doing so had become the rage among a handful of foundation funded “conservation” organizations. The people at EDF had been working towards the institutionalization of catch shares, and on establishing the financial infrastructure to capitalize on it, for years.
What has been surprising is the cynical manipulation of our federal fisheries governance system that has been ongoing for a decade or so that it reveals; a manipulation that seems to have reached its apex since the new regime took over at NOAA/NMFS.
This manipulation is most evident in the recently released NOAA/NMFS budget for Fiscal Year 2011 (available at http://www.corporateservices.noaa.gov/~nbo/11bluebook_highlights.html). Along with asking for $36.6 million in new money for the Catch Shares campaign, it transfers $11.4 million out of Fisheries Research and $6 million – about half of last year’s request – out of Cooperative Research into it as well.
At first glance this seems only a simple matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul – shifting funding from one program area to another. But the fallout is going to be much more significant that that.
It all begins with the fact that in recent years what is known as the “precautionary principle” has been zealously applied to fisheries management. Most simply, what this means is that the less is known about the status of a stock of fish, the more stringently fishing effort must be managed on that stock. Simplifying a bit, if a stock size is estimated with a 10% margin of error, it can be managed safely as if it’s at 90% of the estimate. If it is estimated with a 40% margin, it must be managed at 60% of the estimate. Hence, the worse the data on a fishery is, the more the fishermen have to pay – in terms of foregone harvest – for its inaccuracy.
Needless to say, recreational and commercial fishermen realize this and are constantly striving for better science and better data, which can only be had through better research, i.e. larger research budgets. This is because at this point they know that the more that is known about fisheries, the better off they, and the fish, will be.
Considering the full spectrum of fisheries science, the gold standard – at least from a fisherman’s perspective – is cooperative research. In cooperative research projects, a team of scientists goes to sea on a commercial fishing boat crewed by a commercial fishing crew using commercial fishing gear and measures, weighs, counts, and etc. the fish that are caught. I doubt anyone will be surprised to read that such sampling by professional fishermen just about always yields better results (as in more of the target
species caught) than that done on research vessels by research crews. And more fish caught means more accurate estimates because while it’s impossible to catch fish if they aren’t there, it’s fairly easy to not catch them if they are.
(I wrote about cooperative research in 2007 in Improving the best available science. It’s available on the FishNet USA website at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/All%20Stolpe%20Columns.htm#Best%20Science.)
I don’t know of any fishery supported with a cooperative research program in which the harvest was reduced because of the data it provided. Cooperative research has been a win-win proposition for the fishermen, for the scientists and for the managers.
In fact, cooperative research had been so popular with fishermen and with NOAA/NMFS that last year’s budget requested “a net increase of $1,247,000 for a total of $11,455,000 for Cooperative Research to expand and fully implement a nationwide, regionally based cooperative research and management program as directed by the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act.”
While not so popular, at least with fishermen, and perhaps not so accurate, the research carried out by NOAA/NMFS through its recently upgraded fleet of research vessels is just as critical to the fishermen and to the fish. Keeping in mind the mandates of the precautionary approach to fisheries management, the more we know about the status of the fish stocks, the closer we can approach their ideal harvest levels. You would think that would be in everyone’s interest, even the folks in the ENGOs and those at NOAA/NMFS.
So why the big cuts in the Research and Cooperative Research budgets?
Consider the fact that Dr. Lubchenco was wed to the almost completely untried concept of catch shares* through EDF before taking over as head of NOAA/NMFS and has continued in that union since she came to NOAA/NMFS. As I’ve written before, the plan to force catch shares on US fisheries will have revolutionary impacts on those fisheries, on the people in them and on the people, businesses and communities that depend on them. And, for many of those people, businesses and communities, those impacts will be devastating (as she put it a little more nicely though perhaps not quite as exactly, the shift to catch shares would result in “fewer jobs, but better jobs.”) Obviously such a revolutionary change and such economic hardship couldn’t be forced on millions of fishermen and the people and businesses that depended on them if everything was ok in their fisheries. There’d be no reason to, at least none that was acceptable to the public, to Congress or to President Obama’s administration with its recently declared focus on jobs.
Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that better fisheries research means better fisheries data, nor that better fisheries data almost invariably means better catches for the fishermen. Taking two major Northeast fisheries, monkfish and sea scallops, as examples, a decade or so ago both were facing major cutbacks because the best available science indicated that the stocks weren’t doing well. In both fisheries, at the urging of the fishermen, who generally seem to have a good understanding of the status of the fish stocks they are fishing on, successful cooperative research programs were established that showed that the stocks weren’t in as bad shape as had been believed. The drastic cutbacks that were planned were avoided and the fisheries, the fishermen in them and the businesses that depend on them have thrived. Without that cooperative research, there would be two additional fisheries appearing to need the salvation offered by the imposition of catch shares.
How many other fisheries could be brought back from the supposed brink of disaster, a brink enthusiastically manufactured by the ENGOs, by better science? That’s impossible to tell, but as I wrote above, more and better sampling is never going to indicate fewer fish than are actually there, but less and worse sampling definitely will. Couple that with the precautionary principle and you have a recipe for a real disaster – and that’s what NOAA and the ENGOs are going to need to sell their Catch Shares revolution.
That certainly puts the NOAA/NMFS leadership’s decision to cut the research budgets so severely, otherwise an action that is really difficult to understand coming from a supposedly science-based agency, in a different light. Could it be as simple as “better research equals better data equals better fishing, and that’s going to make it a lot harder to sell an imminent crisis, so we at NOAA/NMFS don’t want anything to do with that?”
And we can’t forget the carrot that this fiscal shuffle holds out to the regional Fisheries Management Councils. They’re all in line to get big bucks for jumping on the Catch Shares choo choo as well. Can you imagine a bureaucrat or a bureaucracy that wouldn’t enthusiastically accept a budget increase, particularly considering the current state of the economy? They’re committed, not by force but by bureaucratic expediency.
Adding the icing to this particular cake, all of the pronouncements about the Catch Shares Nirvana that we’re about to enter make it sound like all is known that needs to be known about catch shares, that all of the answers are in hand. It’s just a matter of
applying all of that knowledge gleaned from all of those other fisheries* (actually only 1.1% of all of the world’s fisheries, and those undoubtedly pre-selected for success), and we’re in business – at least a few of us – better than we’ve ever been before.
But the 2011 Budget Request justifying the $50+ million for the Catch Shares program states “the funding also increases NMFS’ analytical capacity to evaluate and report performance of catch share monitoring programs with respect to economic performance, fleet behavior, annual catch limits, and bycatch reduction.” Someone at NOAA/NMFS (or EDF?) knows that catch shares are going to make it better for some of us, but doesn’t know any of those troubling specifics like which of “us” or how much better.
It’s not a matter of robbing Peter, it’s more like taking his watch and wallet, beating him severely and leaving him bleeding in the gutter on his way home after his last day on the job. And then of determining who Paul is going to be.
*I wrote in March 2009 of the EDF working group that put together the Oceans of Abundance report, a supposed justification for the universal imposition of catch shares, “members (of the working group) Christopher Costello and Steve Gaines were two of the three authors of a paper in Science in 2008 concluding rights-based management might save the world’s fisheries based on an analysis of 11,135 commercial fisheries worldwide, 121 – or 1.1% – of which used this form of management.” Dr. Lubchenco was also a member of the working group. (see All hands on the stacked deck at http://www.fishnetusa.com/All%20Stolpe%20Columns.htm#Stacked%20Deck). __
Catch shares choo choo running out of steam? 09/23/2010
Not too surprisingly, NOAA/NMFS used the annual publication of the Fisheries of the United States 2009 by as another means of demonstrating how well they were doing at managing our nation’s fisheries. As recently usual, the NOAA/NMFS measure of management “success” was inversely related to the success of the fishing industry. Gross landings by commercial fishermen were down, gross revenues to fishermen were down, and in some distorted form of bureaucratic envirothink, NOAA/NMFS claimed that it was getting better at doing its job of managing fisheries.
Without getting too bogged down in specifics, compared to 2008, tonnage was down 208,000 metric tons – a decrease of 5% – and revenues were down $500,000,000 – a decrease of 11%. That’s the big picture.
But, reaffirming that old adage, the devil really is in these details, particularly if you are NOAA head Jane Lubchenco and if you are bound and determined to force catch shares on the fishing industry as she and her cronies at Environmental Defense are.
NOAA/NMFS lists a total of sixteen fisheries as being in whole or in part under some form of catch share management as of this year. Of these, eleven were, again in whole or in part, under catch share management prior to 2008. I have ignored the five in which catch share management was imposed after 2008, assuming that data from them would not be indicative of how those fisheries are doing. Of the remaining ten*, six showed diminished landings from 2008 to 2009 (78%) and six showed that those diminished landings resulted in diminished revenues to the fishermen (67%). The tonnage losses ranged from 1% (sablefish) to 18% (walleye pollock) and the decreases in value ranged from 8% (surf clams) to 36% (halibut). The average for the eleven fisheries was a 7% loss by weight and a 13% loss by value. Two catch share fisheries increased in tonnage and three catch share fisheries increased in value.
(*Note that the wreckfish fishery, which went under catch share management in 1991, has dropped off the charts completely since then. In 1990, prior to catch shares, wreckfish landings were almost $5 million. During the first seven years of catch share management they plummeted to $22 thousand and by the eighth year the fishery had virtually disappeared, with only negligible landings reported in 1999, 2004 and 2007 and none reported during the remaining years.)
For the one hundred and twenty-one fisheries not under some form of catch share management, landings from 2008 to 2009 increased by an average of 7% while the value of those landings decreased by an average of 3%. The tonnage in seventy-three of the one hundred and twenty-one fisheries decreased (60%) and the value decreased in seventy-four of
them (61%). The average for the one hundred and twenty-one non-catch share fisheries was a 7% increase in weight and a 3% decrease in value.
On the average, fisheries not managed with catch shares performed significantly better than those in which catch shares were employed. Landings in non-catch share fisheries were up by an average of 7%, compared to a loss of 7% in the catch share fisheries, and the value of the landings decreased by an average of 3%, compared to a decrease of 13%. And wreckfish, one of the handful of catch share fisheries is the only one out of the entire 130 plus fisheries that seems to have been fished “into oblivion” (or someone at NOAA/NMFS simply forgot about the fishery).
Proponents of catch shares claim that their adoption in a fishery will have benefits to virtually everybody and everything connected to that fishery, including the fish. While that’s the kind of claim that’s really difficult to test, we’re fortunate that we have a particular fishery, the West Coast, sablefish fishery, which is managed by catch shares – and has been since 1995 – in Alaska and is managed traditionally throughout the remainder of its range in the U.S. (Washington, Oregon and Northern California). The total landings from the ITQ component of the fishery are approximately three times greater than those from the non-ITQ component.
Looking at the landings and the revenues of the two components of the fishery in the charts below, it appears as if not much can be said regarding either form of management. In both, landings have been tending down and revenues have been tending up.
So where are the benefits from catch shares? They don’t appear to be accruing to either the fish (less mortality) or the fishermen (increasing revenue) at differential rates. Production and revenues in the ITQ fishery have been declining fairly steadily since 2004 while landings in the non-ITQ fishery have been increasing since 2007 and revenues have been increasing since 2004. Since 1995 the ITQ fish have brought an average of $2.60 per pound and the non-ITQ fish have brought an average of $1.66 per pound. Whether this is due to how the fish are processed/handled, to an intrinsic difference in the fish as landed, or to a greater ability of the ITQ vessel owners/operators to “play the market” isn’t obvious.
So it seems that, overall, catch shares aren’t automatically better for the fishermen than are the “traditional” forms of management employed in other fisheries. In fact, these data would argue that, at least from the gross tonnage and dollars and cents perspectives, they are noticeably worse (just consider the “disappearance” of one out of the nine established catch shares-managed fisheries).
On a positive note, it seems that several fisheries managed by catch shares were capable of maintaining the revenues to the boats in the even face of declining landings.
Non-ITQ sablefish landings (blue) and revenues (magenta)
1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
ITQ sablefish landings (blue) and revenues (magenta)
1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Of course, as in any other businesses, there are winners and losers when it comes to participants in catch sharemanaged fisheries, and if a reduced amount of fish is caught by an even more reduced number of boats, the owners of those boats will be doing better. But what about the involved fishing communities?
The New England Fisheries Management Council’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Amendment 15 to the Council’s Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan dated June 2010 states “…consolidation measures like ITQs, but also more generally leasing and stacking, tend to have their negative impacts on those less powerful segments of the fishing industry, namely the crew, or the small business owners without a fleet of vessels or vertically integrated business. Those who are better able to take advantage of measures like leasing or stacking are then increasingly able to exert control in various markets, such as leasing quota, hiring crew, or even affecting prices that fishermen receive for their product. These kinds of changes, in turn, affect the structure of communities—through changing relations between people and shifts in dominant values—and affect the viability of fishing communities as some are disproportionally impacted by geographic shifts in fishing businesses.”
Who wins with catch shares? How about the managers? If two-thirds of the fish are divided up among half of the fishermen, it would seem that managing those fishermen would become significantly easier, as would “managing” the fish (though we all know that there isn’t much that fisheries managers do that involves managing the fish, to outsiders it would appear that’s what they do).
And, considering that up until now it’s proven impossible to institute catch shares in any form that doesn’t involve significant consolidation and concentration, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change, the “clout” of the fishermen in the catch shares-managed fishery is going to decrease as well. That means fewer people in Congress concerned about what the managers are doing, fewer on-shore businesses impacted by management actions, and fewer communities outraged by unnecessarily harsh management actions.
So catch shares aren’t better for the fishermen or the businesses that are dependent on the fishery – at least for all of the fishermen who were in the fishery and the businesses that were dependent on it before catch shares were adopted. And the research that’s been done shows that whether a fishery is managed by catch shares or not isn’t significant as long as a hard TAC (that’s Total Allowable Catch) is employed, it’s not better for the fish.
Is this the future of fishing? February 2, 2011
What’s the probability of a federal agency becoming involved in an attempt to wrest control of a public resource-based industry away from the communities that have built up around it since colonial times – an industry with a Congressionally mandated role in the management of the resources it depends on – and turn it over to private “charitable” foundations and the business entities they are linked to? If your answer is “pretty low,” give some serious consideration to the following.
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation commissioned a study, Financing Fisheries Change: Learning from Case Studies, by Manta Consulting, Inc. that was completed last month (January, 2011). The report, which is available as of this writing at http://www.packard.org/assets/files/conservation%20and%20science/Financing-Fisheries-Change_case_study_report.pdf (if it disappears, contact me and I’ll provide you with the file) lays out in 119 pages how foundation supported ENGOs and the “green” businesses they support can take over recreational and commercial fisheries. This could have the effect of reducing people who were previously independent vessel or fishing-related business owners/operators to wage slaves working for the environmentally correct “company store,” being forced to adapt their methods, their technologies and ultimately their lifestyles to what billionaire industrialists and their heirs deem they should be. Is this anything but elitist social engineering at its worst?
“The expectation is that the lessons from each (of the presented case studies) will help new innovators and entrepreneurs to adapt and design their own investment and governance structures to achieve significant change on the water.” (Packard/Manta report, pg 7)
How is this to be accomplished? According to Packard/Manta, “foundations in the field are now looking to support this transition from fisheries conservation as a purely philanthropic investment to a blended conservation and business investment by encouraging non-profits, social change leaders and business entrepreneurs to create innovatively
structured projects that can both build value for private investors and improve the speed and scale of fisheries conservation impacts.”
In the report, several examples of “sustainable” seafood marketing companies are cited. They got an initial boost from the Sea Change Investment Fund, launched by Packard and California Environmental Associates. It “is funded equally from low-interest Program Related Investment debt from the Packard Foundation and private equity from independent investors.” How would you like to be an owner of a truly independent business and have to compete with a business on the next block that has the Packard Foundation behind it?
It’s glaringly obvious that when foundations have billions of dollars in assets, an unprecedented amount of political clout and highly effective PR machines, the potential “encouragement” they are able to offer to what they have decided are acceptable businesses is going to be staggering. It’s going to be particularly staggering if you’re the owner of or if you’re dependent on one of the businesses that is about to find itself with a competitor of such Brobdingnagian proportions.
Mega-foundations whose directors in their ivory towers are convinced that they know more than the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on fishing and on healthy fisheries to support their families and their way of life is an issue that’s been studiously ignored by the main stream media. A handful of these foundations have spent tens of millions of dollars pushing their dream of catch shares, the form of fisheries management that is most amenable to this kind of “encouragement,” with no apparent thought given to the human repercussions.
Then there’s the role being played by ex ENGO super-star Jane Lubchenco and her no-holds-barred campaign as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to convert every US fishery she can to catch shares, whether the conditions of the fishery warrant such a cataclysmic change – or any change, for that matter – or not. (Relative to any so-called necessity for massive changes in how we manage our fisheries, I recommend reading an interview with recently retired NOAA/NMFS head scientist Steve Murawski. In it he announced that by the end of this year overfishing would be a thing of the past in U.S. fisheries. It’s at http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2011/01/overfishing_has_ended_top_us_s.html.)
But is that all there is? Not hardly!
You’re probably aware that some of these “charitable” foundations, generally characterized as anti-fishing by fishermen, are associated with what they call sustainability guides rating various fish and seafood species. Packard is one of them, through the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. These guides are compiled with seemingly scant consideration given to whether the fishery is pursued in compliance with the appropriate fisheries management plans, whether it is free of overfishing, or whether it is anything else, apparently, other than what the whims of the people doing the rating dictate. If they like the way the fish are harvested – or perhaps if they like the people who are doing the harvesting – they’ll stamp the products of that fishery as acceptable. If they don’t, they’ll give them the thumbs down.
With the increasing market focus on the sustainability of fish and shellfish, itself the response to a huge investment in PR by the same foundations, these “thumbs down” ratings have a significant influence on the demand for the seafood products being rated. This is reflected in the prices that are paid for those products from the boat all the way up the chain.
So we have huge foundations spending millions of dollars to convince the public that what they’ve decided is “sustainability” should be the critical criterion when buying seafood and spending other millions of dollars on supporting rating programs that grade whether seafood products should be embraced or avoided by seafood consumers, we have fishermen who are fishing well within the letter of the world’s most stringent array of fishing laws here in the U.S., and there is no connection between the two. The fish labelers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are ready, willing and able to brand a product “avoid” simply because they don’t like how it’s caught.
Take monkfish as a case in point. The National Marine Fisheries Service monkfish page on its own seafood rating website, Fish Watch, states “monkfish are primarily caught with bottom trawls and gillnets. Dredges also account for a small percentage of landings. Monkfish habitat has been determined to be only minimally vulnerable to these fishing gears,” and continues regarding bycatch in the monkfish fishery “measures have been implemented to reduce any impact.” Yet the Monterey Bay Aquarium warns consumers against eating monkfish “due to high bycatch concerns and severe habitat impacts.”
Needless to say, the National Marine Fisheries Service doesn’t have anything approaching the dollars that the Monterey Bay Aquarium, with its connection to the Packard Foundation (in 2010 the Aquarium received $36 million from the Foundation) has. So the federal agency with the responsibility to manage our marine fisheries is saying to go ahead and buy and enjoy monkfish
with a clear conscience and the Monterey Bay Aquarium is saying don’t you dare. Guess which message is reaching more consumers?
Why the discrepancy?
To collect its own data, the aquarium could have a fleet of research vessels manned by a crew of scientists that no one knows anything about, but operating in a low-profile stealth mode is uncharacteristic of the foundation funded crowd. As the Pew/Oceana folks showed us in the Gulf of Mexico during the BP disaster, when going down to the sea in ships they want their creature comforts with them and they want everyone to know – see The Oil Slick – Oceana scientists “roughing it” in the Gulf at the bottom of the page at http://fishnetlite.blogspot.com/. Minus collecting their own data, the Monterey Bay Aquarium fish raters must be using the same information that NMFS is using. They’re sure coming to different conclusions. So having their own, independently gathered information is probably out.
Is it because they don’t like gill nets and otter trawls? They rate black sea bass as a “good alternative,” and they’re caught with otter trawls, as are silver hake (“good”), Alaskan pollock (used in surimi and rated “good”), sand dabs (“good”) and lingcod (“good”). They rate Atlantic croaker a “best choice,” and they’re caught with gillnets, as are bluefish (“good”), Spanish mackerel (“good”) and salmon (“good” to “best”). It’s apparently not the gear being used.
Whatever their reasons for this rating, it puts a dent in the demand for monkfish. That’s why they are doing it. This dent in demand is translated into a lower price for the fish that is felt by everyone from the fishermen to the retailers.
The monkfish fishery is one of the initial candidates for Jane Lubchenco’s catch shares revolution. As I’m writing this, a series of public hearings are being held from Maine to North Carolina so that federal regulators can gauge the interest in catch shares in the fishery. If she is successful, rights to the annual monkfish harvest will be divided among some of the “historic” participants. Fitting in with the Packard Foundation’s grand plan for “saving the fisheries” while at the same time turning a profit, this could open the door for green organizations and individuals to start buying control of the fishery. The Packard Foundation has now provided them with a roadmap of how to do this and, based on past actions, might well be willing to provide them with financing as well.
The lower the consumer demand for monkfish, the lower the cost for outsiders to “buy” into the fishery.
Putting the icing on this particular cake, monkfish are classified as a data poor stock. In other words, the fisheries scientists claim they don’t know as much about the condition of the monkfish population as is necessary to manage them adequately. This being the case, the monkfish quotas are set extremely conservatively. If the scientists were more comfortable with the condition of the stock, if the uncertainty was less, the quotas would be increased, and they’d probably be increased significantly.
The level of knowledge that scientists have about any fish stock is determined by the amount of money available to collect and analyze data about that stock. Given adequate funding, monkfish could be taken off the data poor list in fairly short order. What would result? It’s impossible to believe it would be anything other than a significant increase in the quota. Ms. Lubechenco has taken millions out of the NMFS research budget and put it into her catch shares campaign. At least for the time being, it’s apparent that monkfish are going to continue as a data poor stock. (Note that I work for the Monkfish Defense Fund, an industry trade group.)
It’s safe to say that less data = lower quotas = less income to the fishery participants = lower price for acquiring catch shares in the fishery.
But is it possible for a foundation – or an ENGO that it supports – to decide to start supporting a massive monkfish survey effort as soon as it becomes a catch share fishery and a bunch of those shares have been acquired by the “right” kind of people, businesses and organizations? Why not? And then monkfish could be taken from the data-poor category, the allowable catch could be increased significantly, monkfish could be promoted to a “best choice” by the fish labelers, the value of the catch shares could increase dramatically, and everyone would be happy – except for the fishermen and the other folks who would be casualties of this green takeover of their fishery.
So we’re looking at a possible scenario where the value of the shares in a fishery can easily be driven down by a combination of government and foundation efforts and where the value of those shares can just as easily be increased by making a few adjustments in consumer ratings and research funding levels.
It’s not just monkfish.
In spite of formidable and totally justified political pressure to do so, the Secretary of Commerce has just refused to allow Northeast groundfish fishermen to catch significantly more of the uncaught 80% or so of the target Total Allowable Catch that a complicated web of extremely harsh regulations presently prevents them from catching. The groundfish fishery is in a tailspin because of this government mandated underfishing, and thanks to a catch share system instituted at Ms. Lubchenco’s insistence last year, quota can be acquired at bargain basement rates. (See Chronic Underfishing – The Real New England Groundfish Crisis at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/chronic_underfishing.htm.)
These regulations resulted from successful lobbying by the foundation-funded ENGOs, and their heavy-handed implementation has been guaranteed by a series of lawsuits brought by those same ENGOs. Several of the projects detailed in the Packard report focus on this fishery, and its current dismal condition and future promise (a harvest with the potential to increase at least 400%) would seem to make it a natural for investment. But to allow that investment to be made, guided or encouraged by members of the same complex of foundations, ENGOs, investors and bureaucrats who are responsible for the dismal conditions that exist in the fishery today (and the attendant human suffering) is, or should be, far beyond the pale.
As of now, it isn’t.
It would seem that a couple of amendments to the Magnuson Act could forestall some serious potential problems. The Act already requires that before any individual quota system is put in place by either the Gulf of Mexico or New England Fishery Management Council it has to be approved by two-thirds of the permit holders in a fishery-wide referendum. This should be expanded to apply to all of the Councils, all of EEZ fisheries and all proposed Catch Share programs, not just those dealing with individual quotas. And any quota acquisition by a non-fishing entity should only be allowed with the express approval of a certain percentage (20%?) of the permit holders in that fishery. Without these provisions at the least, it’s very possible that the type of speculation that destroyed the U.S. housing market could be inflicted on our commercial and recreational fisheries.
Trouble in the catch share paradise or something else entirely?
The Alaskan halibut fishery, which has been operating on a catch shares basis for several years, has been held up as one of the examples of what a superior form of management it is; in fact, the only system that guarantees sustainability. On December 10 Craig Medred wrote in 2011 halibut quota cut nearly in half:
“Fishermen who borrowed money to finance the purchase of “shares” of the allotted halibut harvest are struggling to make payments as the value of those shares goes down along with the harvest.
Everything was rosy in the commercial halibut fisheries off Alaska’s shores as long as it was rosy. Now the dark side of what is called “privatization” has begun to emerge.
Shares looked like a good investment in 2005 when the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which sets catch quotas for the water off Alaska and Canada, set a limit of 10.93 million pounds for Area 2C in the Gulf of Alaska off the panhandle. Catch quotes, however, have been going doing down ever since. The commission is recommending a catch of only 2.33 million pounds for next year. The area had a 2010 quota of 4.4 million pounds this year” (Alaska Dispatch http://alaskadispatch.com/voices/medred/7796-halibut-quota-cut-in-half-for-2011). _______________
Call it conspiracy, cooperation or coincidence, but no matter what you call it, the public record isn’t going to change May 08, 2011
In his latest column in Saltwater Sportsman magazine, New England Fishery Management Council member and chairman of the Council’s Groundfish Committee Rip Cunningham devoted almost a thousand words to refuting the existence of a catch shares “conspiracy” that, he leaned towards thinking, was “a bunch of BS conjured up by anti-regulation crackpots with too much time on their hands and too little brainpower to figure out something constructive to do.”
I’ve been chronicling – and documenting – the push for catch share management for several years, and in doing that I haven’t come in contact with any fishermen who I would describe as anything close to anti-regulation, as crackpots, with too much time on their hands, or with too little brainpower to figure out something constructive to do. Rather, I’ve found virtually all of them to be hard working, hard fishing individuals who are concerned about a multi-million dollar taxpayer funded campaign to transfer ownership and/or control of what are now public fisheries resources into private hands (see my article The Catch Share Choo
Choo is leaving the Station at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/Future_of_fishing.pdf). And at a national level I suspect I’m at least as well connected to recreational, commercial and party/charter fishing circles as he is.
So why is he using such a derogatory and grossly inaccurate description of fishermen concerned about catch shares and the future of fishing? Perhaps for the same reason that his column is accompanied by a half-page illustration of three hovering helicopters in silhouette: a transparent attempt to paint all of the fishermen – and the people in fishing-dependent businesses – who are opposed to any unilateral, top-down imposition of any form of management on their fisheries as over-the-edge extremists and therefore not worthy of anything other than ridicule. That’s called marginalization, and it’s something that the anti-fishing activists, the foundations that support them and the fishermen – and perhaps even the journalists – who they’ve bought off have become very effective at doing.
And then Mr. Cunningham gets into funding by the Pew Charitable Trusts of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other ENGOs that advocate for catch shares, writing “don’t confuse the conspiracy with the truth; we have learned that the last funding happened 10 years ago.” While I find it admirable when anyone admits to learning anything at all, in this instance Mr. Cunningham didn’t learn anything approaching enough. All told EDF got less than $2 million from Pew – minimal dollars in the mega-foundation world (see http://www.fishtruth.net/EnvDefense.htm) – and that funding appears to have stopped in 2004. That’s not quite ten years, but I guess it’s close enough for Saltwater Sportsman. However, EDF has received over $20 million from the Marine Conservation program of the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart) from 2007 to 2009, over $9 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (Intel) since 2005 (all of which was for the EDF catch shares campaign), and $1.5 million from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation since 2008.
Further, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a federal quasi-agency, just announced that it will fund 18 new projects totaling over $2 million that “will engage fishermen around the country in the design and implementation of effective catch-share fisheries.” The funds for this were provided by the Walton and Moore Foundations, two of NFWF’s “foundation partners,” which are described as “supporting NFWF’s National Fisheries Innovation Fund, which will assist the transition of United States fisheries to catch share programs by encouraging fishermen to pursue innovative management strategies through a competitive grant award process.”
The NFWF lists among its corporate partners Exxon/Mobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, Conoco Phillips and Walmart. That’s either a pretty big bundle of truth that Mr. Cunningham seems to have overlooked or a trophy-sized red herring that he wanted his readers to swallow. While he zeroed right in on the relatively paltry funding of EDF by Pew from way back when, in his zeal to further discredit the “crackpots” he completely missed the boat on $30 million plus in funding for promoting catch shares by other foundations which are apparently working in close coordination with government agencies (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parent agency to the National Marine Fisheries Service, is one of the NFWF’s Federal partners). On top of this, NOAA head Jane Lubchenco has transferred tens of millions of sorely needed research dollars from the National Marine Fisheries Service research budget into her catch shares program, and many of these millions are available to the regional fisheries management councils for instituting catch shares programs.
I’ve been directly and indirectly involved with the federal fisheries management process since its inception in 1976, and one of the most noticeable changes that it has undergone in the intervening three plus decades is its enthusiastic embracing of rampant bureaucratization. Both NMFS and the regional councils have become administrative empires and are accordingly subject to all of the bureaucratic pressures that entails. Chief among these, particularly over the last several years, are budgetary pressures. Quite simply, the money isn’t flowing from the taxpayers the way it used to. So what impact on the regional council system do you think the availability of millions of dollars to establish catch share programs is going to have? If you are on a regional fishery management council, if you work for a regional fishery management council or if your job depends on the workings of a fishery management council, should you be expected to think anything is more important than swelling the coffers of that council? And, considering today’s economic realities, what’s the only way to do that? Push catch shares, of course. With an arrangement like that, it doesn’t take an edict from on high to make catch shares management the rule. All it takes is an understanding of how bureaucracies work and a cynical willingness to take advantage of that.
And we can add to this the fact that, besides providing transportation to and bed and bread in what tend to be fairly nice digs in fairly pleasant locales at least several times a year, serving on a regional fishery management council can contribute significantly to one’s bank account. Because of this, some council members (though definitely not all of them) put a high premium on being reappointed to their council seats when their terms expire.
The governors of each coastal state recommend several people for each council seat as it becomes available. The final decision on who is appointed is made by Ms. Lubchenco’s agency. Speaking in Boston in May, 2009, she said “the scientific evidence is compelling that catch shares can also help restore the health of ecosystems and get fisheries on a path to profitability and
sustainability. These results, … these scientific analyses, … are why moving forward to implement more catch share programs is a high priority for me. I see catch shares as the best way for many fisheries to both meet the Magnuson mandates and have healthy, profitable fisheries that are sustainable.” How far do you think being a catch share proponent will go in getting someone appointed or reappointed to a council? How far do you think not being a catch share supporter will go in the other direction? And then we have the following three paragraphs taken from the Alex C. Walker Foundation website (at http://walkerfoundation.org/net/org/project.aspx?projectid=81773&p=50769 – emphasis added). The Walker Foundation is a strong supporter of catch shares and other such market manipulations as a way to regulate us and effect social change.
“EDF staff continues to support managers and industry leaders in an increasingly broad and rapid transition to catch shares in many different New England fisheries. We coordinate our policy change efforts with allies including the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fisherman’s Association, Oceana, Earth Justice, Conservation Law Foundation, the New England Aquarium, and The Nature Conservancy.
New NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco played a leadership role in securing $35 million in combined FY09 and FY10 federal appropriations to help the groundfish industry transition to sectors. EDF staff played key roles in broadening consensus support for her leadership. We continue to coordinate closely with NGO, fishing industry and agency allies to work through priority issues critical to the successful implementation of sectors by May 1, 2010. In the months leading up to the sector vote, support for catch shares far outweighed opposition in the regional media. As fishermen come to grips with low catch limits and a new management system, however, opponents have been more vocal than supporters. In response, we have had to increase our regional media focus and sophistication, including online media tools such as fishermen’s forums, blogs, and news aggregation websites. Our goals include identifying and amplifying pro-catch share fishermen’s voices, answering misinformation about catch shares and addressing genuine concerns about catch share design.”
Whether this is evidence of a conspiracy or not, it’s obvious that the people in charge at Saltwater Sportsman want their readers to believe that there’s neither cooperation nor coordination involved in the national drive to implement catch shares. By the use of black helicopter imagery and demeaning descriptions of people who recognize what’s really happening, they’re trying to manipulate their readers into writing off people who recognize the extent of the push by mega-foundations, ENGOs and federal agencies working together to “revolutionize” fishery management. These organizations want, and are still campaigning for, this in spite of the fact that our most credible fisheries scientists agree that this year, for the very first time, we’ll be free of overfishing in U.S. waters. (I have to add that we’ve gotten here with catch share management in place for a meaningful time in less than 5% of our fisheries.)
The evidence that this coordination and cooperation, or whatever it’s called, exists is overwhelming, even without the on-the record recognition of it by the very same groups that are involved in coordinating and cooperating. Arguing that it doesn’t seems an awfully strange role for a publication that claims to be “the fishing authority since 1939.” Perhaps Saltwater Sportsman should stick to fishing.
And I would strongly suggest that you etch indelibly into your memory the use of the phrase “anti-regulation crackpots with too much time on their hands and too little brainpower” by someone who serves – and is well paid to serve – on a federal regional fisheries management council. Whether we see the future of fisheries management the way they do or not, don’t we all deserve better from council members than that.