Scientists from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole have released a preliminary report on the New England groundfish fishery, comparing the first nine months of the 2010 fishing season – the first under catch shares management – to that period during the previous three years. For a season dogged by controversy and conflict, the report is pretty upbeat.
The highlights: Very encouraging
- No overfishing: Harvests of all groundfish stayed within the allotted catch limits, meaning no stocks were actively overfished this season.
- Higher revenues: After three years of declining revenues – and despite lower landings – total revenues for the fishery increased by a little more than $24 million. That’s primarily because the price fishermen got for their fish increased.
- Less bycatch: Non-groundfish landings on groundfish trips declined each year from $41 million in 2007 to $16 million in 2010. This decline suggests that fishermen are doing a better job of catching the fish just they want.
- Fewer boats fishing: The number of boats with groundfish permits declined slightly and the number of inactive vessels in the fishery increased – as it has done each of the past four years. The change from 2009 to 2010 was no larger than the previous three years. The biggest drop was in mid-sized boats (30 to 75 feet).
- Biggest boats making (slightly) more money: The largest boats in the fishery took home a slightly larger share of the total revenue – about 4% more – than in the past two years. There was no corresponding decrease in revenues for any other single size class; all other boats seemed to absorb the shift roughly equally.
Food for thought: Tantalizing tidbits
- On average, boats enrolled in sectors (the fishing co-ops that are a hallmark of the catch shares system) earned almost twice as much as boats that opted to stick with the previous days-at-sea management system.
- Revenues declined in Chatham, where support for catch shares has been strongest, and increased in both Gloucester and New Bedford, the hotbeds of opposition to the new management system.
The take-home: Too soon to celebrate
Fishery regulators and proponents of the controversial catch shares management system that went into effect at the beginning of the 2010 season have greeted the report with cautious optimism, calling the numbers “very encouraging” and “welcome news.” But all parties – supportive or not – emphasize that the report is preliminary, not a complete or exhaustive analysis. For example, it does not take into account changes in operating costs associated with the new catch shares system – a factor that could take some of the shine off the revenue numbers.
The Conservation Law Foundation’s Talking Fish blog has been talking about catch shares. The comments on their post about this report provide a glimpse of the conflicting views of how New England’s groundfishermen have fared under the new management scheme.