On May 1st, 2010, the New England multi-species groundfish fishery (that’s cod, haddock, flounder, and several others) transitioned to a management scheme known as catch shares, or sectors. The new system is akin to cap-and-trade for fish. Regulators set total catch limits for each population or species of fish. Fishermen are allotted a portion of the allowable catch and can choose to fish their share, or sell or lease it to another fisherman.
While it was widely agreed that the previous system – which restricted fishermen’s days at sea and set daily catch limits – was broken, the catch shares system has been highly controversial in New England. Massachusetts politicians and fishermen – primarily from New Bedford and Gloucester – have called for major overhauls to the system, even filed legal challanges. Meanwhile, fishermen and elected officials from elsewhere around New England have said catch shares offers the best way forward for the region’s fishing industry.
Here’s how the first year of catch shares management for the New England groundfishery played out.
This Dipity interactive timeline is something I heard about from consummate science blogger Ed Yong. It’s pretty cool – far more eye-pleasing than a text run-down, plus you can comment on individual events in the timeline. There’s a LOT of material here, so zoom in and explore!
For those who absolutely must, you can read the timeline in plain-Jane-text format below the jump.
May 1st, 2010: The New England groundfish fishery (cod, haddock, flounder, and several other species) transitions from days-at-sea to catch shares.
May 7th, 2010: New Bedford joins a federal lawsuit contesting the legality of the catch shares system.
August 29st, 2010: Four months into the catch shares experiment, the new management scheme is “working just the way both its detractors and its supporters believed it would.” 60% of the fleet is sitting at the dock; fishermen have decided it’s more cost effective to sell their catch shares and wait for prices to rise. In a three-part series on the topic, the New Bedford Standard Times says there could be severe financial repercussions for businesses that support the fishing industry.
November 5th, 2010: Governor Deval Patrick submits a reanalysis of federal regulators’ data on fisheries stocks and economic impacts to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke with a request for emergency action to increase groundfish catch limits and provide financial aid to fishermen who fear they are being put out of business by the catch shares management system. The report says managers were overly cautious in setting catch limits, to the detriment of fishermen.
January 7th, 2011: Secretary Locke denies Governor Patrick’s request to raise groundfish quotas and provide financial aid, saying that such a move would require new scientific data (not just a different analysis) and stronger evidence of economic hardship.
January 24th, 2011: Ten environmental groups, including Conservation Law Foundation, Oceana, Environment Massachusetts, National Resources Defense Council, and Pew Environment Group, send a letter to Secretary Locke thanking him for “the professional demeanor and objective consideration of the issues that NOAA and [National Marine Fisheries Service] staffs have displayed throughout this process.”
January 26th, 2011: In a somewhat unorthodox move, New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang took his own fishery advisory council to the New Hampshire hotel where the New England Fisheries Management Council was convening and scheduled a presentation down the hall and immediately following the Council’s own meeting; most of the Council members attended Lang’s presentation of fishermen’s complaints.
January 27th, 2011: The New England Fishery Management Council votes to have their Science and Statistical Committee review the independent analysis commissioned by Gov. Patrick, bringing the report into the regulatory process. In response to complaints that catch shares is driving small fishermen out of business and consolidating the fishing industry in the hands of a few big businesses, the Council also agrees to study the system’s impacts on the diversity of the fishing fleet, but only after the completion of the first full year under catch shares.
January 27th, 2011: Secretary Locke denies another request from New England politicians – this one relating to an ongoing federal investigation of corruption and abusive treatment of fishermen by NOAA’s law enforcement office. Governor Patrick and a handful of Massachusetts legislators had petitioned to allow more fishermen accused of breaking the law to (belatedly) get their cases included in the review, and to postpone all penalties until the review is completed. Massachusetts lawmakers react to Locke’s refusal with expected outrage. Congressman John Tierney says it is “further proof that … the [Commerce] Department is unwilling to make any reasonable effort to act in the best interest of our fishermen or our fishing economy.”
Meanwhile, the New Bedford City Council votes unanimously to seek the resignation of U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The City Council has no control over who holds the position of Commerce Secretary – that’s the president’s prerogative. But the councillor who made the motion insists that this is more than a symbolic gesture, saying “anything is possible.” The council has asked a handful of Massachusetts politicians (those already embroiled in a war of words with Locke) to pass their message on President Obama.
January 31, 2011: Senator Scott Brown (R) introduces a bill to require that economic impact statements on the affect of fishing regulations on communities be produced independently of NOAA and updated on an annual basis.
January 31, 2011: Governor Deval Patrick sends a letter to President Obama requesting that he “intervene to set your Department of Commerce and its agencies on a course of cooperation and consideration” but stops short of asking for Secretary Locke’s resignation.
February 9th, 2011: Federal regulators propose raising catch limits for yellowtail flounder and eleven other groundfish stocks for the 2011 fishing season beginning May 1st. Senator John Kerry and Representative Barney Frank – an outspoken advocate for fishermen who co-authored legislation that made the increases possible – issued statements praising the move. Patricia Kurkul, the Northeast regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said that regulators would look into whether the increases could be enacted earlier than May 1st.
February 19th, 2011: The House continuing resolution to fund the federal government for the remainder of 2011 includes an amendment introduced by Congressman Walter Jones (R-N.C.) that prohibits NOAA from using federal funds to establish new catch shares programs along the Atlantic or Gulf coasts. The measure is supported by Mass. Rep. Barney Frank, and Sen. Scott Brown has said he’ll vote for it if it reaches the Senate.
February 22nd, 2011: Senator Kerry announces that he has requested a private meeting with Secretary Locke and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to air his “extreme frustration” with “some of the decisions that have been made with insensitivity and without adequate creativity.” He also plans to hold hearings to look into fisheries regulation and possible misuse of funds derived from fines and penalties assessed against fishermen.
February 28th, 2011: The New England Fisheries Management Council files a proposed rule – Framework 45 – that would increase 2011 catch limits for 12 groundfish stocks, decrease limits for 3 stocks and stay the same for the remaining 5. For eleven of the twelve stocks, including Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine cod, the move comes because fishery scientists say efforts to rebuild those stocks are showing signs of success. In the case of yellowtail flounder – a choke species whose low limits can shut down the entire fishery if reached – a 44% increase is the result of a joint decision with Canadian regulators to slow down the pace of recovery. Some fishermen say the increases don’t go far enough, while some environmentalists say the increases are unnecessary because fishermen haven’t caught all the fish allowed to them this year. The draft measure also includes delaying the transfer of costs for catch monitoring from NOAA to fishermen.
March 8th, 2011: Federal fisheries chief Eric Schwaab appears before Congress to defend NOAA’s 2011 budget plan, including plans to transfer $17.4 million from research to the development of catch shares programs. He also that U.S. fisheries are on track to meet the goal of ending overfishing this year, and that prospects for the fishing industry should improve in years to come.
March 10th, 2011: NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco appears before Congress to support the agency’s 2012 budget request, including $54 million to support the voluntary establishment of catch share programs.
March 10th, 2011: Seafood Contract Brokers, LLC announces the launch of ACExchange.org, a non-profit online marketplace for buying, selling, and trading fishing shares – the first of it’s kind in New England.
March 17th, 2011: In a reversal of previous decisions, Secretary Locke announces several actions requested by Massachusetts’ politicians, including launching an economic assistance outreach program to assess and address financial hardships related to federal fishing regulations, extending the period for filing complaints about abusive law enforcement and requesting stays of penalties pending review, and auditing funds derived from penalties. The announcement also included broad plans to reform fisheries law enforcement and make fishing regulations simpler and more transparent.
March 25th, 2011: Maine Senator Olympia Snowe (R) – ranking member on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard – voices public support for the catch shares management system, saying that it was showing signs of success and that attention should be focused on making the system as good as possible.
April 11th, 2011: The New England Fishery Management Council’s Science and Statistical Committee concludes that the independent analysis of catch limits and economic impacts commissioned by Gov. Patrick fails to justify changes to current catch limits, but recommend further research on the ways scientific uncertainty and risk are handled in the the process of setting limits.
April 16th, 2011: Massachusetts politicians call for federal oversight and regulation of ACExchange, while some fishermen have expressed concern that the online catch shares market could accelerate consolidation of the groundfish fleet by making it easier for prospective buyers to find and acquire permits.
April 18th, 2011: NOAA announces that the 2011 fishing season will open with higher catch limits for 12 stocks (as previously proposed), and an expanded sectors system – 10% more fishermen enrolled in sectors, two new sectors in operation, and four new permit bank sectors that can buy up fishing permits and sell or lease them at discounted rates to assist fishermen who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford enough permits to make a living. There are already a few permit banks in operation, and fishermen in Maine and on Cape Cod say they’ve been important factors in the success of the catch shares system in those areas.
April 19th, 2011: Fishermen from sectors on Cape Cod and in Maine publicly voice support for catch shares, saying the system provides incentives to fish sustainably but takes some getting used to. Cape fishermen with several years experience with an experimental catch shares system say “The first year is the worst.”
April 26th, 2011: An independent review of fishery management in New England portrays a system “beset with problems” and bogged down by beauracracy. The report calls for a range of reforms, including streamlining communication between stakeholders and various regulatory bodies, enhancing transparency and accountability, developing a shared vision for New England fisheries, and building industry confidence in the science behind fishing rules.
April 29th, 2011: Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) write to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco requesting that the agency abandon efforts to establish new catch shares programs along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Jones sponsored a measure de-funding catch shares programs in those regions which was included in the continuing resolution that funded the federal government for the remainder of 2011.
April 30th: The 2010 fishing season closes with landings of all New England groundfish stocks at or below catch limits set by federal regulators.