New Ecotrust Report Details America's Great Ocean Giveaway

June 9, 2010 16:43

As Congress convenes an oversight panel to probe the regulatory failures that preceded the equipment failure in the Gulf, another federal agency is now conducting a deepwater experiment of its own that could result in another stain on the ecological, social and economic fabric of America's coasts, reports with reference to Ecotrust.

Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) kicked into high gear its program to entitle the nation's $4 billion fishing industry that it oversees with extensive privileges. In what amounts to the country's first wholesale privatization of a natural resource, NOAA will give set quotas of the catch, commonly known as "catch shares," to private fishing businesses and individuals, essentially giving them a private right to a public resource. As currently designed, these programs favor the very fishing practices that caused overfishing in the first place, and threaten the livelihood of fishing communities.

The last great frontier - the oceans that support abundant wildlife, important fisheries and tens of thousands of jobs - are about to become one of the largest government handouts of a public resource to private interests in history. Historically, the exclusive use of valuable public resources - grasslands, forests, oil and mineral deposits, the airwaves-generates considerable public revenues from the auctioning and leasing of these privileges, but the fishing industry is not expected to pay for its new entitlement.

In theory, catch share programs are subject to the social, environmental and economic provisions of U.S. fishery laws. In practice, NOAA has deferred the design of catch share programs to regional fishery management councils that are dominated by industry interests. One council, which handles fisheries management for the Pacific region, is proposing to give 90 percent of the West Coast groundfish fishery to the trawl fleet. As it stands, this proposal fails to fully address the economic, social and ecological objectives as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Ecotrust is not opposed to catch shares in principle and acknowledges catch shares as one instrument within the suite of tools available to fisheries managers. However, it is critical that the design of such management programs address the requirements of U.S. fishery laws.

In the release of today's precedent-setting FAIR CATCH: Ten ways to improve the catch share proposal for the West Coast trawl fishery, Ecotrust lays out ten ways that the Pacific Fishery Management Council can improve the design of its catch share program to meet the economic, social and ecological objectives and requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Ecotrust's solution would ensure a fair catch share program that fosters efficient, responsible quota markets while ensuring strict conservation to protect the interests of future generations. The lessons from the report can be applied on the West Coast, or in coastal communities around the country or around the world where catch share programs will be implemented.

The Fair Catch report speaks directly to a West Coast catch share proposal that would downsize the existing trawl fleet and assign quota shares in the fishery to remaining members with the goals of, "increase[ing] economic efficiency within the Pacific coast groundfish trawl fishery and reduc[ing]" bycatch. The program fails to address critical economic, social and ecological objectives, and currently stands to disadvantage crews, small owner/operators, fishing communities, and new entrants to the marketplace.

In order to balance the interests of all affected parties, the council needs to address several weaknesses in the program design. Economic flaws should be addressed through the inclusion of owner-on-board rules and caps on leasing, which would keep quota and lease costs affordable. In addition, an online quota exchange would increase market transparency, while auctions would improve quota market liquidity. To address social shortcomings, the council's proposal should invest in fishing communities by including them in initial allocations and facilitating the ability of communities and new entrants to purchase quota. Captains, crew and small operators should also be protected by being included in initial allocations, and monitoring costs should be revisited to ensure small operators are not unduly burdened.

Summary of Fair Catch recommendations:

Foster an affordable fishery by limiting quota to active fishermen.
Regulate quota leasing to prevent unfair profiting from absentee quota ownership, and to prevent perpetual leasing.
Increase market transparency by creating an online quota exchange.
Improve market liquidity by auctioning a portion of quota for fixed terms.

Invest in fishing communities through initial quota allocations and allowing Community Fishing Associations to purchase further quota while protecting against excessive concentration.
Safeguard crew earnings by providing initial allocations to captains and crew.
Support new entrants and small operators by establishing owner-on-board rules and providing an initial allocation for new entrants.

Provide incentives for low-impact, low-carbon fishing gear by reconsidering intersector allocations and gear-switching rules to provide a more equitable basis and incentives for fixed-gear vessels to harvest trawl quota.
Prohibit hoarding and profiteering on overfished species by placing overfished species quota in a public conservation trust that leases the quota to fishermen at prorated fees.
Prevent inter-fleet spillover by implementing policies to prevent or mitigate negative impacts of spillover of trawl vessels into crab, shrimp, and other fisheries.

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