Investing In Our Future: The Economic Case for Rebuilding Mid-Atlantic Fish Populations

Jul 23, 2009

Rebuilding depleted fish populations must be a priority,both for the health of our ocean ecosystems and our coastal communities. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary law that governs our ocean fisheries, supports this by mandating an end to overfishing and rebuilding depleted fish populations within 10 years, if biologically possible.

Delayed rebuilding has significant costs. Failure to immediately address overfishing and allow fish populations to rebuild as quickly as possible forgoes current economic benefits and may result in more costly regulations in the long–term. While delay imposes considerable costs, there are also important benefits to be gained from rebuilding. Previous studies found that rebuilding just 17 depleted fish populations would increase the economic value of these fisheries from $194 million to $567 million dollars.

This report provides new analysis of the potential economic benefits of rebuilding, focusing on four depleted fish populations in the Mid-Atlantic: summer flounder, black sea bass, bluefish and butterfish. The study estimates direct economic benefits by comparing status quo management scenarios with scenarios where populations would have been rebuilt by 2007.

If the four species had been rebuilt by 2007, commercial landings would increase by 48 percent, resulting in an additional $33.6 million per year (in 2007 dollars) in direct economic benefits in perpetuity. In the recreational sector, rebuilding these four fish populations would increase landings by 24 percent more per year than status quo management, with an economic value of approximately $536 million per year (in 2007 dollars) in perpetuity.

In sum, for both commercial and recreational fishing sectors, rebuilding populations of black sea bass, bluefish, butterfish and summer flounder by 2007 would have generated an additional $570 million per year in perpetuity in direct economic benefits. During a 5 year period, the accrued total would total $2.85 billion in economic benefit, a substantial contribution to the Mid-Atlantic economy and its coastal communities.

These direct economic benefits would have potential secondary impacts in the region through increased income, sales and jobs for related businesses such as bait and tackle shops, lodging and restaurants. Thus, the estimates reported here are conservative and the actual benefits are likely to be more expansive. These results provide analytical evidence that there is both significant value in rebuilding fish populations and foregone economic benefits from delaying rebuilding.

Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information view the materials here.

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