Pew Report Finds New Management Plan Would Increase Economic Value of Groundfish Industry

Pew Report Finds New Management Plan Would Increase Economic Value of Groundfish Industry

The New England groundfish fishery would be more economically and environmentally sound if the system used to manage the activities of commercial fishermen was changed from regulations based on “days-at-sea” to annual catch limits, according to a report released today by the Pew Environment Group. In addition, the new system would give declining populations of the region's iconic species like cod and flounder a chance to rebuild, providing a sustainable future for the industry.

The report, One Last Chance: The Economic Case for a New Approach to Fisheries Management in New England, chronicles the rise and fall of groundfish and describes what happened to the New England fishing economy as a consequence.  It was written by resource economists Dr. Robert J. Johnston from Clark University and Dr. Jon G. Sutinen from University of Rhode Island.

“Economists have argued for decades against the type of effort controls used today in New England, including limits on days-at-sea,” said Johnston. “These approaches don't directly control harvest, but instead make fishing more difficult in the hope that it will reduce catch. It's no surprise that profits have been driven out of the fishery.”

“I started out in this business over 30 years ago and know what a healthy fishery looks like,” stated Glen Libby, chairman of Midcoast (Maine) Fishermen's Association. “Days-at-sea has failed us. Working within a sector will allow us to plan our trips to get the best price, while enabling fish stocks to rebuild because the race is off. Sectors offer the best hope that we have right now for a sustainable future for groundfishing in New England.”

Some of the report's top findings are:

  • No multispecies fishery has ever prospered or been rebuilt successfully under days-at-sea limits.
  • While the fishery is still experiencing declines in fish stocks, landings and revenues, a transition to more responsible management, including sectors with annual catch limits, can provide significant economic gain. Rebuilding stocks could have a cumulative net present value near $300 million or higher, potentially reaching $400 million to $500 million in some scenarios (2003 dollars).
  • Cooperative fishery management under output controls are paying off worldwide. Harvest cooperatives such as the Montauk Tilefish Association, Alaska Pollock Conservation Cooperative, Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative, and others show clear biological and economic benefits including longer seasons, increased sustainable landings and profits, reduced bycatch and waste, higher product quality and recovery rates, and safer fishing.
  • Sectors offer many advantages not often provided by individual fishing quotas. These include the ability to coordinate harvest timing and location, product mix and marketing to increase net benefits. Sectors also present an opportunity to coordinate fishing activity among sector members to minimize fishing costs.

In New England, sectors have been proposed as a way to provide fishermen with the flexibility to set their own fishing guidelines so they can run their businesses more efficiently and profitably while fish populations recover. The authors examine this solution and compare it to other fisheries management alternatives. Their findings offer compelling data that appropriately-designed sectors offer the potential for more responsible, profitable and sustainable fisheries in the future. There are already two successful sectors operating in Chatham, Mass., and 17 other fishing groups in New England have submitted proposals to establish sectors.

“Unlike failed methods of the past, output controls provide a direct way to promote sustainability and economic benefits,” said Johnston. “Experience in fisheries worldwide shows the benefits of harvest cooperatives or sectors, in which groups of fishermen are given a renewable privilege to harvest a specific quantity of fish.”

The New England Fishery Management Council will vote on initiating sectors into the Amendment 16 groundfish management plan during its meeting in Portland, Maine, June 23-25, 2009. A public comment period is open until June 8, 2009. The general public may submit comments via email to: