New Pew Study Shows Rebuilding Depleted Mid-Atlantic Fish Populations Can Generate Billions of Dollars for Coastal Communities

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New Pew Study Shows Rebuilding Depleted Mid-Atlantic Fish Populations Can Generate Billions of Dollars for Coastal Communities

A report released today by the Pew Environment Group reveals significant potential financial benefits of rebuilding four fish species in the Mid-Atlantic: summer flounder, black sea bass, butterfish and bluefish.

The report, Investing in Our Future: The Economic Case for Rebuilding Mid-Atlantic Fish Populations, provides a new analysis and estimates direct financial benefits by comparing status quo management of four particular fish species with what would have happened, if those populations had been rebuilt by 2007. The report finds that rebuilding summer flounder, black sea bass, butterfish and bluefish populations by 2007 would have generated an additional $570 million per year in direct economic benefits in perpetuity. In five years, that number would amount to approximately $2.85 billion.

“Results from this study provide strong analytical evidence that there is significant value in rebuilding fish populations and lost financial benefits from delayed action,” said Dr. John M. Gates, report author and professor emeritus, Departments of Economics, Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, University of Rhode Island. “It's important to note that the primary, direct benefits represent a conservative estimate and, if related economic benefits had been included, the result would likely expand well beyond the figures estimated in this study.”

Delays in rebuilding translate to lost opportunities for commercial and recreational fishermen to catch the maximum amount of fish that can sustainably be taken from a population. Failing to quickly address overfishing and allow populations to rebuild as quickly as possible forgoes current financial benefits and may result in more costly regulations in the long–term.

Key findings from the report show that:

  • Commercial landings would have increased by 48%, if the four populations had been rebuilt by 2007. The financial value would be approximately $33.6 million per year in perpetuity.
  • Rebuilding would bring an increase in recreational landings of 24% more per year than the status quo management. The economic value would be approximately $536 million per year in perpetuity. 
  • These direct economic benefits would also likely generate secondary financial benefits in the Mid-Atlantic region through increased income, sales and jobs from businesses associated with commercial and recreational fishing, including bait and tackle shops.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is the primary law that governs United States ocean fisheries. Despite a legal prohibition since 1996, many of the nation's marine fish populations continued to suffer from overfishing. In 2006, Congress reauthorized the law and strengthened legal mandates that require an end to overfishing and the rebuilding of depleted fish populations within 10 years, if biologically possible. Prompt rebuilding efforts greatly reduce economic, biological and ecological costs.

“This report shows that rebuilding efforts provide substantial contributions to the Mid-Atlantic economy and its coastal communities,” said Lee Crockett, director, Federal Fisheries Policy, Pew Environment Group.  “In order to achieve the economic benefits outlined in this study, rebuilding measures must be adopted, enforced and sustained.”

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

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