US managers leaving TACs, embracing ITQs

Published on September 7, 2010

The use of catch shares in fisheries management, instead of all-embracing TACs, is spreading over the USA, with a program proposed by one of eight regional management councils now winning formal federal approval.

The federal body, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Service (NMFS), recently approved a plan governing West Coast trawl groundfish harvests drawn up by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a plan including catches such as sole, sablefish and Pacific whiting.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, deciding over the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington, is one of eight such bodies, where much of the power over US fisheries management lies. The membership includes both authorities – more on state than on federal level – and stakeholders, and some environmentalists have complained of industry dominance. The role of the councils is “advisory”, but their decisions are seldom overruled.

Catch share programmes have been used on the local level since 1990 in the US and were at the end of 2009 in use in 13 commercial fisheries. Four new programmes were to begin in 2010.

If the catch share program for the Pacific groundfish trawl fishery is finally approved by the US Secretary of Commerce, it is scheduled to take force early next year.

“Under a catch-share system, fishermen can better plan their season, reduce overfishing and bycatch and fish during safer weather,” said Will Stelle, Jr, NMFS Northwest regional administrator.

At a seminar in Brussels on regionalisation a year ago, however, a Cape Cod, Massachusetts, fisherman/conservationist vividly described how the fisheries management system in his region, under a system of tradable rights and effort-control (days-at-sea), had failed dramatically and almost destroyed the fabric of local fishing communities. Today, he told the seminar organised by FISH and two other groups, he worked for a community trust, a new consortium formed by the local fishermen which had bought up some of the tradable rights to lease them back to its members on an annual and affordable basis.