Fisheries net bigger catch

IOWA STATE (US) — New regulations aimed at protecting fish stocks will likely be an economic boon to the fishing industry, according to a new study.

An analysis of the Pacific Groundfish fishery, which manages fishing in waters off the Northwest coast of the US, finds the fleet could save between $18 million and $22 million annually under the new regulatory system.

“What we’ve tried to do is come up with the cost savings that would be involved when we change from the old to the new system,” says Quinn Weninger, associate professor of economics at Iowa State University.

The new system controls catch amounts through a system of tradable fishing permits and allocates a certain amount of fish to be harvested by each fisherman each year. The amount of each fisherman’s total harvest is determined by the total number of permits he holds.

The findings are published in the journal Marine Resource Economics.

Fisheries managers, who are National Marine Fisheries Service employees, monitor fish stocks and calculate the total harvest that will allow fish numbers to remain at sustainable levels while letting fishermen survive economically.

Under the new system, for example, if a fisherman owns 1 percent of the permits, that fisherman can harvest 1 percent of the total amount of fish, which is chosen annually by the manager.

The new regulations begin by allocating permits to active fishermen based on that fisherman’s past annual haul of fish. A key feature is that the permits can be bought and sold, allowing more flexibility for fishermen.

Under the old system, fishermen faced a host of regulations designed to ensure the fleet did not overfish the resource.

These regulations included imposing gear restrictions, seasonal closures, area closures, limits on the number of boats, bimonthly catch limits, and other regulations that make harvesting fish less and less efficient and more costly.

“Prior to the new system, an entire years’ halibut was harvested in two, six-hour openings,” says Weninger.

“We’re talking about thousands of boats going out there and filling their boats to the point of sinking on the way home with all of these fish.”

While the new system has gained popularity in recent years, little was known about how much money would be saved industry-wide.

Weninger and colleague Rajesh Singh found the $18 million to $22 million savings for the Pacific Groundfish fishery will result mainly from reducing the size of the fishing fleet from around 117 vessels, to around 40 to 60 that will be required to catch the government-set limit—a reduction of more than 50 percent.

“Basically the revenues stay the same (under the new system), but you’re able to harvest those fish at a fraction of the cost,” Weninger explains.

The old systems had too many redundant boats providing the same service, he adds.

The cost savings could eventually lower prices at the supermarket and increase the availability of fresh fish. In the past, since all the halibut had to be harvested in just a few hours, consumers had to settle for frozen fish for much of the year.

Now, with the expanded time window to catch fish, there will be fresh halibut available for more of the year, he says.

Another benefit is safety. Since fishermen won’t be required to fish during a time preset by the government regulations regardless of weather conditions, they can fish when conditions are favorable and fishing is safer.

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