New England Fisheries

Year One: How Did Sectors Do?

When the most recent changes to fishing management for the cod, haddock and flounder we love to eat were being finalized in New England during the fall of 2009, things did not look so good: 80 percent of these groundfish stocks were overfished, subject to overfishing, or both. Revenues for fishermen had plummeted 50 percent during the fifteen years of management under the old system, called days-at-sea. And consolidation cut the fleet in half between 1994 and 2007.

Now, one year has passed since the new plan called Amendment 16 brought a different type of management to the region. It introduced legally required science-based Annual Catch Limits (ACL) to prevent overfishing as part of a program to allow fishermen more freedom in running their business operations. The groundfish fleet now has the option to join a sector – essentially a fishing cooperative that receives a portion of the annual catch limit based on the historic landings of its members. Seventeen sectors were formed and most of the fishery joined this new program and operated within the annual catch quotas.

It is still early to be evaluating the overall performance of sectors, but early indications are good. From a conservation point of view, the system is already achieving its goals. Based on reports that cover the entire first year (May 1, 2010 through April 30, 2011), sectors did not exceed any of the catch limits, despite predictions to the contrary.

By contrast, catch limits in the common pool topped the 90 percent mark on two stocks, and fishing on another two went over the science-based catch limit. Since the bulk of the fishery is now in sectors, the combined picture of the fishery still looks good, and none of the overall ACLs were exceeded.

Of course, challenges lie ahead. Continued progress on making catch monitoring both more effective and more affordable is essential. Regulators should encourage the introduction of new, selective gear technologies that target healthy stocks with incentives for innovations. Preserving fleet diversity and ensuring that there are opportunities for younger fishermen to enter the fishery is also crucial for the future of New England’s communities and fisheries. Permit banks are in development already to address some of these concerns.

Still, the numbers we have seen so far are great news for the sector program and bode well for the future as fish populations rebuild. Furthermore, fishing within the science-based limits is bringing an end to overfishing, which is the primary goal of our nation’s fishing law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Figure 1: Fish caught through the end of the 2010 fishing year, April 30, 2011 (common pool and sectors combined). Data show the total catch as a percentage of the annual catch limit for each stock. (Data source: NOAA Commercial Summary Table)


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