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)


4 Responses to Year One: How Did Sectors Do?

  • Bob Vanasse says:

    Editor’s note: While this comment was submitted at 5:30pm on Wednesday, May 11, it was approved the morning of Thursday, May 12 after the start of business hours. While Talking Fish makes every attempt to monitor comments in real-time, we can only do so from 9am-5pm Mondays through Fridays, and comments submitted outside of these times will be reviewed the next business day. For more information, please read our comment policy.

    Dear “Talking Fish”:

    Coincidentally, I spoke this morning with a senior NOAA representative and discussed this very topic, the economic ramifications of Sector management. NOAA’s social science groups are currently studying the economic and social consequences of the first year of Sector Management. At Saving Seafood, we have been working since last summer to get solid numbers on net, not gross, revenues under Sector Management. Neither NOAA’s study, nor the reconciled reports, nor net numbers are yet available, so while we can all hope that the results will be good, it is unlikely that definitive data will be available until late summer or early fall.

    The Conservation Law Foundation’s declaration of success is premature.

    You state that, the “groundfish fleet now has the option to join a sector, and your linked-in definition of “sectors” defines them as “voluntary”. As Richie Canastra pointed out at the Standard-Times forum in New Bedford last fall, joining sectors was not truly voluntary, as fishermen were presented with something between a Hobson’s Choice and a Morton’s Fork. In Richie’s words, it was like Stalin’s collectivization of farms; you didn’t have to agree to collectivize, but your option was Siberia.

    At a Washington’s Birthday meeting with Senator Kerry in New Bedford, a fishermen from the South Shore who chose to stay in the common pool described his experience in terms that could be justifiably defined as “economic Siberia,” and noted that as a result he intended — “reluctantly” — to join a Sector for the upcoming year.

    Obviously, regulation cannot always be a voluntary process. By definition citizens are compelled to adhere to laws and regulations. However, to declare actions to be “voluntary” when in many cases they were at best strongly influenced, or at worst coerced, through design is not an honest assessment.

    Finally, you cite our Feb. 17, 2010 story “Sector Management promises benefits, faces obstacles, and raises concerns” by Jonathan Hemmerdinger as an example of inaccurate predictions that catch limits might be exceeded. In fact, the primary example cited in that story of a species likely to cause a widespread shutdown was pollock. During the fishing year, NOAA found its original pollock allocation to be inappropriately low, and increased it sixfold. As the NOAA chart you reproduced indicates, approximately 33% of the pollock allocation was caught, so without this increase — which those quoted in February 2010 had no way of knowing would happen — their predictions would have been accurate.


    Bob Vanasse

    Executive Director
    Saving Seafood
    1025 Thomas Jefferson Street, N.W.
    Suite 420 East
    Washington, DC 20007

    • Peter Shelley says:

      Thank you for your comments, Bob. You are absolutely correct that it is too early to declare the sector system an economic or social success, although the early signs for the first fishing year under sectors are generally quite positive. The success we were primarily talking about was the New England Council’s conservation objectives; for the first time in decades it appears that there was no overfishing in New England. The equally critical social and economic analyses have to await more detailed employment, net revenue, port revenue and similar data, which will be a number of months in coming. Like you, the conservation community is extremely frustrated that this basic social and economic data from an industry based on a public resource is so difficult, if not impossible, to come by. As a consequence, anyone can–and they do–shout disaster or success without fear of correction. Advancing the cause for better economic, social, and fishing data may be a common ground that Talking Fish and Saving Seafood can agreed on.

      Sorry you feel that Saving Seafood’s February 2010 article was misrepresented on our blog. While pollock is indeed mentioned frequently as a potential choke species in that article, there are also references to the potential disastrous economic consequences of overall groundfish quota cuts and reductions in quota for other individual species, thus making the piece (in our opinion) illustrative of the pessimistic predictions of the outcomes of sector management from a certain set of interests in the fishery. We do need to correct you on your phrasing of the revisions to the pollock quota. NOAA didn’t “find its original pollock allocation to be low;” they re-assessed pollock with new information they developed and revised the quota upward accordingly. That was a good thing but you can’t really maintain that it was “accurate” for that article to forecast that the whole East Coast fishery would have been closed if they hadn’t been revised. Across the board, sectors seem better able to stay within their catch limits on all stocks.

      Finally, Stalin. You favorably quote Rich Canastra–a major supporter of Saving Seafood we believe–for what you continue to claim as the involuntary nature of sectors this past year. You and Mr. Canastra compare the sector system to the nationalization of Soviet agriculture by one of the greatest tyrants of all time. That is both inflammatory and incorrect. The sector system was not dictated by a central tyrant holding Siberia over anyone’s heads; it was developed and overwhelmingly approved by the New England Council, which is dominated by commercial and recreational fishing interests. When early estimates were developed during plan development on how many fishermen might join sectors in the first year, the estimates that we remember were in the 40-60% range. When fishermen voted with their feet, more than 90% of the active groundfishermen had joined sectors by May 1, 2010. Had more stayed in the common pool, which they were free to do, the common pool would have had more fish allocated to it. Is it possible that they just saw some potential in sectors that you just haven’t or refuse to see? Mind you, CLF has not swallowed the catch share or sector Kool-aid; we held onto hope for the old Days-At-Sea program well beyond the time reason justified. In the end, sectors and catch share programs are just tools and can be abused like any fishery management tool. All concerned people should guard against that outcome. As we said in our original blog, however, for such a major management shift in fisheries, they seem to be working and we think the focus should be on making them work better for New England. We invite Saving Seafood to join that effort.

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