New England Fisheries

Bargaining with Cod

Atlantic cod are considered a "choke species" in the Gulf of Maine. Photo credit: Dieter Craasman.

Comments submitted in December by the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund (GFCPF) in connection with NOAA’s emergency action on Gulf of Maine cod were recently reported in The Gloucester Times. GFCPF proposed trading cod quota for redfish, pollock and haddock access, utilizing sector-based quota-trading approaches to avoid hitting the lowered cod quota.

It is an important idea that could provide significant conservation, economic, and social benefits—the elusive win-win-win outcome that is the Holy Grail of fisheries management.

This grail’s benefits are almost wholly based on the skill of the boat captains in avoiding cod as well as effective monitoring and compliance. As far as the fishing skills, the sectors seem winning to bet on themselves, which is good enough for us.

The proposed trade’s other two components, electronic monitoring and on-board observers, are even more daunting as they are fundamentally essential to the future of New England fisheries. Electronic monitoring, probably the most cost-effective observation approach, has been crawling through agency review for months and still isn’t available. On-board observer funding is unlikely to be available given the limited number of trained observers, even if the challenges that NOAA has raised to industry-funded observers weren’t a problem. While honor systems generally don’t have a good track record in fisheries when the short-term economic stakes are this high, the sectors have the ability and incentive to self-police in this proposal that could work as long as the catch data is accurate and timely.

I don’t know if there is enough time to solve these critical administrative challenges. If they can be solved—and only if–then this may be one gamble with the dwindling cod stocks that might be worth taking.


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