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To Save Fisheries, Give Fishermen a Choice

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

The world’s fisheries are in dire straights these days. Over 60% of them are and need to be rebuilt. Overfishing and other problems due to poor management have been wreaking havoc on this industry for many years. Historically, fishermen have exceeded their catch limits 65% of the time. That’s because the fisheries are traditionally managed in a ‘derby’ type system, where over as little as a few days, fishermen race against each other, and the clock, to catch as many fish as possible. In this pressure cooker, efficiency, sustainability and even safety is thrown by the wayside. In recent years, an innovative approach has stood out for its success in bringing fisheries back from the brink: catch shares. Not familiar with it? by aligning the economic interests of the fishermen with long-term conservation goals.

With the catch shares system, fishermen aren’t constrained by time. They can fish when conditions (weather, availability, market pricing) are ideal, using more efficient methods with less gear. So far, the system has shown promising success in reducing bycatch and creating more efficient fisheries; fishermen are also enjoying a much safer fishing environment. have thrived under catch shares management. The halibut fishery used to be reduced to two extremely dangerous days at sea, but now fishermen get to choose how and when they fish. They can take the time to fish more efficiently and safely, and customers also benefit as they get fresh halibut for 8 months instead of two days. You may also have heard of the “Deadliest Catch” Alaskan crab fishery – well, under catch shares, it’s not nearly as dangerous anymore, as the fishermen can take their time and choose not to fish in ridiculous weather.

Because of this proven success and its great potential, catch shares have enjoyed bipartisan support. In fact, George W. Bush initially supported the system by launching an effort to pursue more catch share fisheries and Obama has since taken the reins in continuing to encourage the use of the system. Interestingly enough, though, these days there have been members of Congress who have voiced their dissent against catch shares rather loudly. Unfortunately, a lot of this bickering is due to partisan politics that has nothing to do with whether catch shares actually work. Out of this bickering, came the Jones amendment (introduced by Cong. Walter Jones (R-NC)) to the 2011 budget bill (H.R. 1).

This nasty amendment prevents any fishery from using funds to launch a new catch shares program in 2011.  Each fishery is self-managed by a Council that includes the fishermen themselves, and they must vote to enter into a catch shares program in the first place.  Thus, Jones is simply restricting choice and forcing the fishermen to use the unsafe, failed systems of the past.  This top-down, “government knows best” approach is anti-American and is in direct conflict with the typical small government approach most Republicans champion.

In addition to being un-American, the amendment makes no financial sense. Catch shares have increased profits to fishermen and a study has even shown that if the program was implemented nationwide, the system could by $1 billion. This is largely because catch shares get rid of the need for subsidies and fisheries bailouts and increase efficiency. Despite all this, some members of Congress are still pushing hard against catch shares, which begs the question: why? If fishermen want to enter into a catch shares program, and the program creates efficient fisheries that benefit the fish, the fishermen and the deficit, why on earth would Members of Congress try to scuttle it?  What are they afraid of?

The Jones amendment in the 2011 budget was meaningless – there were no fisheries planning on launching a new catch shares program in this time period.  If similar language got into the 2012 budget or beyond, however, it would be bad.  Catch shares programs are expanding not because the government is forcing them on people – fishermen themselves are electing to use them for one simple reason – they work.  The anti-American Jones amendment must be defeated as it would eliminate a good choice, and in so doing could cause fisheries to collapse, eliminate fishing jobs and expand the deficit.

Date Posted: June 21, 2011 @ 7:18 am


  1. Proper management of our oceans fisheries are essential if we are to sustain them. The ideas of the past where there were no limits are over. Just as farmers on land need to let their fields rest we need to do the same with our oceans. The oceans are one of our greatest natural resources. There is enough fisheries for our needs but not for our greed.

    Comment by Paul C — June 21, 2011 @ 9:17 am
  2. Maybe we can do our share disposing of our items properly. Pick up items found near storm drains and reduce your consumption of plastic based products. Check this video out.

    Comment by sandy — June 29, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

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