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Study: Fish 'Catch Shares' Scheme Reduces By-catch, Increases Per-Boat Revenue, Boosts Safety

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Environmental Defense today released the results of a landmark study that provides a clear roadmap for rebuilding fishing stocks and restoring fishing communities. Entitled “Sustaining America’s Fisheries and Fishing Communities,” this research details how Limited Access Privilege Programs (LAPPs), or “catch shares,” save fishing stocks and help restore fishing communities by offering clear environmental, economic and social benefits. The report also describes a tool to help design effective systems.

A team of over 30 scientists, economists, fishery specialists and other experts collected data on nearly 100 fisheries and analyzed over 150 peer-reviewed studies. Funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, this is largest such study since the U.S. Congress lifted the moratorium on catch shares five years ago.

“Catch shares are the missing piece in the puzzle to restore our fisheries and fishing communities,” said Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense. “For the first time, this comprehensive study provides the hard data that shows how catch shares can improve the performance of fisheries at lower cost to fishermen and greater benefit to the overall ecosystem.”

“This comprehensive analysis shows that LAPPs can be a pivotal tool in preserving fishing stocks,” said Barry Gold, the Marine Conservation Initiative Lead at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “When designed with local objectives in mind, these systems not only help create sustainable fishing practices, they can also help restore fishing communities.”

Environmental, Economic and Social Benefits

Catch shares work by allocating a dedicated percentage share of a fishery’s total catch to individual fishermen, communities or associations. If a fishery is well managed, the value of these shares increases as the stock expands. When participants have a secure portion of the catch, they gain the flexibility to make business decisions that improve safety, increase profits and promote healthy fishing stocks.

An in-depth analysis of ten fisheries in the U.S. and Canada before and after the implementation of catch shares showed:

Bycatch was reduced by more than 40%, which, together with the benefits of complying with catch limits, each year saves the equivalent of the annual seafood consumption of 16 million Americans.

Revenues per boat increased by 80% due to higher yields per boat and higher dockside prices.

Safety more than doubled, based on an index of vessels lost, lives lost, search and rescue missions and recorded safety violations.

“The biggest thing catch shares do is end the race for fish,” said David Krebs, a Gulf red snapper fisherman. “We used to go out in dangerous conditions, regardless of the cost of fuel or what price we’d get for our fish. Now our jobs are safer and we can deliver a higher quality product.”

“The combination of catch limits, protected areas and controls on bycatch provide a foundation for healthy fisheries,” said David Festa, Oceans Program Director at Environmental Defense. “Catch shares multiply the benefits of these practices and create powerful incentives for improvements in fisheries throughout the country.”

The Problem

An estimated 90% of large predatory fish are gone from our world’s oceans. Of 230 assessed U.S. fisheries, 54 stocks are classified as over-fished, 45 stocks are experiencing overfishing and just over half of the nation’s stocks are in uncertain status.

“Fisheries have continued to decline despite decades of trying to manage these resources,” said Steve Gaines, Director of the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “As these data show, this doesn’t have to be the reality.”

America’s fishing communities are also suffering. The collapse of the iconic cod fishery in New England in the early 1990s cost an estimated 20,000 jobs. An estimated 72,000 jobs have been lost due to decreasing salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest. The typical fisherman now makes nearly 30% less than the average American worker and faces an occupational fatality rate that is 35 times higher than other industries.

“This report clearly shows that catch share programs help end the dangerous race for fish and contribute to a vibrant, safe future for our coastal communities,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). “These findings confirm actual experiences with successful catch share programs in the North Pacific. These programs have increased the value of fisheries while contributing to conservation.”

The Future

President Bush recently set a practical goal of doubling U.S. catch share programs by 2010. Congress also promoted these systems and established guidelines for their use as part of the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which passed Congress unanimously in December 2006. This new report provides the hard data to properly evaluate and design these systems.

"Faced with reduced landings and fragile waterfront economies, California's fishing families and their communities are going through profound change," said Congresswoman Lois Capps, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. "To preserve the economy and heritage of special places like Morro Bay, we should give fishermen tools that enhance their economic vitality, advance sustainable fishing practices and protect fish populations for future generations."

“The task at hand today is prompt and well designed implementation of catch shares,” said Krupp. “We call on both President Bush and Congress to prioritize funding over the next five years for these innovative approaches to rebuild our fisheries and fishing communities."

To download a copy of the report and learn more about catch shares, please visit

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