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Pacific Ocean | Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

New for the groundfish fleet: Fish ownership ... and the chicken dance

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put its stamp of approval on the West Coast groundfish individual fishing quota today. Does everybody know what a big deal this is? A fishery worth around $40 million a year will be split up into ownership shares and spread amongst a fleet of around 120 boats (at least a third of which are based in Oregon).

Trawling is one of the more controversial commercial fishing methods; boats drag a net along the bottom of the ocean and take everything that comes up. The individual fishing quota (IFQ) system NOAA is backing uses a market concept – something like privatization – to make the fleet more efficient.

The result, environmental groups are hoping, will be less bycatch of unwanted and fragile species. It will almost inevitably mean fewer boats on the water, as well (because fishermen with smaller shares will sell out). A lot of fishermen like IFQs. And Environmental Defense is actively supporting them. So is NOAA Chief Jane Lubchenco. In fact, she’s backing IFQs for all U.S. fisheries as a way to end overfishing. Critics are worried about the impacts of granting private ownership of a public resource. But there are a lot of safeguards built in.

The groundfish IFQ has been in the works for awhile, but NOAA just made it all but a done deal (once the Department of Commerce signs off, the program will be set to start Jan. 1, 2011). Here’s how the federal fishery managers explained what fishermen can do with their shares:

Those shares can be caught whenever the fisherman wants, ideally more efficiently and at more profitable marketing times. The current proposal would be a first step in this new management approach.

“Catch shares can stop the race for fishermen to get out on the water and catch as many

fish as fast as they can until a quota is reached,” said Will Stelle, Jr., NOAA Fisheries Service

Northwest regional administrator. “Under a catch-share system, fishermen can better plan their season, reduce overfishing and bycatch, and fish during safer weather.

“And, if a fisherman wants to attend his daughter’s wedding, he can do so,” Stelle added.

“He doesn’t have to worry that his competition will take his fish. That’s no small consolation for one of the hardest-working segments of the American economy.”

So, there you have it: Ownership shares and the chicken dance.

Catch shares Fisheries

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