NOAA Eliminates Competitive Fish Harvesting

Published September 4, 2010

The federal government is eliminating open competition for certain species of West Coast fish and will instead allocate shares individually to fish harvesters, which they can fill at their leisure.

Environmental Goals Championed
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service claims the new system will help the environment by reducing inadvertent catches of nongame fish, improve fishermen safety by reducing risks taken by competing fishermen, and increase the income of fishermen by guaranteeing them a profitable catch season.

“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, in a press statement.

Stelle and NOAA argue the annual race to fill an overall fish quota discourages fishermen from taking steps to minimize the incidental catch of nongame species.

The changes, announced on Aug. 10, and expected to take effect early in 2011.

Creating a Corporate Oligarchy
Many fishermen and consumer advocates counter the new system eliminates healthy competition, encourages favoritism and government power, and creates a de facto corporate monopoly that will squeeze out individual fishermen.

“I don’t believe it’s going to work well for small fisherman. It will possibly work well for large, corporate fisherman,” fisherman Jeremiah O’Brien told ABC’s KEZI News in Eugene, Oregon.

“This could possibly eliminate the small guy, which concerns me,” O’Brien worried.

Harming Small Fishers
“The elimination of competition rarely favors small businessmen or the consumer,” said Karla Kay Edwards, a rural policy analyst at the Cascade Policy Institute. Edwards said changes originally intended to help business, at least from NOAA’s perspective, will end up hurting the small, family-owned fishing sector, she said.

“The small fisherman is vital to the economy of coastal communities in Oregon, and we can only hope that they survive as this program is implemented,” Edwards added.

Richard Rowland, president emeritus of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, agrees the new policy favors large corporations at the expense of individual fishermen and smaller fishing enterprises.

The policy “is bound to create more problems than it solves,” Rowland said. “The solution is to get fishermen together and fashion a win-win solution based on an understanding of the common problem and human incentives like personal ownership and natural consequences and rewards.”

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.