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Blog Posts: Catch shares

January 17th, 2013

Why Catch Shares Can’t Save the Oceans

By Meredith Moore

the fight over fish quotaA recent blog at Mother Jones asks the question, “Can a fish-sharing program save the oceans?” Since the program in question is catch shares, the answer is, “No.” You’re probably asking the next obvious question: why? Catch shares really do look artificially positive until you look at the whole picture.

Catch shares programs privatize our nation’s fisheries, divvying out the privilege of catching fish to a limited number of individuals, and letting them trade, sell, and lease these rights in unregulated, closed markets. In the process, hundreds to thousands of smaller-scale fishermen are cut out of the industry entirely.

What we end up with is a sharecropper system, which was well-described in a Seattle Weekly feature on one of the halibut and sablefish catch shares programs in the North Pacific. This catch shares program, which has been in place since 1995, has devolved into a system where boat captains compete against each other to offer the latest in at-sea entertainment and luxury to the wealthy owners of those catch shares, just so they can get some fraction of the profits for themselves and their crew. Many of those catch shares owners have never baited a hook in their lives.

Read the full article…

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October 24th, 2012

Catch Shares Ideology is a One-Way Street in the Wrong Direction

the fight over fish quotaBy Meredith Moore

Social media isn’t always as social as we’d like it to be. We recently noticed a blog by Environmental Defense Fund’s Matt Rand about catch shares. We decided to engage EDF in a brief exchange by posting a response to the blog in the comments section. Unfortunately, it looks like EDF disabled the comments section. Is this a sign that they aren’t open to feedback regarding their position on catch shares?

This is actually typical of the conversation about catch shares in the U.S. Rather than engage with fishermen, time and again we see special interests and regulators tell fishermen how much better off they’ll be under catch shares, and ignore fishermen when they say how much they are suffering. In that sense, catch shares is primarily a one-way street, just like the blog from our friends at EDF. But we have good reason to oppose this fishery management catastrophe. So here’s what we would have posted, had the comments section remained open…

Catch shares are a fishery privatization scheme that promises increased economic efficiency but delivers it at the cost of fishermen’s jobs. These programs are inherently intended to reduce the number of fishermen who can access a public resource. Suggesting they are good for fishing families is laughable. Accumulation limits are a stop-gap measure to limit the extreme consolidation that takes place when catch shares programs are implemented. They are absolutely necessary to have in a catch shares program to protect our fishermen and their communities’ well-being, but a better solution is to retain control of the resource in the public sector and administer it fairly, instead of creating private markets that destroy traditional fishing opportunities.

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September 28th, 2012

It’s Worth Repeating: Eat Domestic Seafood

By Mitch Jones

Seafood Challenges
It seems every few months we get another report about how hard pressed America’s fishermen are. In April I pointed the troubling signs of increased salmon imports in early 2012. Now reports suggest that China is enjoying a robust year in seafood exports. Individual companies as well as regions within China are reporting double-digit percentage increases in exports. This news of increased pressure from China couldn’t come at a worse time for America’s domestic fishing industry.

Earlier this month Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank declared the Northeast Groundfish Fishery a disaster. On the same day she also declared a commercial fishery failure on Alaska’s Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and in the Cook Inlet because of low Chinook salmon returns. These actions will allow the federal government to offer millions of dollars of relief to the fishermen in these fisheries. But temporary relief isn’t enough. We need to protect America’s fishermen from fishery management programs that fail to protect fish, while putting independent fishermen out of business.

But while we’re fighting this fight here in Washington and in the regional fisheries across the country, it’s important to watch what you buy. No matter where you shop, look for domestic seafood. If it’s salmon, ask for U.S. wild caught. If it’s catfish or tilapia, ask for U.S. farmed. And when in doubt, you can consult our Smart Seafood Guide.

September 5th, 2012

Catch Shares = Consolidation of the Seafood Industry

Why Consumers Should Care About Fishing Quota

By Rich Bindell

We talk all the time about how our food system suffers from mass consolidation. In the meat and poultry industries, just a handful of companies control the majority of the market. Well, the same thing is happening in the seafood industry. In New Bedford, Mass., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging federal catch share programs on the East Coast. Depending upon the outcome of this case, it’s either get big or get out for our nation’s fishermen, which should explain why so many of them are outraged about the state of their livelihoods.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pushes a fishery management program called catch shares, which doles out allocations of fish, giving preference to large-scale fishing operations over smaller ones. This scheme has crushed independent fishermen, as well as the coastal communities they support. Catch shares amount to an all-out attack on America’s fishermen and threaten the existence of fish as a shared public resource.

While often misleadingly touted as the solution to over-fishing, catch shares actually divvy up our nation’s fishery resources for exclusive use by the biggest and fastest fishing operations and then allow corporations and banks to buy and sell these “shares” for profit. This turns the opportunity to go fishing into a commodity. Fishermen have to buy shares before being able to head out for a day’s work catching fish for our tables.

But, don’t take our word for it; just listen to the fishermen. Food & Water Watch produced a video to give some of our nation’s fishermen a chance to express their opinions about catch shares. 

As has happened with family farms on land, the added costs push smaller-scale fishermen out of business and consolidate the industry, paving the way for industrial fishing methods that can destroy sensitive ocean habitats.

Why should consumers care about catch shares? If we don’t, we’ll pay increasingly more for lower quality fish, and we’ll allow large-scale fishing operations to consolidate the seafood industry. In doing so, we’ll put smaller, independent fishing operations out of business.


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May 31st, 2012

Economists are not Fishermen

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Give an economist a fishery, and he’ll eat all the fishermen.

Economists should not fishBy Meredith Moore 

A recent piece for The Standard-Times in New Bedford, Massachusetts, glowingly describes how the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a long time champion of catch shares fisheries management, is providing some New England fishermen with business consultants and economic modeling in order to help them survive the transition to catch shares. The article fails to recognize that this sort of extraordinary intervention to keep fishermen from going out of business should never be required in the first place.

At Food & Water Watch, we talk a lot about the dangerous impulse to degrade our natural resources by selling, trading and speculating on them in the market. This exploitation of our natural resources threatens our basic access to food, water and fish, and jeopardizes the progress we have made cleaning up and preventing pollution.

Catch shares are one of these privatization schemes. These programs create markets for trading access to fish, and are often economically devastating to traditional, small-scale fishermen and the communities that depend upon them. In New England, just one year of catch shares management has caused significant job loss, industry consolidation, and hardship.

It shouldn’t require a degree in economics to catch fish. But under catch shares, our fishermen are forced to buy access to fish from the private individuals who control it. Buying at the wrong time in this shadowy stock market can mean bankruptcy, particularly for smaller scale fishermen.

Our fishermen have generations of experience in their business, but now the rules have changed completely. Under catch shares, our fish are going to be caught by the best economists, not the best fishermen.

We can’t patch over the fundamental flaws of catch shares by importing the same methods and values that have turned our financial markets into such a disaster. Catch shares, and resource commodification in general, only create more problems than they solve. We shouldn’t be gambling with the livelihoods of our fishermen and the sustainability of our fisheries to exploit a public resource for private profit. Fishing isn’t an economic trend or school of thought; it’s an important job that provides food for consumers.

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May 17th, 2012

Catch Shares Are The Wrong Kind of Regulation

By Meredith Moore

Read the full report

Fish, Inc.: The Privatization of U.S. Fisheries Through Catch Share Programs

A recent editorial by the New York Times attributed the successful rebuilding of six fish stocks to a management scheme called catch shares. Putting aside the fact that only three of those stocks are under a catch share, the entire comparison is flawed.

The Times criticizes republicans in Congress and their fishermen allies for hating the environment. “Add fish and oceans to the long list of environmental issues that House Republicans do not much care about,” opens the piece. But equating catch shares to any other environmental issue overlooks the larger point: catch shares are a way of managing fishermen, not fish.

Fish sustainability is guaranteed by setting scientifically-based limits on the total number of fish that can be caught each year. These are called annual catch limits, and are mandated under our nation’s key fishing law. The United States is leading the way in setting and enforcing these limits, and the hard work is paying off as more and more fisheries recover. This is the sort of regulation our oceans need—not catch shares.

Catch shares, currently being pushed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are a way of distributing portions of that total catch to individual fishermen, in a way that is often grossly unfair. Catch shares cause significant unemployment and financial hardship among our nation’s traditional small fishermen and their communities. Since catch shares always come packaged with an annual catch limit, the gains made setting sustainable limits are often attributed to catch shares management. But catch limits and catch shares are not the same thing.

Contrary to what the Times editorial board thinks, Congress isn’t trying to hurt fish; they’re trying to stop NOAA from hurting fishermen.

February 28th, 2012

The World Bank’s Plans for Fisheries Could Destroy Fishing Communities

By Meredith McCarthy

Catch sharesTaking care of the oceans is a big challenge that needs the right solutions. That’s why we oppose turning our fisheries into privatized markets through catch shares, filling our coastal waters with environmentally degrading factory fish farms, and forcing controversial private eco-labeling onto fisheries.

Not surprisingly, we were disappointed with the positions adopted by The Global Partnership for Oceans, a new international alliance, coordinated by The World Bank. This coalition of major environmental groups, governments, and private sector interests has a chance to work together to find real solutions to the challenges of sustainably managing the world’s fisheries for the good of the oceans and the people who depend on them. Instead they’re parroting some of the same negative policies we’ve opposed for years.

Although it is an organization tasked with reducing poverty in the world, the World Bank has yet again chosen to align itself with strategies that only increase income disparity. Catch shares consolidate control of fish to a small group of wealthy fishermen, forcing small-scale fishermen into bankruptcy and destroying coastal communities in the process.

Read the full article…

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January 25th, 2012

Candy Catch Shares and Baby Fishermen

Fish PinataBy James Mitchell

It seems like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) can’t get enough of belittling our nation’s fishermen. In a recent Seattle Weekly blog entitled, “New Study Sounds Rare Optimistic Note in Sustainable Seafood Conversation,” an EDF staffer compared “fishing management strategies to a parent’s handling of the situation that unfolds after a piñata’s broken at a child’s birthday party,” further adding that traditional fisheries management (focusing on rules that regulate boat size, gear type, and calendar date), “is analogous to a parent trying to slow a candy rush by insisting each child only use one hand.”

In EDF’s piñata candy analogy, our fishermen are compared to greedy candy-hungry children, and the federal government is portrayed as, not merely paternalistic, but actually the parents of these little children. This is coming from the same group whose west coast vice president famously described fishermen as “unskilled, unprofessional,” and prone to “high drug use,” at a conference to woo private investors into a scheme to privatize our fisheries (Page 7).

So what’s the purported solution to solve the crisis of the split piñata?  Just like at the investor conference: privatizing our nation’s fisheries with catch shares.  As EDF puts it, “You can each get 10 pieces of candy. You have to stay within your limit or find someone willing to give you [their] candy.  Go after sugary candy, go after chocolate candy, go after whatever you like.”

Apart from being condescending, this analogy is overly simplistic and completely inaccurate.  If these kids were under a “candy catch shares” regime, they would soon come to a rude awakening.  

First, they would discover that not every kid is given the same 10 pieces, because in the real world, not every kid is treated equally. Some kids get preference because of who their parents are, because they’re popular, etc. Next, they would discover that they are not allowed to go after whatever candy they like—they have to pick the same kind of candy every year because the quota is species – er, candy-type specific. That means if their candy type isn’t even in the piñata that year, they don’t get any candy. Finally, the “smaller” children would soon witness how the big bullies acquire the bulk of the candy by teaming up on the little ones to force them out of the room.

As the icing on the birthday cake, the parents might even ask one of the bigger children how the piñata party went, to which he would cheerfully reply in chocolate-stained teeth, “Great!  Let’s have another!”

The list of flaws with the candy analogy goes on, but one thing remains clear.  Candy catch shares don’t work, and neither do real-life catch shares on our nation’s fisheries.

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January 13th, 2012

Can Catch Shares Save the Whales?

Catch shares for whalesBy Rich Bindell

No. The January 2012 issue of Nature suggests that a market approach to whale conservation would be beneficial for animal lovers and fishermen, alike. But this proposal is really a catch shares program dressed up in an environmental protection costume. It’s merely another example of commercial privatization of public resources, and what it really does is secure profits for private enterprise while ignoring the real problem: too may whales are being killed each year.

If the real goal is to reduce the number of whales harvested every year, then we should start by enforcing the International Whaling Commission moratorium on whale hunting. We could begin by no longer permitting 1000 whales to be taken for the commercial market under the guise of “scientific research.”

This proposal is really just a catch shares for whales program, allowing whalers the opportunity to buy and sell the right to hunt whales. That’s not a solution to the problem of harvesting too many whales; it’s just another way for big industry to hog and profit from public resources.

As they learned the hard way in Iceland—and as we’re learning here in the States—catch shares doesn’t even work for fisheries. It’s certainly not going to work for whales.

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July 15th, 2011

Real Fishermen Attach Their Names to Their Cause

This flier has the wrong idea about fishery management, which is probably why the creators were afraid to include their name.

In the halls outside of the offices of the members of our nation’s Congress, it is common practice to occasionally scatter fliers relating to a political or social issue. Those who paper the halls typically identify themselves somewhere on the flier so as to take ownership of their message. So, when one of our staff discovered a pro-catch shares flier had been anonymously distributed around Capitol Hill (see top photo) with a weak argument within its text, it seemed fitting to respond. Read the full article…

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