It should come as no surprise that worldwide marine ecosystems are in trouble. But what may be surprising, is how close these troubles are to home. America’s fish stocks are in poor shape, with 54 stocks classified as overfished, 45 stocks experiencing overfishing and more than half of U.S. stocks are of uncertain status, according to a new Environmental Defense Fund report, Sustaining America’s Fisheries and Fishing Communities (PDF).
The report makes it clear that Americans love seafood: “We eat close to five billion pounds of seafood a year, putting the United States third in global consumption behind Japan and China. But our love of seafood has consequences.”
Those consequences are being felt throughout coastal communities that continue to see diminishing fish stock and profits. More than 72,000 jobs have been lost in the Pacific Northwest due to declines in fish populations, according to the report. Currently, Fishermen make 30 percent less than average male US worker, and their jobs are 35 percent more dangerous.
The report states that U.S. fisheries need an overhaul on regulation, which up until recently has incentivized overfishing rather than responsible monitoring. The current regulatory system has been unsuccessful for both healthy fish populations and fishermen alike:
In a commons, where shares of the catch are not specified, each fisherman’s economic survival is predicated on his ability to fish as hard as possible whenever possible. Fishermen deploy excessive amounts of capital and fishing effort in order to catch dwindling numbers of fish, resulting sometimes in the collapse of entire fishing fleets.
The study reports, however, that the tide can be turned with catch shares:
- Catching within limits — All catch share fisheries have catch limits and compliance rises dramatically. In fact, on average, landings were 5 percent below the cap.
- Improved science and monitoring — Nearly three-quarters of catch share fisheries have monitoring, compared to just one-quarter of non-catch share fisheries. Biomass estimates were significantly more precise.
- Reducing bycatch — Bycatch was reduced by more than 40%, which, together with the benefits from complying with catch limits, each year saves the equivalent of the annual seafood consumption of 16 million Americans.
- Limiting fishing impact on habitat — catch share fisheries deploy 20% less gear to catch the same amount of fish; less gear in the water likely results in reduced habitat destruction. All of the catch share fisheries also make use of ecosystem protection tools like time or area-based closures.
- Safety — Under catch shares, safety more than doubled, based on an index of vessels lost, lives lost, search and rescue missions and recorded safety violations.
- Economic performance — Revenues per boat increased by 80% due to higher yields and dockside prices
A new Department of Defense study revealed that fisheries with catch share programs complied with catch limits, and on average were 5 percent percent below their limit. Bycatch was reduced by 40 percent, Fishermen used 20 percent less gear to catch the same amount of fish, safety doubled (in terms of number of lives and vessels lost) and revenues increased by 80 percent.