How commercial fishing effort is managed / by Francisco Blaha

Always when I meet people outside my fishy circles (or sometimes in them) the question arises around what you I do for a living. Then is slow process of explanations that I work around fisheries management issues and in particular combating IUU fishing in function of the management strategies being used. 

 Besides the “ohh wow how interesting” the next issue is… “what you mean with fisheries management?” And is true… most people have no concept on how that works or thinks that is just a set of rules and people policing them. 

For those situations, I should keep a copy of this paper named as in the title of this blog entry. Written by cast o thousand, all of them from the School of Aquatic and Fishery  Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, including my friend and FAO colleague Jessica Sanders, that is also doing her PhD there.

Table 1:  Summary of behavioural changes observed under each approach to effort management, with associated economic, ecological and community outcomes. Background shading indicates generally negative (red), mixed (yellow) or positive (green) outcomes; gradients reflect outcomes depend on other features of management

Table 1: Summary of behavioural changes observed under each approach to effort management, with associated economic, ecological and community outcomes. Background shading indicates generally negative (red), mixed (yellow) or positive (green) outcomes; gradients reflect outcomes depend on other features of management

The key thing I like of this paper is that reinforces at really high level that one “size does not fit all’, “that are many way of pealing an orange” and my favourite “every has advantages and disadvantages”… even at that really highest level of fisheries decision making as is management.

One of the last paragraphs in the discussion synthesise it perfectly: “Even among biologically effective approaches, methods differ in how they trade off harvesting at low cost and paying many fishermen, and how they distribute the benefits of fishing among industry and community stakeholders. How best to strike these balances in any fishery is ultimately not a question of science, but rather one of the politics: scientists’ role is to advise the decision- makers recognized by civil society on the most likely outcomes of alternative approaches.”

This really interesting paper provide a synthetic overview of three approaches that managers use to sustain stocks: 

  1. regulating catch and fishing mortality, 

  2. regulating effort and 

  3. regulating spatial access. 

Within each of these approaches, they describe common restrictions, how they alter incentives to change fishing behaviour, and the resultant ecological, economic and community-level outcomes.

For each approach, we present prominent case- studies that illustrate behaviour and the corresponding performance. These case- studies show that sustaining target stocks requires a hard limit on fishing mortality under most conditions, but that additional measures are required to generate economic benefits. 

Different systems for allocation allow stakeholder communities to strike a locally acceptable balance between profitability and employment.

As usual I’ll just quote here the discussion where I love the options matrix with a colour scheme (a tool I been using a lot lately), but of course nothing beats reading the original.

Historical attitudes towards fishing were that resources were avail-able for access and that over- exploitation was impossible. While this may have been true with the technology and market conditions that prevailed for much of history, advances in harvesting technology such as mechanization and refrigeration have led to widespread over- exploitation in the absence of limitations on catch. There is building evidence that science- based management methods are reducing the incidence of biological overfishing (Worm et al., 2009), and in many cases, stocks are recovering (e.g., Murphy et al., 2015). This is largely the result of moving from management systems which less effectively restrict catch, towards the centre of Figure 1 to systems that enact biologically informed regulatory practices. But even in fisheries with good biological management, harvesters often still struggle to make money and support their communities (World Bank 2017).

Table 1 facilitates direct comparisons of the observed triple bot-tom line outcomes across management approaches. The left column relates the economic outcome to the behavioural change induced by the management approach. The behavioural changes observed in the fisheries reviewed above underscore that economic success requires more than selecting a target biomass which maximizes profit often called BMEY in the bioeconomic model given a fixed industry- wide cost and market structure. Rather, effort management induces behavioural responses to the need to compete for fish, which change the economic and social structure of the industry in predictable ways, at any target biomass. With open access or harvest guidelines, summarized in the top two rows, there is no restriction on entry, and additional harvesters enter whenever there is profit to be made. As with the post- WWII New England groundfish fishery, entry drives the fishery towards bioeconomic equilibrium, unsustainable levels of effort, and low or no profits. Simply presenting scientific estimates of harvest guidelines, without regulations or enforcement to limit mortality, does not change these incentives, as efforts to manage Atlantic sailfish demonstrate. In these cases, declining stocks are un-able to support those who entered when fish were more abundant, leading to community disruption. With a well- designed spatial component (bottom row of Table 1), stock collapse can be averted, but Galapagos Marine Reserve demonstrates that the economic tragedy of the commons remains.

Limited access (third row of Table 1) and input regulations (rows four and five) attempt to control the effect of increases in effort through new entry, but fail: as in the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, limiting entry still induces incumbents to try to increase their share of the competitive harvest by capital stuffing. However, these competition- driven investments in vessels increase costs, and any biological benefit arises because the point where additional investment is no longer profitable is reached at higher biomass. Eigaard et al.’s (2014) survey concludes that the biological success of effort- based management controls is highly dependent on the ability to anticipate input substitution and changes in catchability attributable to technological change. New England groundfish’s efforts with limited access and days- at- sea demonstrate that sufficiently comprehensive controls are elusive, especially as transferability reallocated effort to those who could capital stuff more effectively, so that social and economic outcomes mirror those in unregulated fisheries.

When a hard total allowable catch is implemented (sixth row of Table 1), additional effort, through new entry or capital stuffing, does not result in additional mortality. As in British Columbia halibut, an appropriately set and enforced TAC ensures biological sustainability, even in the face of increasing capital. With a spatial component, when the scale matches the range of the target species’ life history, stock health can be improved, as in Japanese snow crab. However, harvesters must race to fish to effectively compete for a share of the catch, so they invest in more capital, engage in risky fishing practices and erode value through poor handling and flooding markets; those who refrain from the derby will lose market share to those who participate. Harvesters invest until the additional profits from more investment are less than its cost: a bioeconomic equilibrium at the TAC, with a combination of higher costs, lower revenue, increased employment volatility and reduced safety.

The competition for fish that drives overcapitalization and value- dissipating behaviour can be eliminated by determining the allocation of TAC among fishermen through IFQs or ITQs (rows eight and nine of Table 1), or through a catch share programme (row seven). Unable to increase their catch through additional effort, harvesters instead focus on maximizing profit from their fixed allocation by reducing costs and maximizing value. This shift from choosing effort to capture more, or a greater share, of the fish means the bioeconomic model, and the prediction of bioeconomic equilibrium, no longer applies. Correctly set and enforced TACs ensure biological sustainability, and the focus on maximizing profits makes the fishery economically successful. This is exemplified by the British Columbia halibut harvesters’ development of a fresh market that more than doubled the value of the product and dramatically increased profit-ability. Less intensive harvesting can affect the structure of the crew labour market, often reducing the number of short- season jobs in favour of fewer longer term, higher paying and safer jobs.

The Bering Sea crab fishery demonstrates that allowing the transfer of quota facilitates the compensated exit of high- cost operators, further enhancing fleetwide profitability. However, transferability also lets the market determine who benefits from fishing, which often leads to adverse social effects. Smaller, more isolated communities, which are often more dependent on fisheries, may have less well- capitalized harvesters and higher cost processors, leading quota to flow to other communities where operations are more profitable. Although the boat owners who are typically initially allocated quota sell voluntarily, their local crew do not have a choice in the sale decisions that erode an essential employment base within a community of people or of place. Further, the additional profits may accrue to active fishermen, as in Alaska halibut, or initial quota holders can choose to collect lease payments without fishing, as in Bering Sea crab.

Catch share programmes mitigate these adverse community outcomes by allocating quota to groups rather than individuals. Allocations to fishing groups provide incentives to coordinate on harvest effort and joint marketing as in Chignik, and catch timing and by- catch management as in the Rhode Island fluke sector. Such groups can also collaborate to manage “choke” species or by- catch species that limit the harvest of otherwise abundant species, by sharing information and establishing avoidance incentives (e.g., Holland & Jannot, 2012). Catch shares empower the community of incumbent harvesters, rather than markets, to determine allocations. Quota can be additionally allocated to non- harvester community groups, as in the Alaskan CDQ programme, to generate local fishery benefits, giving other stakeholders control over who fishes and receives fishery benefits.

These new tools allow participants to strike a locally accept-able balance between sustaining broad participation that provides high levels of social benefit, and providing high levels of economic benefits to participants. The collective experience in different management methods is that there is a trade- off, whose resolution de-pends both on the priorities of regulators and on the structure of the fisheries: social benefits accrue differently based on whether vessel owners, crew, processing owners and their workers reside in, and spend their income in, the fishing community of concern, and on where benefits are created in the supply chain (Branch et al., 2006).

Approaches that require limiting access, in particular, often engender controversy because designating a group that has the exclusive right to fish implies designating a group that does not. This is often minimized by granting access to all incumbents. However, in some fisheries, there are loosely invested people, or people who leverage access only when other resources (e.g., other fisheries or agriculture) are performing poorly. In areas with diverse employment opportunities, forcing harvesters to specialize within the portfolio of fisheries in which they have participated in the recent past in-creases their exposure to risks of biological and market variations in those fisheries (e.g., Kasperski & Holland, 2013). In poorly integrated economies, fisheries are sometimes viewed as an “employer of last resort” for coastal residents who need subsistence food or income in the event of crop failure or personal financial shocks, and limited access exchanges better outcomes for incumbent fishermen for a social safety net.

Community- based management approaches are not separately included in Figure 1, because community management refers to who has the right to regulate access and harvest, not the approaches to regulating effort analysed here. Regardless of how incentives are established, we expect a community- based management process selecting any of the effort controls discussed to observe the same outcomes. However, involving the regulated community in the management process may still improve outcomes through two mechanisms. First, involving the community in management draws on their expertise about the actual operations in the fishery, and provides managers a sense of what types of measures will meet management goals at least cost. This increases the legitimacy of management and increases compliance and effectiveness (Jentoft, Mccay, & Wilson, 1998; Kuperan & Sutinen, 1998). Second, communities may be able to work together to establish a political consensus around more effective management methods. Both the Chignik co- op and Rhode Island Fluke Sector, which achieved significant triple bottom line successes for their fisheries, were discontinued following disagreements by non-participating harvesters, reflecting the importance of community acceptance of even very effective measures. 

The economic effectiveness of catch share programmes leads to a perverse argument that selling access and harvest rights makes it more difficult for new entrants to participate in the fishery. Fishing quota and permits are valued, like all assets, as the present dis-counted value of the stream of profits to which the permit provides access. Entering open access fisheries is free, but that right also has little value because open access fisheries generate little profit. The value of a limited entry permit in a fishery where limited entry is binding is the present discounted value of the profits from fishing in that fishery. The value of an individual quota share is the present discounted value of the profits from fishing that quota. Therefore, if entry is more expensive in individual quota- based fisheries, it is because they are more profitable, which is likely to be the case given the incentives for maximizing market value and minimizing costs established by individual allocation. In fact, quota which subdivides the fishery rents into more units may make participating in ownership more accessible, as younger fishermen can slowly acquire shares, in-creasing their desirability as crew, without purchasing a critical mass of capital to have a fully independent business. Auctioning these permits or quota allows the government to capture much of the fishery’s rent, rather than harvesters; allocating permits to community leaders, rather than members of the fishing industry, allows local political processes to determine who benefits.

Over the last three decades, fisheries management has demonstrated the ability to attenuate overfishing and sustain stocks and global catches around 90 million tonnes (FAO, 2016). However, not all approaches to management lead to ecological success in all cases. Some are easily circumvented in most applications. Others may be effective for highly fecund species with a weak correlation between spawning stock size and the number of young (e.g., shrimp, forage fish), but not work with more structured stocks. Still others may sustain stocks in geographically isolated fishing communities, but not be robust to the pressures of globalization.

Even among biologically effective approaches, methods differ in how they trade off harvesting at low cost and paying many fishermen, and how they distribute the benefits of fishing among industry and community stakeholders. How best to strike these balances in any fishery is ultimately not a question of science, but rather one of the politics: scientists’ role is to advise the decision- makers recognized by civil society on the most likely outcomes of alternative approaches.

Scientists should help decision makers draw the correct lessons from data, models and past experiences. That different sustainable approaches support different suites of outcomes provide a powerful policy lever that enables policymakers to select the fishery benefits that best suit the needs and values of their stakeholder communities.