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Fish protection finally
January 9, 2012 1:35 PM   Subscribe

"Probably the most important conservation statute ever enacted into America’s fisheries law".. as of 2012, all 528 federally managed fish species now have imposed catch limits. The US is arguably the first country in the world to do it. This means every species has a hard limit of how many fish can be taken - not just how many per-boat or angler - an absolute cap on the total number (actually by weight). The law was enacted in 2006 under a policy forged under President George W. Bush and finalized with President Obama's backing.(previously)
posted by stbalbach (51 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good environmental news? Started under Bush? Something about this seems fishy.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:44 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good environmental news? Started under Bush? Something about this seems fishy.

Bush was also responsible for creating the largest protected marine reserve in the world. Somehow his attempts to capture the crucial merfolk demographic haven't really panned out for the GOP.
posted by theodolite at 1:54 PM on January 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


Good environmental news? Started under Bush? Something about this seems fishy.

Don't worry. Every boat crew in the US will solidly blame Obama for it. "Destroying a way of life" is, I believe, how they will frame it.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:55 PM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Contrary to popular belief, GWB didn't show any evidence of deliberately trying to destroy the environment. This seems like a sensible policy that succeeded because there were no commercial with a vested interest in stopping it.
posted by verb at 1:55 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


no commercial lobbies, that is.
posted by verb at 1:56 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't commercial fisherman have lobbyists?

I wonder how accurate this quote from the article is:

And unlike many environmental regulations, which are written and enforced by Washington officials, the fishing limits were established by regional councils representing a mix of local interests.

“Because the final decisions were left on the local level, you have a higher assurance of success,” said James L. Connaughton, who helped prepare the reauthorization bill while chairing the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “If it had been imposed in Washington, we’d still be stuck in 10 years of litigation.”

posted by makeitso at 2:03 PM on January 9, 2012


Bush wasn't an absolute evil, you know. He went against Republican sensibilities and spent billions on the war on AIDS. I think he was kind of lazy about his reform and assistance measures, and only really pursued them when there was an opening free of heavy resistance, though. Still, even though he shat the bed with Iraq and Afghanistan I'm of the opinion that rights and wrongs in the political sphere occupy two separate realms, and credit should be given where due.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:03 PM on January 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


Apparently a 600 pound bluefin tuna sold in Japan recently for $750,000. This appears to be a video of the tuna being cut up.
posted by ofthestrait at 2:10 PM on January 9, 2012


Contrary to popular belief, GWB didn't show any evidence of deliberately trying to destroy the environment.

Remember the Clean Air Act, which actively reduced restrictions placed on air pollution in order to support industry lobbyists? Remember when he had young-earth fundamentalists rewrite scientific appraisals of climate change studies in order to present the results as the OPPOSITE of the actual science? His constant fellation of the lumber industry?

This seems like a sensible policy that succeeded because there were no commercial with a vested interest in stopping it.

Except the fishing industry, which pulls in something like 4 billion a year. Something tells me whatever law Bush drafted up is less handcuff and more handjob, scripted by fishing lobbyists.. hopefully it was given a thorough revision by Obama.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:10 PM on January 9, 2012


...the crucial merfolk demographic...

I'm sure you didn't mean it, but that's deeply offensive (only they can call themselves the m-word). The proper term is Deep Ones.
posted by The Tensor at 2:13 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Remember the Clean Air Act, which actively reduced restrictions placed on air pollution in order to support industry lobbyists? Remember when he had young-earth fundamentalists rewrite scientific appraisals of climate change studies in order to present the results as the OPPOSITE of the actual science? His constant fellation of the lumber industry?

Those aren't deliberate attempts to destroy the environment: they're prioritization. One of the things that's frustrating about the "Good people save the environment, bad people destroy it" framing of things is that it's 100% choir-preaching. The danger isn't Captain Planet villains who want to poison turtles and twirl their moustaches. The danger is people who think that nature is perfectly great, but takes a back seat to the "march of progress" and the demands of business.
posted by verb at 2:14 PM on January 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


The fishing industry has been getting used to the idea of charging more for less for a while now, I think. In Seattle, it's been interesting to see how the drastic changes to the crab industry have affected the local ship-related industries. When the state of Washington introduced new rules that made live-aboard between fishing runs impossible, there were so few of the small guys left, that the outcry really went effectively unheard.
posted by nomisxid at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


He went against Republican sensibilities and spent billions on the war on AIDS.

You mean the funding programs that included the caveats that funding only went to places that didn't promote anything other than abstinence programs for prevention, couldn't go to clinics that provided abortions, etc etc?

Those aren't deliberate attempts to destroy the environment: they're prioritization. One of the things that's frustrating about the "Good people save the environment, bad people destroy it" framing of things is that it's 100% choir-preaching. The danger isn't Captain Planet villains who want to poison turtles and twirl their moustaches. The danger is people who think that nature is perfectly great, but takes a back seat to the "march of progress" and the demands of business.

See, I'd claim that strawman bull like this is the real frustrating part of the dialogue. Of COURSE there's no Snidely Whiplash out there gleefully rubbing his hands together at the mere thought of despoiled wilderness. Prioritization of industry over the environment IS the entire problem. Short-sighted cash whores who think that the increase of their toxic output into the general air and water supply is well worth the profit margin increase in their quarterly stockholder report. Of COURSE it's all about the money - that is the exact nature of the problem.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:24 PM on January 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


> You mean the funding programs that included the caveats

Yes, but even with that there have been millions in Africa who have benefitted. There's nothing perfect in politics.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


The effectiveness of the catch limits depends, though, on where they're set. If they're not low enough to allow populations to rebound, then it may be a somewhat empty gesture.
posted by snofoam at 2:27 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


See, I'd claim that strawman bull like this is the real frustrating part of the dialogue. Of COURSE there's no Snidely Whiplash out there gleefully rubbing his hands together at the mere thought of despoiled wilderness.

Yes, that's exactly what I was saying. So what's interesting about this situation -- and other cases in which business-focused politicians do counterintuitive things -- is figuring out why there wasn't an outcry from existing commercial interests. "WHAAA? GWB DID A GOOD THING?" is unhelpful because it implies that personal animus on a particular politician's part is the real issue.
posted by verb at 2:29 PM on January 9, 2012


(Or, if there was an outcry, why it wasn't listened to.)
posted by verb at 2:30 PM on January 9, 2012


...law Bush drafted up is less handcuff and more handjob, scripted by fishing lobbyists.. hopefully it was given a thorough revision by Obama. ...

This. I don't know what's wrong with this particular statute as I'm not conversant with the fishing industry, but I do know Bush was so deep into so many pockets there must be a catch.

As for Obama, I give him kudos for wanting to head the country in the right direction, but I fault him highly for not growing a pair and telling the right wingers (and left, if necessary) to get their shit together. Maybe next year....
posted by BlueHorse at 2:46 PM on January 9, 2012


verb: "The danger isn't Captain Planet villains who want to poison turtles and twirl their moustaches."

This is precisely why I've always suspected that that show was actually anti-environmentalist propaganda.
posted by brundlefly at 3:43 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, basically the US has its own version of ICCAT, but for all fish species? Good news everyone! No need to worry about overfishing anymore!

I kid, I kid.
posted by palacewalls at 3:54 PM on January 9, 2012


The US is arguably the first country in the world to do it

A little bit late to be first. New Zealand has been doing it since 1986.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 3:58 PM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


a policy forged under President George W. Bush

Consider the 'family business' - Zapata fish oil works.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:08 PM on January 9, 2012


Don't commercial fisherman have lobbyists?

Good question. The multinationals do, and I bet the won't be heavily impacted by domestic legislation. Small fleets will be gutted, those that weren't already knocked out by state level stuff like florida's 1995 gill net ban. Who will likely profit from this, besides multinationals looking to shed competition from local fleets? Sportfishing and tourism operators. Licensing, outfitting, food, lodging, etc make billions for coastal states, way more than taxes paid by grubby fishermen.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:23 PM on January 9, 2012


...the crucial merfolk demographic...

I'm sure you didn't mean it, but that's deeply offensive (only they can call themselves the m-word). The proper term is Deep Ones.


Well, this whole thing started when Bush was trying to win the latino vote and he got the meaning of a particular slur entirely confused. It was a mess from the start.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:32 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been involved in this from the consumer/advocate side via a Slow Food/Community development organization/fishing community partnership in New Hampshire. I can say that this is a whole, whole lot more complicated than it looks. I'll try to give you a really short version

There's a good system known as "catch shares" that has done really well in Australia and New Zealand. That system is not the same as the American system. IT shares some foundational philosophy, but the American program now known as "catch shares" is much more specific and problematic.

In the Bush/Obama system, regions are divided into sectors and provided an allotment of fish by weight overall. This in most cases reduces overall taking of fish.

IT doesn't do anything, however, to reduce or restrict fishing methodologies/equipment use which is harmful to the ocean bottom or other food-producing structures, drift nets, etc. THere will still be environmental problems in fisheries even with reduced overall take.

The bigger problem is this. Part of the idea behind the low sector quotas is to induce attrition of the fleet to reduce fishing pressure in a given area. All right - that means fewer fishermen, fewer boats. Some people need to get out of the industry, because the sector quotes aren't large enough to allow all existing fishermen to survive.

Those fishermen all have existing fishing licenses. This means that when costs keep rising and your allotted share is too low, you finally decide to throw in the towel and get out of the fishing business. That's fine. But what happens to your license?

Under (US-style) catch shares, your license is going to go up for grabs in your sector as an auctionable commodity. This is the crucial difference and here is where to pay attention to discover why corporate interests care about this.

Fishing licenses that go up for auction are now commodities. This means they can not only be owned, they can be traded and bet on like stocks. Shareholders and a market will be able to get involved in what happens to fishing rights and licenses.

This has already and will continue to create a drive toward consolidation. As larger corporations purchase fishing licenses as assets, the existing numbers of independent, owner-operated fishing vessels will decline sharply. Decisions about fishing will be made on a market basis, by entities with no local investment in the ocean or the shoreside communities where fishing infrastructure actually exists. Fishing vessels will employ captains and crew on a for-hire basis, unconnected to local communities and structured in an ad-hoc manner.

What's more, companies owning and controlling licenses will essentially own and control policy around fishing areas. This essentially means the privatization of the fish stocks, where under past policy fish have been considered a public resource.

Infrastructure (wharves, ice, fuel, fish processing, transshipping) has built over centuries and is costly to create. With consolidation, infrastructure too will concentrate in a few specific areas in each region. Think about what will happen to those infrastructure providers and the land they will sit on. Also, the infrastructure ni the old ports will be closing due to lack of fishing vessels using it. Once gone, it will almost certainly never come back - too great an investment, too little future prospect of return. This creates a permanent change in communities' industrial mix and economic outlook that has impact far beyond fishermen themselves. But it has advantages to fuel and trucking and other providers that already exist in the few large-scale fishing ports.

The winners under US-style catch shares are : corporations, commodities traders, the fuel industry, trucking, and private shareholders.

The losers are small-boat, single-vessel or small-operator, locally-based fishermen, communities with a fishing infrastructure, people who support more independent businesses over fewer consolidated businesses, and people who care about local control and keeping food resources in the commons.

The two problems in the US-style catch share system boil down to fair allocation and consolidation.

Current policy does not adequately maintain independent, local, and public control over the fisheries and does not have any stipulations preventing the consolidation of licenses in a few hands.

There has been enough writing about this to choke a horse. Here are some recent updates from Food & Water Watch, the Fishing Industry page at the Gloucester Times where you may actually get the most thorough and focused, if impassioned and pro-fisherman-biased, coverage on the recent policies anywhere; the North Coast covers it; and here's something from AlterNet. If this interests you I encourage you to follow links and keep searching and reading.

In my region, the organization, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance has been active in trying to find a "middle way" solution that more resembles the Australia/NZ models - truly allowing community-based, small, and more responsible fishermen the power to determine the future of the licenses and to hold the licenses in local control. There have been some research and recommendations on modifying catch share policy in order to head in this direction of true community-based management rather than the other direction where sectors are simply a pass-through for license aggregation. It seems there is absolutely no political will to do this.

So there are some things which are really good about the basic idea of catch shares: We do need to catch less fish and we do need to ease off pressure from the fishing industry...smartly.

But the current policy is overwhelmed by the negatives: that basically it was designed as a gift to corporations, creating a new commodity. And, incidentally,one with impacts on fuel rights and waterway control - especially in an age in which new waterways will be opening up because of global warming.

So, this isn't an unalloyed good. But it takes so much effort to bring people up to speed on what's going on that I think small-scale fishermen feel pretty hopeless about it all. We hear loud and clear we need to fish less; discussions about how to fish, and who should be fishing, and who should own the right to fish, are so complex that people tune out, and then we no longer have the people running the policy...as is true across so much of our food system and indeed, our broader national system.
posted by Miko at 4:43 PM on January 9, 2012 [186 favorites]


That was fascinating, Miko. Flagged as fantastic.
posted by amy lecteur at 4:57 PM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Miko: fantastic.

From a broader science perspective, catch regulation alone is not a sufficient answer. Historically, the best estimates of what level of catch can be supported are not what makes it into policy, because of politics. And even that might not be good enough, because the science isn't perfect. And that doesn't even touch on the topic of illegal fishing, which everyone knows is going on but is rarely stopped and can't be well accounted for in population models because there aren't that many good data.

Marine protected areas with no-catch of any kind reserves, are really exciting, because they've been demonstrated to thrive and enhance the catch in areas outside the reserves. Example (other examples are found elsewhere, this is just one). The future lies that way, hopefully.
posted by zomg at 5:21 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Miko: I've been fishing before and honestly the "small-scale" fishermen I see out there I don't really weep for. So many cheaters and they don't give a crap about their environmental resource nearly as much as their access to recreation and tasty fish. At least, a larger fishing company should be more easily held accountable if they are breaking the rules than Lucky-Feeling Guy With A Boat. Probably a lot less gasoline leaking out of once-annually-used small boats into the water and wasted dragging them from home too. Frankly I don't think many of the fishing-for-kicks people really have much business out there or really will be hurt if they can't catch as much and my initial concern was that this was actually going to sway things in their direction. My basic thinking just being that if you have lower catch limits then you're going to keep out more of the folks fishing for profit, while the guy who was making a weekend funtime of it doesn't really care about the economics per fish because he's wasting a lot of money anyhow.

Is there anything keeping someone from setting up some kind of fishing co-op? Can you describe in more detail how these shares work? Are you saying I can just pay extra to get two licenses/shares/whatever and I get to bring home twice as much?

I suspect after proofreading this that the big thing I'm missing is there's probably a healthy group of people that aren't corporations but also aren't the drunks I see fishing by themselves? How much of the fish bought and sold in the US originates from small-scale fishermen? Also if I want to profit on this what do I buy now and early so I can sell out in a few years?
posted by floam at 5:46 PM on January 9, 2012


Fishing Industry page at the Gloucester Times where you may actually get the most thorough and focused, if impassioned and pro-fisherman-biased, coverage on the recent policies anywhere

I'm pretty sure Gloucester has more "NOAA Fisheries: Destroying Communities Since 19XX*" bumper stickers than there are cars to put them on.


* I'm sure I've screwed up the wording a bit.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:28 PM on January 9, 2012


Apparently a 600 pound bluefin tuna sold in Japan recently for $750,000.

That tuna, and the price paid, has a significant amount of background stuff going on. First, that price (roughly 500 million yen-ish) was about 350 million yen (400k) more than the previous highest ever price. The winning bid this year was by the owner of a Japanese sushi chain who was determined to outbid the (non-Japanese) winner of the previous four years. The guy who had been winning the auction is from Hong Kong, and runs a chain of Japanese restaurants there. Essentially, when you add in nationalism to an already insane auction based on prestige instead of market value, you end up with sushi that, when cut up, would be about $60 a slice.

Even so, the market demand for tuna is going to kill the fish. It's almost certain that we'll see the extinction of the bluefin tuna in our lifetimes, but most Japanese people have a very head-in-the-sand approach to the issue.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:44 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that, in Alaska, fishing license catch limits were set based on individual fishing haul for a certain number of years.What that means is, theoretically, there could be a license for 10 pounds of salmon as well as a license for 10 million pounds of salmon. Any one fisherman can only own three licenses. So, you get bigger, you gotta sell a smaller license to acquire a larger one. Now, this is based on a few drunken conversations with captains equally smashed, so, this might be total horseshit. What this means is you have a lot of people fishing.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:17 PM on January 9, 2012


access to recreation

Oh, "small-scale fishermen" most definitely excludes recreational fishermen. I should have said "small-scale commercial fishermen." People with one to three boats of modest to moderate capacity (ie not a factory trawler) who live and land fish locally.

Recreational fishermen are a whole nother ball of wax and I'm not qualified to talk about them at all.

Also, this is the topic of the Diane Rehm show today. So far I'm not hearing enough of this critique surface.

One of the frustrating things about this issue is that it is so hard to parse, mainstream media tend to not even know what questions to ask, or who to invite on to represent the various points of view. There is a lot of greenwashing of this issue, so even inviting an 'environmental' group is not a gaurantee that you're getting a full analysis.

I'm pretty sure Gloucester has more "NOAA Fisheries: Destroying Communities Since 19XX*" bumper stickers than there are cars to put them on

Oh, totally. And I would say that there's a flat reality here that fishing has to change; we can't sustain the same pressure as in the past. That's an unpleasant but real truth. The thing is, it matters how we do it - who we favor under the new policy. The new policy distinctly does not favor small-scale, local fishermen or community ownership of licenses. There are a lot of ways we could work to transition local fisheries to more premium product - higher price, less bulk - and achieve fair allocation of fishing opportunity while holding licenses as a public trust, but in this system all that is totally precluded.
posted by Miko at 7:41 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there anything keeping someone from setting up some kind of fishing co-op?

There have been fishing co-ops for a long time for buying equipment and supplies and sharing equipment, etc. BUt I think you mean to manage the licenses. Yes, there is a model being discussed out there called permit banking under which communities put in money to buy up licenses as they become available, and it's written into their charter that the licenses stay local and are awarded only to small-scale fishermen. There are a couple of permit banks already and in fact there's lots of interest in starting one in NH. The issue, of course, is money. With licenses starting at a quarter mililon dollars and - once there is a market - likely to skyrocket, it's going to be hard for communities to raise this kind of capital - tens of millions per active port - just to keep local fishing control. Still, it's the best idea anyone has to combat the effects of this system as long as it's in place. The whole process has given rise to some great organizations trying to find the middle way, like Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association and Granite State Fish. Outside of New England, I don't know what the organizations and players are - every region is unique.

How much of the fish bought and sold in the US originates from small-scale fishermen?

This report is from 2007 but gives a good idea what's at stake in a pretty simple format. Small-scale fishing is a lot more sustainable, uses a lot less fuel and draws fewer government fuel subsidies, creates a lot more jobs, and catches about the same amount of fish. It also catches a lot more food fish, whereas large-scale commercial fishing is a lot more involved in catching fish as an industrial resource, for fish-protein and fish-oil based products like fertilizer and lubricant. Of course this reads to the market as 'inefficiency' which is hated. But it reads to communities as good health and economic development.

Also if I want to profit on this what do I buy now and early so I can sell out in a few years?

I am in no way interested in promoting this, but the Gloucester Times did a piece a couple years ago on the potential kinds of investments that were being considered - hedge funds, direct capital investment in infrastructure, etc. This piece discourages socially responsible funds from investing in catch shares, but given the rhetoric I wouldn't be surprised to see those kinds of funds trumpeting these kinds of initiatives as good sustainability investments. But I think what this all comes down to, the deep-down motivation, is what it always is: oil. That's the industry that stands most to gain here, through public subsidy dollars and private-market speculation and payments. So invest in oils and fuels, and you'll see some return based on this catch share system.
posted by Miko at 8:15 AM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Of course this reads to the market as 'inefficiency' which is hated.

Honestly, I'd almost rather just find a way to pay fishers and fishing communities enough to live on for some term of years for doing nothing, and just let the people find new things to do and the towns find other focuses or just dissolve. From the perspective of a couple hundred years from now, having fewer fishing towns and more coves with ruins doesn't seem like a bad thing to me. Obviously it's the getting there that sucks and morally requires compensation to the people being displaced.

The environmental problems you cite seem best dealt with by direct regulation rather than indirectly subsidizing firms one hopes are too small scale to bother with the problematic behavior.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:50 AM on January 10, 2012


We're actually directly subsidizing the big firms.

Given that fish are food, I'd rather preserve the infrastructure and knowhow in each coastal state to make it possible to get food from the sea when/if stocks rebound. To me it becomes an important part of shifting back away from an overindustrialized food system. I think we'd be healthier to have more fishing towns with smaller vessels and direct consumer markets as opposed to fewer towns with big, consolidated markets and big, intensively fishing vessels that rely on overland distribution, freezing, etc. to make their sales.

Direct regulation of the environmental problems points to smaller-scale, too - diversified fishing efforts over the year, advancements in fishing gear, moving away from the bottom trawl and otter trawl, and creating allowable bycatch limits where bycatch can be sold instead of thrown overboard.
posted by Miko at 12:40 PM on January 10, 2012


We're actually directly subsidizing the big firms.

Right, and the solution to subsidizing the big firms is to stop doing that. Not to counter-subsidize small firms against the large firms.

I'd rather preserve the infrastructure and knowhow in each coastal state to make it possible to get food from the sea when/if stocks rebound

Empirically, the world does not seem to have ever had a problem figuring out how to catch fish.

Direct regulation of the environmental problems points to smaller-scale, too - diversified fishing efforts over the year, advancements in fishing gear, moving away from the bottom trawl and otter trawl, and creating allowable bycatch limits where bycatch can be sold instead of thrown overboard.

This doesn't make sense to me. You move away from the bottom trawl and otter trawl by limiting or banning them, and punishing violators. You create allowable bycatch limits by establishing bycatch limits and punishing fishers who exceed them. While it might be* politically harder to regulate more concentrated industries, at the technocratic level it's got to be far simpler to regulate 100 large boats than 10000 small ones. Hell, if there are few enough boats, you can just put regulatory agents on them directly.

*Probably is. On the other hand, if commercial fishing is clustered in fewer congressional districts and states, that might perversely make it easier to regulate.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:57 PM on January 10, 2012


Right, and the solution to subsidizing the big firms is to stop doing that. Not to counter-subsidize small firms against the large firms.

Nobody is proposing counter-subsidizing small fishing vessels.

Empirically, the world does not seem to have ever had a problem figuring out how to catch fish.

I'm talking about the regulatory environment - make it legal, if you prefer.

at the technocratic level it's got to be far simpler to regulate 100 large boats than 10000 small ones.

But the simplest solution is not the best solution for the localized conditions of fisheries or for fishing communities. Those who benefit from this kind of simplicity are not locally based, not using fishing as a livelihood, and have an outsized impact on their environment. The efficiency seems appealing, but efficiencency, here, creates waste and destroys jobs.

The bycatch limit thing isn't at all simple either. Sometimes you put down a trawl and bring up 90% bycatch. All that fish is dead, lost, and under current regulations you usually have to dump it - you can't sell it. If your trawl is bringing in 400 tons of fish per haul, and 90% of that has to go back overboard, you're wasting much, much more fish than if your trawl brings in 4 tons of fish per haul. This problem of overcapacity is one of the reasons to prefer small-scale vessels over large-scale ones. We have the technology and fuel to catch more fish at a faster rate than the oceans can produce. This is part of the problem of overfishing. The solution of fleet consolidation to favor large operators only makes this worse.

Raising bycatch limits is a fine line, too. Nobody likes seeing tons of fish killed and dropped in the ocean to go to waste (actaully disrupting the submarine environment when tons od dead organic matter gets dumped in one spot, as well). But sometimes the reason certain species are not allowable in a certain season because they're gravid, migrating, or in some similar condition, and the policy exists to protect their reproductive capacity. Just raising limits might mean that people fish right up to the bycatch limit because fish that didn't used to be saleable are now saleable due to raised limits, and you can always claim it was an accident.

Anyway, US-style catch shares does nothing to address bycatch - it's just that the problem of bycatch is much worse with large trawlers than with small-scale vessels, and the catch shares system is pushing us toward more large trawlers.
posted by Miko at 1:16 PM on January 10, 2012


if commercial fishing is clustered in fewer congressional districts and states, that might perversely make it easier to regulate.

And it is.
posted by Miko at 1:16 PM on January 10, 2012


Nobody is proposing counter-subsidizing small fishing vessels.

The various concepts you're talking about are indirect subsidies to small commercial fishers.

But the simplest solution is not the best solution for the localized conditions of fisheries or for fishing communities.

Well, I've already said that I don't mind if the communities go under, at least not if we would take care of the people until they figure out what else to do. A world with fewer fishing towns and more coves with ruins, the forest creeping a little closer ever year, is a good thing to me.

The bycatch limit thing isn't at all simple either. Sometimes you put down a trawl and bring up 90% bycatch

So make it their responsibility not to exceed bycatch limits, and fine them or jail them when they do.

Raising bycatch limits is a fine line, too.

I meant reducing them, and probably progressively reducing them over time (ie, next year you are only allowed 95% of the bycatch you were allowed this year). Sorry if that wasn't clear.

Those who benefit from this kind of simplicity are not locally based, not using fishing as a livelihood, and have an outsized impact on their environment.

I can accept the environmental argument. But I think we just have incompatible axioms about favoring locality, or favoring people fishing as a livelihood, and ultimately differ in whether we value communities as such.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:02 PM on January 10, 2012


The various concepts you're talking about are indirect subsidies to small commercial fishers.

I just don't see how that's true at all.

In any case, we now have a situation in which there is direct subsidy - not indirect benefit, but cash money - to large producers who have a more harmful impact and use more fossil fuels. I can't see this as a good thing no matter what.

I think we have different values as well. I think if you look into this issue more deeply you'll find that solutions aren't as easy as you'd wish; if they were, we wouldn't be in this situation at all. I urge you, if it's something you feel strongly about, to become involved. My involvement has definitely been on the side of local management of a food resource and the maintenance of the complex of infrastructure/tourism/heritage industry and direct connection to the environmental health of the oceans that a locally based fishing industry helps to provide.
posted by Miko at 2:46 PM on January 10, 2012


And with regard to bycatch: I don't think you understand - you can pull one haul that's 90% bycatch and be over your limit immediately. We already do fine and punish people for additonal bycatch - but those fines can't bring the fish back to life. So fines and punishment are not a sufficient safeguard on fish stocks - it's definitely not as easy as passing a law.

In fact, by consolidating and recapitalizing the large-vessel subsidized fleet we contribute to the moral hazard of just paying one's way by shelling out for fines, but continuing to fish where bycatch is likely. And often bycatch can simply not be avoided with current technology. There are continual technological tweaks and calendar or geographically based programs to reduce bycatch but since there will always be some bycatch, limiting the size of any possible total haul per vessel may be the best way to limit bycatch. More about bycatch.
posted by Miko at 2:55 PM on January 10, 2012


I just don't see how that's true at all.

Example: I gather you favor some scheme that allows local fishery organizations to retain control of licenses that, if offered at auction, would be beyond their reach. That's economically the same as just handing them the difference between what they are paying for the license and what the license would bring at auction, or, a subsidy

In any case, we now have a situation in which there is direct subsidy - not indirect benefit, but cash money - to large producers who have a more harmful impact and use more fossil fuels. I can't see this as a good thing no matter what.

I don't know who you're arguing with, but it's not me. We shouldn't subsidize fishing at all, since the problem with is is that there's too much of it.

And with regard to bycatch: I don't think you understand - you can pull one haul that's 90% bycatch and be over your limit immediately.

I get that. Sufficiently large fines or prison terms would provide sterling inducement to reduce bycatch.

And often bycatch can simply not be avoided with current technology.

Exactly.

I think if you look into this issue more deeply you'll find that solutions aren't as easy as you'd wish;

Part of it is that the outcome of "Commercial fishing becomes economically unviable" is acceptable to me.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:02 PM on January 10, 2012


I get that. Sufficiently large fines or prison terms would provide sterling inducement to reduce bycatch.

They'd have to be enormous and the burden would have to fall on the right people - this won't happen because of the lobby behind the changes in the catch share system.

Example: I gather you favor some scheme that allows local fishery organizations to retain control of licenses that, if offered at auction, would be beyond their reach. That's economically the same as just handing them the difference between what they are paying for the license and what the license would bring at auction, or, a subsidy

It's really not economically the same, because the economic impacts are so different. One is that a public resource remains a public trust. Economically, that's an extremely different outcome than licenses becoming private property. It's not the same in terms of ownership and capital distribution, and it's not the same in terms of economic impact on fishing communities, either. You may be able to demonstrate a dollar equivalency, but that's different than being economically the same. The difference in cash value between leasing a license at below market share from a nonprofit and from putting it up for auction remains on the public sector side in a permit banking system.

Part of it is that the outcome of "Commercial fishing becomes economically unviable" is acceptable to me.

Sure, I can get with you on that. But in that case, you should deplore the current catch-share system just as fiercely as a different sector management system, because it increases the environmental impacts and incentivizes overfishing.
posted by Miko at 3:19 PM on January 10, 2012


It's really not economically the same, because the economic impacts are so different.

The only way the two could differ would be if you gave the fishing organization the money to buy a license and they chose not to. Otherwise, allowing any organization to have fishing licenses at submarket prices is a subsidization in exactly that amount.

I'm with you on the licenses as private property thing, which is stupid. They should auction annual fishing rights to the highest bidder every year, so the maximal amount flows back to the national commons.

But in that case, you should deplore the current catch-share system just as fiercely as a different sector management system, because it increases the environmental impacts and incentivizes overfishing.

Sure, fair enough. It's just the things you describe don't seem likely to be any better to me. If they demonstrably reduced bycatch and other environmental damage, I'd like them. It would certainly be worth trying different schemes in different areas to see what actually works best at restoring the fish and reducing environmental harm.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:30 PM on January 10, 2012


I think we're all proceeding on the notion that they would actually be better on all significant measures and demonstrably reduce bycatch, as they have done so in other counties.

They should auction annual fishing rights to the highest bidder every year, so the maximal amount flows back to the national commons.

The highest bidder, then, would essentially always be a corporation or similar entity - a consolidator with deep pockets - and this would essentially replicate the hazards of the current system - that policy and Congressional influence on fisheries management, too, go up for sale to the highest bidder. This hasn't been widely true of fishing even though it has been true in so many other sectors of the economy; there are a lot of people who would prefer for fishing not to go the way of agriculture in ceding control over what is allowable to lobbyists and their employers in the private market.
posted by Miko at 3:36 PM on January 10, 2012


Something else interesting to come out of New Zealand fishery research, was that quotas that restrict how many fish could be caught, can be used to make fishing more profitable instead of less.

There is a zone where even though a company must catch and sell fewer fish, thus have a lower revenue, the fact that fewer fish are caught enables a higher denser population in the fishery, which makes catching them quick and easy and cheap, to the point where the savings exceed the lost revenue, and profits rise despite smaller sales.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:03 PM on January 10, 2012


Sorry, I was running off to dinner and didn't finish. I meant to finish with something like "But part of me would still rather regulate the desired objects directly; reduce bycatch by regulating bycatch, reduce bottom trawling by limiting or banning bottom trawling."

the hazards of the current system - that policy and Congressional influence on fisheries management, too, go up for sale to the highest bidder

Sure, but the realistic alternative is having fisheries management be up for "sale" to the most fishing-heavy districts.* This seems likely to lead to even worse outcomes (less stringent regulation of fishing and reduction of catch).

*Google "distributive model of committees"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:34 PM on January 10, 2012


I disagree that it leads to even worse outcomes, especially with community management. There's no reason to assume so, because the very communities depending on healthy fisheries for livelihoods are most invested in their sustainability. The risks are taken locally, the effort is made locally, and the decisions and regulation can also happen locally, assuming an overall continuation of federal policy constraining environmental impact. There is a high degree of citizen involvement and representative accountability, and a lot of oversight embedded in community management initiatives.

Big business lobbies can't steer fisheries policy only if big businesses just aren't in fisheries. Inviting them in via catch shares guarantees the sort of lobbying power being applied that fishermen, even in the aggregate, even with the help of citizens and consumers can never hope to match. The scaling-up and consolidation of the industry changes the playing field dramatically, just as we have seen in agriculture over the 20th century as small independent units have clustered into enormous agribusiness conglomerates. Their power is not equivalent to the power that would have been wielded had all the operaters they subsumed remained independent - it's a lot larger, more moneyed and more targeted, and less dependent on or even involved with individual citizens/constituents. So it's not as though we're simply trading fishing-states' influence in policy for an equal degree of influence in fuel-company lobbying. We're scaling up to a much larger degree of magnitude of influence, and into an entirely new financial game in which fishing serves as the vehicle for larger interests and initiatives. That changes the amount and kind of lobbying effort and the amount of influence placed on Congresspeople, regardless of their district.

The thing is that the constraints created by the overall structure of a fishery are more determinative of what happens within the fishery than any single piece of regulation within the fishery. That's part of the goal of this current legislation (fleet attrition) but it also delivers a whole bunch of negative impact along with that small positive for fish stocks.

I understand you are coming from an ideological framework about what would make sense in an abstract model of the world, but fishing isn't so easy to manage. "Reduce bycatch by regulating bycatch" sounds great, but I think you should spend some time reading about the history of bycatch regulation schemes in order to understand the parameters in which they have to work and the reasons why it is a difficult proposition with imperfect results that perhaps can be best controlled by limiting the scale and weight of fishing effort. The problem of managing fisheries is not at all simple unless you really do espouse the idea "just don't have fisheries." That is about as simple as it gets. But if you want to stop anywhere short of that, it means wading in to a level of complexity and detail that I don't think you are very familiar with just yet.
posted by Miko at 5:09 PM on January 10, 2012


Some resources on the regulatory environment:

UN FAO Fisheries & Aquaculture Department
Wikipedia article on Fisheries Management
NOAA and its subsidiary the National Marine Fisheries Sevice
Eight regional Fishery Management Councils
SeaGrant - NOAA's university-based research arm
posted by Miko at 5:37 PM on January 10, 2012


I will shut up and look at your links. But only because it's something I actually do know something about:

So it's not as though we're simply trading fishing-states' influence in policy for an equal degree of influence in fuel-company lobbying. We're scaling up to a much larger degree of magnitude of influence

I know this violates modern pieties, but this is counter to most research on Congressional behavior. You can find some evidence of money affecting votes, but you have to look really hard and it's not consistent; there's also a lot of research that looks for the effect of money (or lobbying) and finds little or no effect.* Most (but not all) of the current research** on money finds that groups give money to people who already support them, and that lobbyists act as a sort of amplifier for people who already want to do what the lobbyist's clients want.

On the other hand, the evidence for district composition affecting votes and other behavior like committee requests is direct and obvious.

For sure this is usually more of a feature than a bug. But. When MCs are trying to keep jobs in their district, they can cause all sorts of mischief and they are frequently willing to throw almost any other concern under the metaphorical bus.

*I can put together a string of citations if you care, but you probably won't like most of the work that shows an effect of money -- it tends to be from the public choice world where the clear subtext is usually "...and this is another reason why regulation is bad."

**I will admit that I don't follow this particular lit on more than an every-couplefew-years basis.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:57 AM on January 11, 2012


Underwater Noise Disturbs Whales 120 Miles Away - Pulsing sounds made by technology used to monitor fish stocks may affect how baleen whales communicate, even at great distances.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:14 PM on January 13, 2012


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