|Restoring Confidence in Gulf Seafood is the job of the entire U. S. industry (editorial)|
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton (Editorial Comment) - Aug 6, 2010 - There are two important developments for the seafood industry today regarding the Gulf. First, the FDA has released a detailed letter unequivocally stating that dispersants do not accumulate in fish and shellfish, and that they represent no long term threat to Gulf Seafood.
Here is our story and video about the Portland Fish exchange. Low volume threatens to force it to close.
|Plight of Portland Auction Example of need for regionalization of landings in New England (editorial|
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton (Editorial Comment) - July 26, 2010 - The Portland Fish Exchange was a pioneer in building the first display auction in New England, and changing the practice from selling whole trips to a single buyer to having fishermen sell each part of their catch to the highest bidder.
Today's Seafood News video focuses on the increase in pollock in New England, and why many see the welcome increase in quota as a symptom of a problem, not a problem solved.
Below is a response to some recent Gloucester Times articles criticizing seafoodnews.com
BY JOHN SACKTON
On Saturday, our publication was mentioned on the pages of the Gloucester Times as having been "under the wing of EDF", a characterization to which we highly object. I appreciate Editor Ray Lamont’s willingness to allow a response.
The editorial highlighted a story we wrote suggesting groundfish landings in the first week under the new fishing rules were actually higher than during the same period in 2009.
There were two main points: one was that our story was wrong. Our initial story did have some mistakes that were corrected. But the thrust of the story is correct, and remains so today.
The second point said our news service, the mostly widely read paid seafood industry daily news in North America, has supported through stories and editorials the benefits of catch shares. Absolutely correct. We have a strong editorial point of view, and part of that viewpoint is that catch shares can lead to economic prosperity for the seafood industry.
So why take offense? We are happy to stand up for our editorial views; and as a daily news service, we sometimes do make mistakes, and immediately correct and acknowledge them.
The problem at the Gloucester Times is tarring us with a conspiracy theory where those who support catch shares are automatically working for environmentalists and cannot have independent views.
Lets deal straight up with the accusation that Seafoodnews.com had been “under EDF’s extensive wing” because of a small consulting contract.
This is blatant nonsense. EDF asked us for a small consulting contract to provide our views of catch shares, and some written comments. The Times should realize that some one who has a 30 year career in the seafood industry and is recognized as a leading market expert throughout North America is unlikely to be defined by a single small consulting contract.
As I have told Richard Gaines, I have worked for hundreds of companies, harvester and processor associations, government agencies, over the past ten to fifteen years - and if I could not write about subjects I have been engaged on, I could not write a word. I don’t see the Times saying that because I worked for Gorton’s, I must be representing the interests of its Japanese parent company, Nippon Suisan.
This is simply guilt by association rather than a discussion of views.
In our publication, we take strong editorial stands, and I have a history of supporting catch shares that goes back years - well before EDF even knew what a catch share was. Further for years I have been critical of New England fishery management compared to other areas of the country, and have consistently argued that hard catch limits are essential for the recovery of New England fisheries.
What the Times misses with these accusations is that in New England catch shares must be implemented in a way that recognizes community interests and that preserves the diversity of the fleet.
Where was the Gloucester Times comment on our editorial about 600 vessels being disenfranchised in New England due to the way allocations have been made for catch shares?
300 out of 800 active boats in New England landed between 1 lb and 5000 lbs. of groundfish for the entire year in 2007. This means their net revenue in the best case might be around $3000 per year from groundfish. How is a boat earning $3000 per year on groundfish surviving? It is certainly not a groundfish boat. And if that boat leased days at sea rather than bought a permit with catch history, it could get a ridiculously low allocation. When the Gloucester times quotes these boat owners, they must investigate their situation further. By claiming that everyone who supports catch shares is “under the wing of EDF” the Times avoids getting into the more important questions about how to build a successful entrepreneurial fishery. I doubt they would argue the old system was successful.
80% of New England groundfish is landed by the 200 or so largest vessels over 75 feet, and very few of these larger vessels, I think about 7 or 8, are actually home ported in Gloucester. The problem with catch shares is the threat to disenfranchise the small boat fleet, an allocation issue the council did not address.
Finally, back to the original story. The Times says that I was also mistaken because Gloucester auction results are not timely. But the New Bedford, Boston, and Portland auctions do report on a non-delayed basis. Stripping out Gloucester, the region landed 51,000 more pounds of groundfish (excluding scallops, monktail etc.) from Monday May 3rd through Friday May 7th. I found this significant, because to me it suggested, and offshore captains confirmed, that they were able to get better trips under the new system. And I considered this news. The story actually started with calls from offshore captains reporting on their trips.
Did EDF pick up this story? Why wouldn’t they. I encourage organizations whether industry or environmentalists, to reprint certain stories of interest because I believe it builds up our paid subscriber base.
Lets make an agreement to look at the facts together. I will make a prediction: that at the end of the 2010 fishing year total groundfish landings in New England will be higher than in the 2009 fishing year. The reasons are first, the pollock choke point is being resolved. And second, total ACE’s while below the 2009 TAC’s, are higher than 2009 landings. By catching a higher percentage of the ACE’s, total landings in the region may very well increase. I believe entrepreneurial fishermen take a dollar when they have an opportunity. Keeping track together of actual landings over time, certainly for more than a week, will help tell the tale.
|The following editorial was published in Seafoodnews.com on Thursday, May 13th.|
Battle to save the small boat fleet in New England (Editorial)
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton - (Editorial Comment) - What is behind the huge political uproar in New England over fish allocations and catch shares: a battle to save the small boat fleet. Until this is resolved, either by eliminating the smaller vessels, or by NMFS and the government providing meaningful economic opportunity, the region will continue to see a full scale fish war.
the following editorial appeared in our paid news service today, and we are posting it on the blog to make it more widely available. Please feel free to comment
NEWS [Editorial opinion] by John Sackton - Nov. 13, 2009 - This week,
we sponsored two public meetings in New Bedford and Gloucester to
discuss the issue of catch shares with Steve Minor, exec director of
the N. Pacific Crab Assoc., and Joe Childers, President of United
Fishermen of Alaska.
Having worked in Alaska for many years on fisheries issues, including the crab rationalization program, it seemed appropriate to me to provide a forum for some discussion and comparison of the Alaska and New England experiences when the opportunity arose.
Despite calls from some of the more wild-eyed reader comments in the Gloucester newspapers to run us out of town, the Gloucester meeting attracted over fifty people, and for two hours, there were civil back and forth questions and a very informative discussion.
Several key issues came out.
First, no Alaskan catch share program has been put in place without a lot of attention to the issue of ownership caps and eligibility for transferring quota shares. In halibut, very specific rules were put in place to protect the character of the fleet, which is dominated by small boats.
In crab, although differing by species, there were vessel caps and use caps that were designed to address issues of concentration.
The Alaskans were shocked to discover that nothing in the current Amendment 16 addresses these issues directly.
Secondly, the flexibility and control that shares give to fishermen is unparalleled, and in both halibut, pollock and crab, was an under appreciated benefit of the program. Banding together in co-ops to manage fishing effort and by-catch issues gives harvesters a lot of control over decisions that formerly were dictated by NMFS. Such flexibility, in every case, has led to better timing of harvests, better control of bycatch and prohibited species, and a more profitable and efficient fishery.
However, there was a ten year moratorium in place on catch share programs after the halibut program was implemented. As a result, both the pollock program and the crab program were done through congressional legislation and refined through council action.
One of the key requirements for legislation is that the various parties have to agree among themselves first, before going to Congress, or else their fight just continues in Congress and nothing gets done.
In New England, the current amendment 16 was originally begun during the moratorium, and some of its design elements were put in place because no IFQ systems could be legally adopted. The moratorium was lifted with the reauthorization of Magnuson in 2006 and 2007.
The upshot is that radical re-thinking is going to be necessary in order for the New England program to achieve its goals. This does not mean the program should necessarily be delayed - I think the jury is still out on that one. But it does mean that all participants, including NMFS, should recognize this is a work in progress, and try and avoid actions that will irrevocably kill off parts of the New England fishing industry, whether on the water, or on shore.
The key promise of catch shares is to use market forces to align the interests of fishermen with stock sustainability. Under an open system, every fish left in the water is a fish a competitor can catch. Therefore, the race is to get the most fish possible before the fishery is shut down. Under catch shares, every fish in the water represents a potential value that can be higher or lower, depending on the actions of the harvester who has rights to that fish. The result, in almost all cases, has been that harvesters start taking actions that increase the value of the fish - through better timing, more careful handling, and more targeted fishing. At the same time, catch limits are recognized as investments, because the shares will increase in value as the stock size increases as well.
New England in many ways has been a garbage fishery. Of roughly 2.5 or 2.6 million pounds of yellowtail brought over the side this year, roughly half of that has been dumped back overboard as garbage. This is what happens when trip limits are imposed on an open fishery. Fishermen are acting rationally by making a last tow, lets say if they are 200 pounds under their limit. If they catch 700 lbs, they then throw 500 lbs. overboard, and keep the 200 they are entitled to. Repeat this across a range of species with trip limits, and you can see how destructive this is. Catch shares will end trip limits, which is one of their best features.
The problem in New England is that the groundfish fishery encompasses more than a dozen species, and each vessel will get allocations based on its history across all the different species.
But during the ten years that are the qualifying years, there were closed areas, there was the impact of global warming, stocks were migrating to new areas - so that there is a terrific mis-match, potentially, between the history as allocated, and the actual fishing opportunities for the current fleet in the different regions.
This will be resolved by market trading within sectors or co-ops, and among different co-ops.
Without understanding of the market forces, a disaster is likely to occur.
Here is the problem. We all believe in free markets, but we don't allow auctions of organ donations. That is because we have other values as well, and we recognize that an auction for organs would mean the richest would buy life, and the poor would die. That is not acceptable in a society based on all men being created equal.
So, we all accept that even though we like market efficiencies, there are circumstances where we prohibit or regulate market forces.
Such regulation is desperately needed in New England, and very little attention has been paid to it.
Because some of the stocks in the groundfish complex are weak, they will become limiting factors in allowing fishing to take place. A good example is yellowtail - which NMFS is concerned about, and there will be extremely low allocations. Cod will also likely be a severely limiting factor.
Already many in New England complain how much haddock is left in the water due to the limits on cod bycatch.
In a pure market system, the holders of yellowtail or cod would be able to increase the price of their quota to the point where they would be getting the majority of the value of all the other dependent fisheries.
This is what happens to a scarce resource that is necessary for the use of other stocks.
Those who have foreseen this system have been buying up the scarce quotas whenever they could. During our trip this week, we learned of people who had rarely fished redfish before running up to Maine and buying quota, so that they could use it as bycatch.
We also heard about boats up in Gloucester scouring Rhode Island for any quotas for sale. All of this consolidation and jockeying is taking place even before Amendment 16 with catch shares is implemented.
Under the market system that exists in the crab fishery in Alaska, red king crab quota shares can be leased for 78% of the value of the catch. We wrote about this yesterday. If the red king crab is worth $4.50 at the dock, the leaseholder gets $3.51, and the harvester who caught that crab gets $0.99 cents.
But red king crab is a single species fishery. Leases are attractive because boats are more efficient if they are able to catch higher volumes, and have fewer boats actually fishing. So some quota holders lease 100% of their quota and have no fixed expenses, while some boat owners (usually with their own quota) lease additional quota to make their operation more efficient, ie. a lower cost per lb. for harvesting crab.
In a multi-species catch share fishery, the value is not set by the fish that is landed, but by its worth compared to the most valuable fisheries.
So for example, if an extra hundred pounds of cod would allow someone to catch another 300 pounds of haddock, the value of that cod quota would be a certain percentage of 300 lbs. of haddock - not just the 100 lbs. of cod.
Alternatively, if the value of yellowtail was that for an extra 100 lbs of yellowtail, you could land 500 more lbs of scallops, the value of the yellowtail, as a lease, would be based on the value of 500 lbs. of scallops.
The problem is that not all ports and fishing practices are equal. Redfish fishermen need pollock - and there may not be any. Scallopers need yellowtail - and there is not enough to give them. Haddock fishermen need cod, etc. etc. But if haddock fishermen also need some yellowtail, they will not be able to compete against higher value fisheries, like scallops, buying up the quotas.
Now, this is an extreme example - because New England is not migrating directly to an open IFQ system and there are a lot of fisheries that are not under the catch share system, such as scallops.
But fishermen are smart, and they will quickly figure out how to use the market forces - far more quickly than NMFS or the regulators will even be able to determine what is going on.
The solution is to be prepared to amend the program, even if it means reversing or canceling sales of history, because they have been found to violate some cap.
This will add to the market uncertainty - and create winners and losers, just as the switch in currency from days at sea to history made worthless some purchases of days at sea.
But if the goal is to preserve fishing in at least some of the places where it still exists along the coast, some types of protective actions will be necessary to curb the unbridled market forces.
Everyone here is working towards the day when there will be rebuilt stocks. But without addressing the market issues, that day will come as a payday not to the fishermen who have sacrificed and hung on in difficult times, but to the investors who took advantage of their distress.
This means issues like eligibility, regional distribution requirements, ownership caps, and trading restrictions all need to be in place to protect the New England industry, just as hard quotas are put in place to protect the stocks.
NEWS by John Sackton - Oct 22, 2009 [News Analysis] - Although unable
to personally attend the catch share meeting this week in Bretton Woods
due to a prior commitment, the issue at stake: can the system of IFQ's
and catch shares established successfully in Alaska be replicated in
New England - is near and dear. For years I have contrasted the
experience of Alaska, with a system of hard TAC's and fishery closures
when catch targets or by-catch limits are reached, with the system in
New England that for the past 15 years has relied on imprecise attempts
to control effort.
In one setting, the industry has thrived, value of the fisheries had dramatically increased, and the degree of Alaskan ownership of vessels has increased.
In the other setting, the value of the industry has plummeted, historic ports are seeing near record low levels of landings, and the management has become one huge fight of industry vs science due to the increasingly absurd contortions being asked of the industry.
Anyone who cares about the New England fisheries knows that change is necessary.
When the Magnuson - Stevens Act was reauthorized in 2006, the big regional fight was over whether the system of hard quotas established on the West coast would become mandatory nationally. Environmental groups strongly supported the provision, while in New England, it was fiercely opposed. New England lost that battle, and now is operating under a legal requirement to meet hard quotas for each species of a 13 species groundfish complex in 19 separate management units.
The magnuson act also provided strong support for ITQ systems, also called catch shares, under which vessels in a fishery are assigned a proportion of the quota based on their fishing history. About 14 years earlier, a moratorium had been placed on catch shares after two experiences with northeast surf clams, and Alaskan halibut and sablefish. Both programs led to major changes in their respective industries. The moratorium was to allow more consideration of the types of changes catch shares brought about.
Subsequently, both the Alaska pollock program, under the American fisheries act, and the crab rationalization program, were enacted by an Act of Congress, due to the moratorium on catch share programs in place. This moratorium was lifted in 2006, giving regional management councils authority to establish catch share systems.
With this as background, the New England management council, under strong pressure from NOAA and the legal requirements of Magnuson, adopted a modified catch share system to come into effect in 2010. The system would not provide individual quotas, but assign vessels to voluntary sectors, which could then pool their quotas, and act like FCMA co-ops, i.e. decide which vessels should fish and when and make payments to members based on their share of history.
One of the biggest problems in New England was that the prior system - days at sea - made no distinction in fishing permits. There are thousands of fishing permits in New England, many of them dormant, and under the old system, each permit had the same right to be allocated days at sea. Quickly a leasing program came into being where active vessels would lease additional days at sea rights from inactive vessels. Yet since the pool was based on the total number of permits, no effective consolidation took place.
The looseness of this system allowed anyone to still enter the fishery, so long as they could find a cheap permit and days at sea to lease from another permit holder. The value of dormant permits was not that great, and they could easily be bought.
Under the catch share allocation, what matters is fishing history, not the existence of the permit itself. Suddenly, boats who have come into the fishery recently find themselves with insufficient history. Those who understood the system bought permits with established history, which were much more valuable than permits with no history. Much of the outcry in New England against catch shares is due to this change in status.
A second problem, exacerbating the transition, is the current state of recovery of fish stocks. In a species complex of 13 species in 19 management stocks, the expectation that all will or can achieve their maximum biological potential at the same time is scientifically impossible. Yet Magnuson allows for no flexibility on this point. The result is that much of the fishing effort in New England is dictated by the weakest species. Under Magnuson, weaker species with stocks that are below the target spawning threshold must be protected and rebuilt.
New England is put in an impossible position: there is no way except perhaps with a 10 or 20 year moratorium on all fishing, that the 13 groundfish species could readjust to their natural proportions - which have not existed on Georges Bank for more than 100 years.
In fact, the idea that New England can go back to some pre-fishing mix of species abundance is absurd. The egg is scrambled. It cannot be reconstituted as an egg. Yet much of the current science and management is still based on control of discrete species with the goal of producing a new egg (the original spawning biomass) - and that ties New England fishermen in knots and makes them think the goals are simply irrational.
The meeting in Bretton Woods this week was really just a workshop to address some of the issues in catch shares. It got a high profile because, first, it was by invitation, and secondly, it had the full support of NOAA which is committed to implementing catch shares as a national fishing strategy.
The meeting addressed some of the design issues in catch shares, and the fundamental problem: there is a trade-off in implementing catch shares.
In order to make existing fleets efficient and profitable, they have to shrink - capacity has to match the stock available for harvest, instead of being two, three or four times greater than needed. Catch shares are principally a market mechanism to make that happen - by allowing consolidation to the degree that the fishery is conducted efficiently, and compensating those who leave the fishery by paying the market value for their shares. This is what allowed the Alaska crab fleet to move rapidly from 280 boats to 80 active boats.
The question is what is lost in a pure market mechanism. Catch share programs have to be implemented so as to not magnify negative consequences. In Alaska, one consequence of the rapid consolidation was an outcry over loss of crew jobs.
How do you preserve the structure of the industry in New England - a mix of smaller inshore and larger boats, a mix of ports all with some landings, and a wide range of specializations on certain types of fish.
A common argument of those against catch shares is that it destroys existing communities, by allowing boats and landings to be bought and concentrated elsewhere. This is not a feature of catch share per se, but of poor design.
At the conference, Wes Erikson, a 4th generation British Columbia fishermen talked about catch shares and impacts on communities. Contrary to some reporting that communities shrunk as a result of the catch share program, he said that communities in British Colombia were 'negatively impacted by the shrinking of the commercial salmon industry which is not a catch share fishery.'
'In fact, under catch shares, commercial landings have actually increased in coastal communities and decreased in urban centers. For the most part catch shares have been a positive aspect for the coastal communities that I work and live in', he said.
Steve Minor, from Alaska, also addressed the community issue. He said 'Catch Shares in the Bering Sea crab industry have in fact been created positive benefits for crab-dependent communities, because we designed our program with that goal in mind. Crab dependent communities are now guaranteed abut 90% of their historic share of landings based on the delivery requirements we placed on the quota shares themselves.'
There is absolutely no reason why the New England program should not contain a strong community protection component. Ports like Portland, Gloucester, and Boston, should all have consideration under the program so that provisions are made to restrict wholesale transfer of shares away from traditional landing ports.
There is nothing in the current design of a program that would prevent for example, a sector consisting of Maine and Massachusetts boats assigning all of their quota to be landed in one port only.
Once shares are bought and sold, as they will be inevitably in any system, the lack of such protections leaves the fishing infrastructure in New England badly exposed.
The program in Bretton Woods did not solve the probems, but did help to get some of the issues on the table.
The thing that most upsets New England fishermen is that they feel they are being forced to forego legitimate harvests for very unsound scientific reasons. Catch shares don't determine the level of the catch, but have become a lightning rod for all the issues affecting New England, since they represent a new approach that New England has traditionally resisted.
The most telling fact is that the vessels with real catch history are flocking to the program. Estimates are that holders of 90 to 95% of the catch history for most species have signed on to the sector program. These fishermen represent the ones who have most successfully navigated the management contortions of the past decade. Given the transition that is necessary, it is obvious that some flexibility on management goals would help tremendously.
Such flexibility has often been accepted by NMFS in the past. In the Alaska opilio fishery this year, when rigid adherence to a rebuilding plan would have resulted in a dramatic cut back, or possibly no fishery at all, NMFS adjusted the goal, and allowed a new rebuilding plan to be put in place. As a result, the crab fishery remained viable.
One reason such an adjustment was possible was that all parties - NMFS, The State of Alaska, and the industry, all had demonstrated strong commitments to crab conservation in the past. So the idea of an adjustment never was seen as a ploy to get around scientific reports on stock status, but a way to incorporate such science into the reality of the fishery. Such thinking will have to come to New England if this transition is going to have any chance of success.
(The Gloucester Times published an editorial calling on the NE Council to abandon catch shares. We thought it was an irresponsible approach, and made our own comments in reply. )
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [EDITORIAL COMMENT] by John Sackton - Aug 19, 2009 - The Gloucester Times is playing the same role in New England Fisheries Management that the Republican party is playing in the national health care debate. Both are saying essentially they dont want to participate in the proposed reforms, so they would rather see nothing done at all.
While the national debate on health care can be postponed for another year, the management of New England fisheries cannot, because there is a legally mandated timetable to implement the new standards of the Magnuson act.
In this context, the idea of blowing up the system, which is essentially what is advocated in the Times Editorial is irresponsible and does a disservice to New England fishermen.
Anyone who is pinned down in an economic vise is looking for whatever hope might be on the horizon. To argue that NMFS science be thrown out; that the council rebel, and that essentially the entire management of New England fisheries start over is just a false hope.
If that is really what the Times believes, they should have the guts to call for a total moratorium or shut down of New England fisheries while the problem is fixed, with appropriate support for fishermen.
But if they are not willing to see the fishery closed, then they have the responsibility to propose positive management measures as well.
We know fishery management can work in New England. Here is a graph of scallop landings and biomass we printed in a separate article today.
This management was done by the same agency and council that the Gloucester Times is vilifying.
There are real problems with the low biomass of pollock, and the difficulty of getting accurate measurements on a single species in a mixed stock assessment covering 19 groundfish species which share the same habitat. There are also problems with attempting to maximize the yield of all 19 species at the same time. But the most hopeful answer to this is to address the how the needed flexibility can be achieved.
Instead, the advocates in Gloucester are refusing to confront the real problem, and just calling for the system to be blown up.
This is a false hope for fishermen. We are never going back to a golden age when boat captains could fish all they wanted and were not constrained by management.
The late Jake Dykstra, a giant in New England fishing who was one of the key people responsible for the 200 mile limit knew he was making a trade-off. In return for gaining control and stewardship of the EEZ out to 200 miles, Dykstra realized that fishermen were taking on a management system as well. He strove to make it work, sometimes successfully, and sometimes less so. But he never gave up on the idea or the need for management as the price of achieving control over U.S. waters.
Now U.S. style fisheries management has been recognized by scientists (Worm-Hilborn paper) as the best single hope for achieving global sustainable fisheries, based on the successes this country has had with fisheries since 1977.
I wish the present leadership in Gloucester and the writers at the Gloucester Times had more of Dykstra's vision, and less of a feeling of anarchist nihilism.
For example, other fishery catch share programs have strong adjacency and community landing requirements. If Gloucester leaders were not so intent on blowing up the system, they might actually fight for adjacency rights to protect the inshore fleet from competition on nearby banks. They might fight to guarantee some community landing rights so that IFQs could not be concentrated in some other community and taken out of Gloucester.
Many fishing communities have prospered and become dominant owners through working within catch share systems to maximize the economic benefits to that community. Some smaller communities in Maine have been pushing hard for such protections. But such a discussion has been sorely lacking in Gloucester and Southern New England, partly because the Gloucester Times, a highly visible advocate is talking about blowing up the system, in an anarchist frenzy, rather than seriously trying to make it work for their community.