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If we had any doubts,

damning report answers them

Editorial

    Manage. Webster’s Dictionary defines manage as a verb meaning “to handle or direct with a degree of skill, as in to make and keep compliant; to treat with care; to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction of .”
    For nearly 25 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been tasked with managing catch share programs in fisheries around the United States. These programs have been touted by environmental extremists as the be-all-and-end-all savior of our nation’s fisheries, to the point that they have been the centerpiece of fisheries policy since the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
    For years, we’ve been fighting these programs because they take a public resource and divide it up, selling it to the highest bidder.
    NOAA has claimed it would protect the interests of all involved, that it would manage the catch shares programs.
    Just as we suspected, however, NOAA has failed to do anything remotely close to managing the programs.
    A report released in May by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of the Inspector General, which conducted an audit of NOAA’s handling of six of its 15 catch share programs, found that NOAA failed in its responsibility in three key areas:     

“1. NOAA does not have adequate data and does not track or enforce landings overage violations in the Pacific Sablefish Permit Stacking Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ). NOAA currently does not monitor Pacific Sablefish landings on an individual permit basis during a fishing season. Instead, it only monitors landings for an entire fishery as a whole, using a paper-based system that is subject to compromise and the multiple possibilities of error associated with any manual process.” The report says the lack of oversight resulted in the quota being exceeded repeatedly.
    “2. The Golden Tilefish program did not have formal controls to ensure that shareholders with sanctions were prevented from buying, selling or transferring shares or allocation. While this program does not have a large number of participants, it nonetheless has an ineffective process for monitoring shareholders with active sanctions.”
    “3. NOAA relies on shareholder self-certifications for eligibility criteria. The Alaska Halibut and Sablefish, Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper, and the South Atlantic Wreckfish catch share programs rely solely on self-certifications for evidence that shareholders meet some qualification criteria, such as U.S. citizenship required to own quota shares or allocation. NOAA does not perform any review of these self-certifications to verify their validity. Instead, it relies on its Office of Law Enforcement and the Coast Guard to verify eligibility during their enforcement activities.”

    In short, NOAA isn’t tracking, enforcing or monitoring for violations and overages; it has nothing in place to prevent one catch share-holder from selling their shares to someone else, and they’re accepting at face value when someone says they are a legitimate shareholder in a fishery.
    That’s just crazy. That’s akin to holding a concert with a singer who’s popular among teens and offering five, $1 beers to each person who’s 21 or older — but never asking those buying beer to produce ID showing they are 21, and not counting how many beers each one buys. The net result in that situation would be some very drunk teenagers, more beer sold than planned for (if indeed the event didn’t run out) and people left scratching their heads at how it happened when the “beer shares” program was in place.
    This audit by the Inspector General comes in the wake of a report issued last year by NOAA about the economic impact of catch shares. For years, catch shares have been sold to politicians and the less-observant as a way to maximize the economic output of a fishery. “Let us sell you catch shares, and you’ll find yourself making more money than you are now in just a few short years,” the promise goes.
    But like a Ponzi scheme, the folks doing all the work are still waiting for a return on their investment.
    The NOAA report, “The Economic Performance of U.S. Catch Share Programs,” authored by Ayeisha A. Brinson and Eric M. Thunberg, points out that catch shares, most often implemented when NOAA was trying to “rebuild” a fishery, have done exactly what they were intended to do in terms of reducing the number of active fishing vessels pursuing a particular species of fish.
    But the report cites mixed results, noting: “On the one hand, fishermen are generally observing quota limits and derby fishing has been eliminated; but on the other hand, even though not directly tied to implementation of a catch share program, quota levels are generally not increasing, which may affect economic performance.”
    One of the biggest lies of fisheries management in general and catch-share proponents in specific has been that if fishermen sacrifice, they will be rewarded “eventually” with bigger quotas.
    The few fisheries where quotas have started to increase are those where the fishermen have intervened to improve the quality and amount of data that NOAA has — and NOAA only grudgingly accepted it.
    NOAA’s lack of management is particularly disturbing given that one of the fisheries examined and cited in the report was the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery. It’s bad enough that fisheries managers set up a program in cahoots with the Environmental Defense Fund; they know that EDF is going to claim the catch share program there — which has put the control of the fishery in the hands of a few fishermen, leaving those who don’t drink the EDF Kool-Aid to watch their economic future go dry — is a success. They will inevitably trot out some captain who will tell the world how much better he is doing because of catch shares — ignoring the fact that his gain comes on the backs of dozens forced into retirement or bankruptcy.
    NOAA has thrown up its hands and is content to hand over hand over all policy decisions to environmental businesses, and fishermen be damned.
    So much for “managing” the fishery and so much for protecting fishermen.
    The federal government and the businesses that parade themselves as “environmental protectors” are continuing to push for the expansion of catch share programs as the Magnuson act is up for reauthorization again. They are continuing to claim that catch shares — and for us recreational fishermen, individual fishing quotas — are the only way to save the fisheries, as well as save “the poor, misguided” fishermen from themselves, because fishermen need to be “managed,” they say.
    NOAA hasn’t managed catch shares yet, as the IG report shows. Why anyone would even consider allowing it to expand by even one fishery at this point defies logic.
    Congress needs to stop rewarding NOAA’s laziness and incompetency. Our fishermen deserve better.



Karen Wall

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