Anglers Evaluate NOAA Catch Share Policy

Final policy on controversial management tool opens door to reallocation, but perils of implementation remain

WASHINGTON, D.C. – November 4, 2010 – After months of intense debate, today’s official release of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations’ (NOAA) Catch Share Policy provides recreational anglers with two key elements: a framework to redistribute the benefits of harvesting the nation’s marine resources; and a commitment that catch shares have no place as a management tool for private recreational anglers. Coordinated input from the angling community significantly altered aspects of the draft policy, particularly the process of allocating fisheries between sectors. However the system of assigning fixed percentages of various fisheries to commercial interests remains a controversial management tool to recreational anglers.

“It’s clear that NOAA’s leadership was listening at its Recreational Fishing Summit last April when the entire spectrum of the recreational angling community, from guides to tackle manufacturers to charter boat operators, voiced its apprehension regarding this policy,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “A number of significant improvements called for by participants at that summit and in subsequent dialogue with the agency are reflected in this document.”

Although catch share systems have been used in federally managed commercial fisheries for decades, the Obama Administration’s creation of the Catch Share Policy Task Force signaled a new intent to force catch share systems widely into federal commercial and recreational fisheries. Many in the recreational community were adamantly opposed to the Administration’s new direction as it was articulated in the draft catch share policy released in December 2009.

“It was never a question of ‘if’ catch shares were going to be a focus for this Administration,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “It was simply a matter of ‘how’ and ‘when.’ Although we continue to be opposed to separating the charter and private recreational sectors, by engaging with the Task Force and NOAA’s leadership, the recreational fishing community has helped shift the view of catch shares as a panacea to simply being another tool in the toolbox that managers may elect to use if a series of conditions are met.”

As previously implemented, catch share systems in mixed commercial and recreational fisheries bestowed a percentage of a public fishery resource to a select group of private commercial entities based solely on their catch history, effectively locking in the allocation of that fishery forever while ignoring the growing participation and beneficial economic impacts of recreational fishing. Coastal Conservation Association has challenged just such a plan in federal district court. However, among the conditions laid out in the policy released today is a requirement for the fishery management councils to address the allocation prior to the implementation of any catch share system using conservation, economic and social criteria. The policy also requires that every mixed-use fishery allocation be reviewed periodically using the same criteria.

“All of those requirements were put forth at NOAA’s Recreational Fishing Summit as pieces that might make this policy more workable,” said Ellen Peel, president of The Billfish Foundation. “This is a good indication that the agency and Dr. Lubchenco are listening and, as promised at the summit, responding to the expressed concerns of our community. We are committed to working with the Councils and the Administration to ensure the pieces of the policy fit together to benefit recreational angling.”