The Obama administration is proposing significant new spending on a proposed cap-and-trade regulatory scheme for fisheries -- a major overhaul in fishery management and a bid to halt the decline of wild fish stocks.
In its fiscal 2010 budget request, the administration is asking for $18.6 million for "catch-share programs."
While that is only 2 percent of the $921 million budget proposal for the National Marine Fisheries Service, it is triple the NMFS's request for catch shares in its 2009 budget and a ninefold increase over the $2 million it allocated for catch shares in 2008.
The request indicates a major push from the administration to advance the management systems, which are still in the minority but have started to appear in fisheries across the United States since a federal moratorium expired five years ago.
There are currently 12 catch-share programs in operation, up from seven two years ago. Four more are in the implementation or development phase, NMFS said.
The budget request is intended to finance development of new catch-share programs, said David Miller, spokesman for NMFS's parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Catch-share management is a new regime for fisheries, where mangers set strict limits and give fishers some ownership in the catch.
Advocates for such programs say they halt the "race for fish." Under a traditional system, fishery managers set a total allowable catch, and boats rush to get the most that they can, as quickly as they can, before everyone in the fishery reaches the limit.
Cap-and-trade programs distribute shares of a total catch to commercial fishers, based on either their historical catch or an auction. Fishers can buy and sell their shares.
The Bush administration also worked to advance catch shares, and the programs began to gain momentum in the past year. Recent studies in the journals Science and Nature found that catch shares can increase the abundance of fish and cut in half the collapse rate for fisheries (E&ENews PM, Sept. 18, 2008).
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has also come out in favor of catch shares, and fisheries managers are working to advance a major catch-share program that would reinvent management of the 400-year-old commercial fisheries in New England.
New England's fishery management is slated to vote next month on an 841-page proposal that would help its taxed fisheries move into a catch-share program. The proposal comes as commercial fishers there face major reductions in their catch this year -- with only 39 fishing days allowed during the next 12 months. Meanwhile, some fisheries are still not on target to be rebuilt by 2014, a deadline set in federal law.
The new momentum behind catch shares is welcome news for groups like Environmental Defense Fund, which has been advocating for the programs for years.
"Catch shares are the path to helping fishermen and fisheries recover, rebuild and renew. It's great that NOAA included substantial funding for the transition to catch shares -- showing that the agency recognizes the importance of this approach," said Amanda Leland, policy director for the group's oceans program.
But the programs are not without controversy -- especially during the design process.
Fishers and some environmental groups say such schemes, if improperly designed, can shut out small fishing operations and can encourage those in the program to throw out more fish, so they can bring in the best specimens and stay under their catch limits.
The management scheme appeals to other fishing groups, because it allows fishers to work carefully over a longer period of time and sell more fresh fish, rather than haul in all of their fish at once for the less-valuable frozen market.
The 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act authorized catch shares for the first time and added some safeguards for the environment and commercial fishers in the program.