By Laine Welch
Catch-share programs can cause consolidation, trimming the number of vessels and stakeholders in a fishery. After all, that’s a primary goal: to rein in too many boats going after too few fish. Too often, rights to the fish get bought, sold or leased away from small, fishing dependent fishing towns.
New England fishing communities are making sure that doesn’t happen to them as they transition to a catch-share program for groundfish next year. Bankrolled by $5 million from the federal government, “permit banks” are being set up to buy fishing permits for 19 groundfish species, and lease the catches to boats ported in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The permit banks will be operated by each state or by private nonprofits. A permit may be worth between $150,000 and $400,000, depending on the number of pounds attached and the species.
“Without a permit bank, there would be a handful of large boats fishing right off our communities that had no access to the resource right off their shores,” said Philip Conkling, president of the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine.
The Institute and Nature Conservancy piloted the program two years ago. They lease poundage to fishermen who also test new net configurations.
There are two important qualifications to access the permits: a boat must be 45 feet or less, and home-port in a town with fewer than 30,000 residents. That’s a lesson learned from Alaska, said the Institute’s Rob Snyder.
“The need for permit banking came directly from our watching the halibut and sablefish fishery consolidate in Alaska, and how small boat communities tend to disproportionately lose out in these allocation battles,” Snyder said.
Fishermen and coastal communities are encouraged by the permit bank opportunity, and hope it will anchor small boat fleets in their historical towns.
“The fishermen who are hanging on and trying to stay in the fishery are incredibly encouraged,” Snyder said. “I think the folks who would like to get back in someday are holding their breath and hoping this works. But all in all, people are very enthusiastic in the small ports where this is happening.”
Philip Conkling credited federal fishery managers for finally paying attention to the little guys.
“This is the first time we’ve seen in New England that NOAA or anyone else in Washington has paid attention to it,” Conkling said. “For the past 20 years, the national dialogue has been all about scaling back and increasing efficiency in the fishing industry. There has never been any national level interest in trying to find equitable means when a fishery needs to be consolidated; to make sure the big fish don’t eat all the little fish. NOAA deserves a lot of credit in being very active in the community equity issue.”
Alaska has tried to help small coastal towns hang on to shares of halibut and sablefish through a unique Community Quota Entity program, but there have been few takers.
In 2004, the state gave the O.K. for 42 communities in Southeast and South central regions to form nonprofits called Community Quota Entities. The CQEs can purchase and lease shares of halibut and sablefish to local residents. To date, only one CQE has bought shares of halibut — 30,400 pounds by Old Harbor on Kodiak Island in 2009; none has purchased sablefish quota.
A 2010 CQE report to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council said:
“Due to the increased price of quota shares and other market realities, it has proven difficult to obtain financing in the absence of grant money.”
“Sustainable” is a big buzz word in the seafood industry — especially for big corporate buyers. But it is not the biggest selling point for U.S. consumers.
A survey done for SeaFood Business by the Perishables Group aimed to learn if messages about sustainability and eco-labels were resonating with buyers, and influencing their purchases. The answer? Not really. Topmost on the minds of the 1,000 nationwide respondents was food safety, followed by price.
Customers also look for wild or farmed identifiers and where their seafood comes from. About one-third claimed to be knowledgeable about seafood sustainability, while 40 percent said they knew nothing or very little about the concept.
More than one-third believe farm-raised fish is more sustainable than wild-caught, and that farmed shrimp, catfish and tilapia are the best sustainable choices. Only 19 percent said they recalled seeing any type of label or message identifying seafood as sustainable in supermarkets. Conversely, 62 percent said they recall messages about wild or farmed fish at retail stores and restaurants. Over half of those surveyed said they eat some type of seafood at least every other week, with a third eating seafood weekly.
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