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Back to the Drawing Board – Good Plan Gone Wrong

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Once we stopped ignoring the scientists and environmentalists who began waving red flags regarding overfishing around the world so many decades ago, there was an ill-considered rush to ‘fix’ the declining fish stocks.  As so often happens with knee-jerk reactions, the ‘fix’ only served to compound the problem.

One of the earliest means instituted to prevent over fishing was catch limits.  While, on the surface it appeared a logical solution, no one considered the consequences.  Limit the catch to 100 pounds per boat and problem solved!

But, fishing is an iffy endeavor; no fish one day, more than can be counted the next and what happened to the additional 200 pounds above the 100 pound limit hauled aboard in a net; much of it dead or dying?  Laws said the fish had to be thrown overboard, show up at the fish processor with too many pounds and face severe penalties…so 200 pounds were thrown back in the sea, dead or dying, wasted; no benefit to the fishermen, no benefit to the shoppers at the fish markets, fish dead or dying that would never reproduce and propagate their species; but, the fisherman had complied with the catch-limit laws.  The cod fishermen on the Georges Bank alone tossed 1,000,000 pounds back into the sea in 2006 in order to comply with catch-limit laws; a discard rate of approximately 30%

According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report written by Bret Schulte, the fishing regulations that have dictated catch limits, days at sea, restricted areas, and net size are failing miserably.  In his article “One Fish, Two Fish, No Fish” Schulte writes that 25% of the fisheries the regulations were supposed to ‘fix’ remain in peril due to continued over fishing.

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As it became more and more evident that the ‘keep one pound, throw back two’ laws were not working, and as some fishermen became more educated and realized that the sea’s bounty was not limitless, a new idea began to emerge among some fisheries.  Fishermen began banding together in co-operatives with the blessings of the fisheries regulatory bodies.  Each side gives a little for the benefit of the whole, that being the sustainability of the fisheries.

Using the cod fishery as an example, federal regulators agreed to waive trip catch limits in return for an annual cap.  Members of the newly established cod fishery co-operative reported discard rates of 5-10% rather than the usual 30%.  Cod remained in the sea while the co-op members continued to earn a living.

Mentioned in a previous article in this series on commercial fishing, the revised Magnuson-Stevens Act renewed this past January endorses the establishment of “limited access privilege programs” or co-operatives for all fisheries within the U.S. economic zone.  Based on science rather than the faulty ‘limitless bounty’ theory, regional fisheries councils must also come up with caps on fishing in order to end over fishing by 2011.

Co-operatives, or LAPPs, give fishermen a percentage share based on species abundance making it advantageous for the fishermen to comply with the MSA dictated measures to eliminate over fishing.  For instance, if a fishing co-operative member is allotted 5% of a fishery comprised of 2,000 fish, he can keep 10 fish.  If the fish stock increases to 10,000, that same fisherman can then keep 50 fish.  Protecting fish stocks becomes a win-win situation.

In March of 2007, the Environmental Defense Fund, established in 1967 to not only identify problems but also provide solutions, published a report on LAPPS.  The study on which the report is based was conducted over a 14 month period and involved 30 experts in fields relating to fishing and our seas.

According to Environmental Defense’s report, approximately 75% of LAPP fisheries are strictly monitored compared to only 25% of non-LAPP fisheries.  LAPP fisheries took 40% less bycatch and deployed 20% less fishing gear than non-LAPP fisheries; causing less damage to the reefs and sea bottoms as well as saving huge sums on fuel.  And, perhaps of greatest significance to the LAPP fishermen, the 14-month study found that their incomes increased almost 80% due to higher yields and higher dockside prices.

While there are those who will never sway from the unlimited bounty theory and will go down fighting against fishing co-operatives, catch limits, and limited seasons and entries, it appears that LAPPs are here to stay and those who participate stand to benefit for generations to come.

Sustainability in Commercial Fishing Series

Becky Bauer takes an in depth look at today’s Commercial Fishing…

After many years of debate, the dogged determination of environmental groups, and scientific studies, the cause of many large-scale disasters—killing floods and landslides, starvation from lack of topsoil in which to grow food, air and water degradation—is now recognized as a threat to global security. This threat is the clear cutting of forests throughout the world.

I am certain you are wondering what clear cutting has to do with commercial fishing. A recent study conducted by Dr. Les Watling of the Darling Marine Center at the University of Maine states that commercial bottom trawling and dredging destroys 150 times more sea bottom than clear cutting destroys forests per year. 150 x 16m = 2400m acres of sea bottom per year; 2,400,000,000 acres, a number so large as to be almost incomprehensible.

Take a walk with us and begin to understand the repercussions of our actions…  AWARENESS and Understanding are the keys to sustainability.

After 30 years as a wild and domestic animal rescuer, rehabber, and educator in the states, Becky Dayhuff became a scuba instructor and journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean.  She is a contributing photographer to NOAA and received a “Passionate People” award from Sirenian International based on her marine life writings, particularly her series on manatees.

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Becky Bauer is a scuba instructor and award-winning journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean. She is a contributing photographer to NOAA.

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