I meant to write about this earlier this month after attending the public comment session related to the spiny dogfish fisheries management plan (FMP). Since it’s taken this long to actually sit down and write about it, this post isn’t terribly reliable in terms of reporting on current events (a case could be made that this is indicative of the entire blog). That said, the proposed amendments to the spiny dogfish FMP are interesting as a demonstration of just how complicated things can get when you’re managing a fishery on a coast-wide level.
The brochure describing the proposed changes can be found here. These changes are entirely concerned with how the Atlantic stock of spiny dogfish is divided up amongst the esat coast states that make up the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). The amendments have nothing really to do with conservation, and the fact that they concern dogfish is virtually irrelevant too: these amendments could concern basically any species with a season north-south migration. This is just who gets to fish for dogfish (on a state level) and how much they get to take.
First, a little history about the ASMFC and spiny dogfish management. When spiny dogfish first began as a managed fishery, the annual quote was set for the entire east coast, covering their entire range from Maine to North Carolina. What this lead to was the quota being hit before spiny dogfish even entered North Carolina waters in the winter, essentially cutting North Carolina out of the fishery. Commission members from North Carolina successfully argued for a separate section of the quota for the state so that NC fishermen could have a fair crack at the fishery. As a result, North Carolina currently has a fixed 16% of the spiny dogfish quota all to itself, and all the other states in the fishery are allocated based on landings.
Now other states want in on the action, notably Delaware and Connecticut, who have been largely absent from the spiny dogfish fishery (it was brought up at the meeting that the spiny dogfish fleet in Delaware consists of two vessels). The public comment meeting discussed different options for how to reallocate the state quotas, and some of the options severely reduce North Carolina’s share of the fishery. No matter which option is taken, there will be winners and losers, and the arguments brought up some interesting interstate rivalries. It seems Virginia and North Carolina have a history of conflicting over migratory stocks, mainly due to Virginia’s ability to fish out the quota just before those species cross into North Carolina waters. Since spiny dogfish are still managed under fairly low quotas as NOAA/NMFS determines the extent of their recovery, debates over allocation are a little more pronounced.
Perhaps the most interesting amendment is the provision to allow states to trade bits of their quota amongst each other. Essentially, if one state isn’t able to or doesn’t want to fish its entire slice of the dogfish quota, it can sell off some of that quota to another state. This is where having a share of the quota becomes valuable to a state like Delaware, which doesn’t really have a tooled-up dogfish fishery and probably won’t be a significant player in the game for a few years. Until it builds up its own fleet, Delaware can still profit from its bit of quota by trading it off to other states.
Since each state has its own allocated share, the state’s fishermen can wait until good days to go fishing, comfortable in the knowledge that no one else is gobbling up their quota… hey, wait a second… That’s right, the amendments to the spiny dogfish FMP basically create a coast-wide catch share program. These programs have been implemented in other fisheries and tend to be quite controversial, with managers and conservationists arguing that they reduce overfishing while some fishermen maintain that they allow huge shares of the fishery to be monopolized. However, by putting such a program under the control of states rather than semi-private sectors, this plan may theoretically avoid some of the potential pitfalls of catch shares. Or it may cause fishermen from different states to start shooting each other out on the water. I suppose we’ll find out.
The Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery will be an interesting experiment.
UPDATE: Sure enough, minutes after I finished typing this up, one of the options was approved by the ASMFC. Looks like North Carolina loses 2% of its quota, the state quotas are transferable, and the policy will be reevaluated every three years. How’s that for covering current events?