The captain and crew of the Moriah Lee pose with sablefish caught off the coast of Half Moon Bay, Calif. A new study found that fishermen in the West Coast sablefishery were much less likely to engage in risky behavior — like sailing out in stormy weather — after catch share quotas were implemented. (Ethan Righter)
A program used in many U.S. fisheries to protect the marine environment and maintain healthy fish populations may have an immensely important added benefit: preserving the lives of American fishermen.
Clare Leschin-Hoar writes in NPR's food blog, the Salt:
That's according to a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers found that catch share programs (where fishermen are allotted a set quota of the catch) reduce some of the notoriously risky behavior fishermen are known for, such as fishing in stormy weather, delaying vessel maintenance, or heading out to sea in a boat laden with too much heavy fishing gear.
Traditional fishery-management programs open and close fishing seasons on specific days. By contrast, catch shares work on a quota system, under which fishermen have a longer window to harvest their predetermined share. That gives fishermen the luxury (and perhaps the life-saving option) of time.
The findings don't surprise Scott Campbell Sr., who spent most of his 35-year career fishing the Bering Sea for king crab the way it used to be done: derby-style. Crab season would open, and regardless of weather, Campbell and his crew would be on the water, hoping to nab enough crab during the season's brief window to keep his business afloat.
"If you can picture a four-day season for crab — and that's the only four days you're going to get — and a 50-knot storm blows in for 24 to 48 hours of that four days, well, a lot of boats didn't stop fishing, because that was their only revenue stream for the whole year," says Campbell. "It forced us to take unnecessary risks for financial survival." (His son, Scott Campbell Jr., is a former star of Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch, about the hazards of the fishing industry.)
That kind of risk-taking has historically made fishing one of the nation's most dangerous professions, with a fatality rate more than 30 times the U.S. average, according to the new report.
Today there are approximately two dozen state and federal catch share programs in the U.S. Most launched in the last decade. However, derby-style fishing still exists in many U.S. regions, including the Pacific and Atlantic swordfish fisheries, the Northeast's monkfish and herring fisheries, and the West Coast dungeness crab fishery.