SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton - Sept. 22, 2009 - Yesterday we wrote
about a fiasco in New England where a 1% set aside to pay for scallop
observer coverage has been exhausted months before the end of the
season, forcing vessels to pay for observers directly with no
Scallopers are angry that the NMFS Northeast Regional office failed to manage the program properly.
Almost on cue, NMFS published a notice in the federal register that
program fees (cost recovery) for the Alaska crab management program
would be assessed at 0% this year.
The agency can set
a fee level, which covers all management and enforcement costs, of up
to 3% of the landed value of crab, paid equally by harvesters and
In 2008, the levy was set at 3%. In 2009
it was set at 1.05%. However, due to increases in value and decreased
costs for staff and management, for this coming year (2010) NMFS set
the fee to zero. There was enough money left from the previous year to
One of the differences between the
scallop fishery and the crab fishery is that the scallop fishery is not
allocated by shares, and as a result, it is more difficult to reach
agreement about how to pay the costs of the fishery. The current system
is an arcane compromise which compensates vessels for observers by
allowing them to catch more scallops or extend their days at sea. The
nominal limit for these activities is 1% of the allowable scallop
A far more straightforward and fair way would
be a simple assessment of a management fee on the harvesters and buyers
of scallops. That would meet the demands of the scallop vessel owners
that the payments for the additional observer coverage in a given year
were allocated across all vessels. And if an allocation was too small,
it would be the government's budget that would take the hit, to be
recouped in the following year. That is what would happen in Alaska.
Many opponents of catch shares scoff at the idea that fishery
management is easier and more straightforward under catch share
programs, dismissing this as something of little value. Yet one of the
main irritants in New England is exactly the cumbersome and complex
rules that are necessary to accommodate a patchwork system of controls,
whether that be from enforcement of yellowtail permits by area, or
failure to plan for enough scallop observer coverage.
The idea that somehow rights to fish are a free ride - and that the
ones who harvest and process the fish should not also pay some of the
cost for fishery management, is discredited. This is a renewable
resource extraction industry, and just as companies pay royalties when
they mine or harvest timber on federal land, so should fisheries pay
for the management and enforcement costs for extracting the commercial
value from the public resource.
Catch shares are a way
to reduce the burden of these costs, by simplifying management and
enforcement, and the juxtaposition of the reduction of crab assessments
to zero this year with the howls of complaint from the scallop
industry, provide a very clear illustration of the principle.
More on this topic from the Federal Register.