Home arrow News arrow Management & Regulation arrow Some NMFS fees in Alaska drop to zero this year as result of surplus, contrast to New England
Some NMFS fees in Alaska drop to zero this year as result of surplus, contrast to New England
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 reimbursement.
 

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 processors.

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 cover costs.

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 harvest.

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.

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