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January 1, 2013

NOAA report spotlights 'underfishing'

In her resignation letter Dec. 12, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco listed among her accomplishments “returning fishing to profitability.”

But the Northeast groundfishery, declared a disaster in September, was operated at only 41 percent of authorized potential in 2011, a new NOAA Science Center study reports.

The study, titled “2011 Final Report on the Performance on the Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery (May 2011-April 2012),” is a technical and wide-ranging study that evaluates the “economic and social performance” of the functioning of the catch share trading system in place since May 2010 members of the 20 sectors or fishing cooperatives.

The report also covered boats that were excluded due to a lack of catch history on their permits, and remained in the common pool, operating independently under the previous regimen based on effort controls measured primarily by limiting the number of allowed days at sea.

These fishermen landed only 1 percent of groundfish in a system that was aimed at discouraging participation in the common pool, and were reported to have shifted their attention to stocks and species outside the groundfish complex.

The extreme degree to which the beneficial participants in the catch share commodity market system failed to land the allowable totals was reported in the middle of a paragraph on transactional costs.

”Because only 41 percent of the total allocated ACE (annual catch entitlements)/PSC (potential sector contribution) in 2011 was caught and less than 80 percent of these allocations were caught for 9 of the 16 stocks ... it might seem that the potential for efficiency gains for improving lease markets is large,” the social scientist at the NOAA Science Center wrote.

The comment referred readers to a table showing that, in the 2011 fishing cycle ending April 20, 2012, the industry was allowed to catch 172,111,201 pounds of mix groundfish — according to both the ACE and PSC, effectively the total allowable catch. But fishermen only landed 70,059,346 pounds — or 40.7 percent of the allowed limit.

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