January 28, 2008

A preview of how limited access might affect three fisheries


Information on how limited access privilege programs might work in the state was on the agenda when the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) met in Carolina Beach earlier this month.

Limited access privilege programs (LAPPs) are not used to manage North Carolina fisheries now, but commissioners are exploring whether the programs should be added to the harvest limits, trip limits, seasons, size limits, and gear restrictions currently in the management toolbox.

In LAPPs, the total annual harvest quota for a fishery is divided into shares that are assigned to qualifying fishermen.  Fishermen can either fish the shares, or sell or trade them to other fishermen. 

How many shares a fisherman receives is usually determined by past catches – fishermen who landed more fish are allocated more shares – but state fisheries officials have said other criteria could be used.      

“The standards for deciding how the initial quota shares are made in a fishery is very sensitive,” said Scott Crosson, socioeconomics program manager with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), who was slated to present information on LAPPs at the meeting.

Using license and landings data, Crosson ran projections on how participation in the king mackerel, striped bass, and southern flounder fisheries might change under limited access programs.

In 2006, the king mackerel fishery in the state was valued at $2.1 million, and the ex-vessel price, or the price paid to fishermen, averaged $1.76 per pound.

DMF data shows that 911 individuals participated in the fishery between 2002 and 2006.

Most mackerel are caught in offshore federal waters, and fishermen harvesting the fish in commercial quantities must have a permit from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), one of the eight regional councils that develop management plans for fisheries in federal waters.

“Only 164 of the 911 participants in the king mackerel fishery had permits,” Crosson explained.

Fishermen without permits can land no more than three mackerel per day, the recreational bag limit.   If they have a North Carolina commercial fishing license, however, they can sell their fish to a seafood dealer, and the fish are counted against the annual commercial fishing quota set by the South Atlantic council.

“Almost every county in the state has fishermen with commercial king mackerel landings.  It’s probably likely that most fishermen from many of those inland counties are paying fuel costs and funding their hobby with that income, not trying to make a living,” Crosson said.

With the SAFMC warning that king mackerel harvest reductions could be on the horizon, some managers and commercial fishermen would like to see a prohibition on the sale of fish caught by recreational fishermen.

“The flip side of that is that some (fish) dealers in the southern coastal area depend on the sale of fish caught by non-permitted fishermen,” Crosson said.

DMF data shows that only 25 of the 157 New Hanover County fishermen and 18 of the 165 Carteret County fishermen who sold mackerel had federal permits.  

The largest number of fishermen with mackerel permits live in Dare County.

Crosson wasn’t certain that the MFC could restrict participation to permitted fishermen without legislative approval.

Participation would also be reduced if the SAFMC developed a LAPP for the fishery, or if the SAFMC authorized a state-by-state allocation of the South Atlantic commercial quota and NC then developed a LAPP.   

Crosson considered the impact of a limited access privilege program for the ocean striped bass fishery.

The fishery operates under a 480,480 pound commercial quota authorized by the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission.  The overall quota is then divided among the three types of gear used in the fishery – beach seines, gill nets, and trawls.

From 2002 through 2006, 1,077 individuals participated in the fishery.  Individual landings were low because of low daily catch limits and seasons that in some cases lasted just two or three days.

“A huge number of fishermen would get quota shares initially,” Crosson said.

A LAPP could eliminate the derby-style fishing that has characterized the fishery and prevent overages by gear sectors, he explained.

Crosson said that a LAPP for the $4.8 million southern flounder might not be practical because there is no overall harvest quota.

“Bycatch could also become a big problem, like in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery,” said Crosson.

A red snapper LAPP was implemented in the Gulf last year. One consequence has been that grouper fishermen who don’t have red snapper quota shares must throw back any snapper they catch while fishing for grouper.

“In some cases, it’s hard to piecemeal manage with a LAPP for just one species,” said Crosson.

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