By SUSAN WEST
In 1998, Virginia created an individual fishing quota (IFQ) system for its striped bass, or rockfish, commercial fishery.
The harvest quota was divided into shares that were allocated to
fishermen by the state in proportion to their landings in previous
years. Shares can be bought, leased or sold, shifting allocation
decisions from government control to the marketplace over time.
Virginia has one IFQ system for its ocean fishery and another for the
fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. The total quota for the ocean
fishery is 185,000 pounds.
John Bull, spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission
(VMRC), said the number of fishermen participating in the ocean fishery
has remained stable at 37 individuals.
VMRC tracks quota transfers, in part because no individual can own more
than 11 percent of the total quota for the ocean fishery, but Bull said
the agency does not track the prices of quota shares.
He also said the agency does not know whether fishermen have received higher prices for their fish under the IFQ system.
North Carolina fisheries officials and many commercial fishermen agree
that management of ocean fishery in this state is ripe for change.
The fishery has been saddled with catch limits as low as 10 fish per
day, seasons that last only two or three days, and
“derby-style” fishing in rough weather.
In some years, commercial catches have exceeded the 480,480 pound quota, resulting in closures of the fishery the next winter.
Whether an IFQ, or limited access privilege program, is the way to go remains open to debate.
After listening to a description of the rockfish program in Virginia
and other limited access programs at a meeting of the state fisheries
commission’s Northeast Regional Advisory Committee last month,
committee co-chairman Fred Waterfield expressed strong reservations
about closing access to licensed commercial fishermen.
“And, how about the boy that hasn’t started fishing
yet? There needs to be a way for him to get into this fishery
without the additional expense of having to buy or lease quota
shares,” the Knotts Island fisherman said.
But, commercial fisherman Kelly Schoolcraft said he doesn’t see a way around limiting access.
“I don’t like the idea of putting people out but this
seems like the only way to address the quota overages and other
problems that occur in this fishery,” he said.
The number of fishermen participating in the fishery varies from year
to year. In 2005, 729 fishermen had striped bass landings, but
participation fell to 198 the following year because of gear-sector
Scott Crosson, socioeconomics program manager at the NC Division of
Marine Fisheries (DMF) and a member of an internal DMF subcommittee
working on management options for the fishery, said the initial
allocation of quota shares is always the most controversial aspect of
designing a limited access program.
“We may recommend a minimum landing of striped bass requirement,
but that’s still very much up in the air,” he said.
DMF has asked for an opinion from the state Attorney General’s
office on whether the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC)
can implement a limited access program for the fishery without
By law, MFC can limit participation only in fisheries that fall under a
federal management plan that assigns a harvest quota to the
state. Federal fisheries councils that work under the National
Marine Fisheries Service have assigned North Carolina quotas for summer
flounder, black sea bass, and bluefish.
But the striped bass quota comes from the Atlantic States Marine
Fisheries Commission, a deliberative body of coastal states that
coordinates management of nearshore resources, a situation that makes
the authority of the MFC less clear-cut.
In April, the MFC, at the request of DMF, delayed implementation of a
gear permit requirement for the fishery that had been scheduled to go
into effect this fall.
“DMF was getting calls from people in places like New Hanover and
Brunswick counties about the gear permit, and we realized participation
in the fishery could expand under the permit,” explained Sara
Winslow, DMF northern district supervisor.
Crosson said DMF should have a recommendation to present to the MFC at its September meeting in Pine Knoll Shores.