RALEIGH | A Brunswick County senator’s proposed resolution opposing catch-share fisheries management is drawing praise from the fishing community.
In fisheries managed by catch shares, certain fishermen or companies are assigned individual limits for a given species during a season, a strategy the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says allows fishermen to make decisions based on market conditions and avoid hazardous weather conditions.
Many North Carolina fishermen have expressed great concern about catch shares reaching their waters and are supporting Senate Bill 370. Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, introduced the bill, which would communicate to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, NOAA Fisheries and the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission that the Senate opposes catch share management off the N.C. coast.
Rabon did not respond to phone calls and a text message seeking comment on his resolution, which says catch shares give private ownership of federal fisheries to individuals, cause consolidation of fishing fleets and lead to lost jobs. A virtually identical resolution was adopted March 7 by the South Carolina House.
Rabon’s bill passed its first reading Monday and was referred to the Senate’s rules committee, which the Brunswick County politician chairs.
‘It is a disaster’
His stance has support among North Carolina’s fishing community, including that of Ernie Foster, whose Hatteras-based charter fleet operates off the Outer Banks.
“If you want to get rid of small-time, independent fisherman and make all commercial fishing the ownership of large corporate interests, then you need to go with catch shares,” Foster said. “If you believe in the value of self-efficient small-time fishermen, catch shares are anathema to that concept.”
Foster visited Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, several years ago as part of an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) trip to explain catch-share management. He walked away from the trip unconvinced young fishermen looking to break into the industry would be able to do so in a catch-share climate, particularly one where someone was auctioning off their share or asking for profit-sharing in return for its use.
“If you believe in an opportunity for a young man or a young woman to make their way in life in the fishing world,” he said, “it is a disaster. If you’re looking for a way for an old-timer to retire gracefully with the potential for a good income, good idea.”
According to NOAA, there are 15 catch-share programs in the United States, with studies indicating they have resulted in longer fishing seasons and safer working conditions. The NOAA research also notes vessels in the program have seen more money per vessel and higher average price.
The EDF has not supported specific catch share efforts in North Carolina waters or off its coast, but has promoted the idea nationally.
Catch shares provide an alternative to traditional limits, which Matthew Smelser, an EDF spokesman, said can see fishermen pushing to catch as much product as possible before the season closes.
“It sort of eases this race to fish and eased this economic pressure on the fishermen,” Smelser said, “and allows them to be in more control of when they’re fishing.”
Smelser also said catch shares allow fishermen to create more consistent business plans from year-to-year. If the plan is successful in a given fishery and the population multiplies, he noted, fishermen could see their quotas rise as the total limits increases.
In a statement, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries took a measured approach to Rabon’s bill and to catch shares as a whole.
“The Division of Marine Fisheries recognizes the concerns expressed by the legislature in Senate Resolution 370,” the statement said. “The concept of catch shares is highly controversial and they have had a variety of impacts when used in other regions. Any proposal to use catch shares in the South Atlantic should receive much consideration and public input.”
Sammy Corbett, the chairman of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, said the board has not considered any catch share proposals. He also said he believes the management system favors larger boats that can afford to buy smaller operators’ shares.
“It’s just really a way to kind of monopolize it to where one group of people has it all. ... I think everybody has a right to be able to catch fish,” Corbett said.