How Is NOAA Making Commercial Fishing Safer?

A new system being implemented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) may help eliminate many of the potential dangers faced by commercial fishermen. The mortality rate for maritime workers is almost 30 times higher than the national average. The reason for that scary number is believed to be related to the risky behaviors that used to be encouraged by the way the fishing industry was structured. However, the new “catch share” system is making commercial fishing safer by allowing fishermen more choices and responsibilities.

One problem faced by commercial fishermen is overfishing. With so many companies and individual fishermen trawling the seas, there is a danger that too many fish will be caught, which will lead to smaller and smaller catches each year. To combat this issue, the NOAA has instituted fishing quotas. Once a certain number of a particular kind of fish has been caught in a year, it is illegal for fishermen to bring in more. However, in the past this has caused increased competition, as all fishermen raced to bring in as many fish as fast as possible to increase profits. Competition like this sometimes led to dangerous behavior that can result in serious maritime injuries, like fishing in storms and bad weather, and taking unnecessary risks to make a catch.

Catch Shares Significantly Decrease Maritime Accidents

In order to eliminate this fierce competitiveness, the NOAA has instituted catch share policies for 16 different varieties of fish. A catch share policy works like the stock market. The annual quota of a given kind of fish is divided up into a number of equal shares, which are then given to fishing companies and individual fishermen. These shares guarantee fishing boats a certain amount of fish each season. Once a crew has caught their allotted share of fish for the year, they cannot bring in any more.

For example, the NOAA might set the quota for red snapper at 10 million pounds, which means that only 10 million pounds of that particular kind of fish can be caught this year. Each catch share might then be worth 1,000 pounds. If a fisherman is given (or buys) 50 shares, his crew is allowed to catch 50,000 pounds of red snapper this season, regardless of how much other boats bring in. That means no one is competing with them for those fish. They can go out to fish whenever they choose, avoiding bad weather and dangerous conditions, because they are guaranteed 50 shares.

Catch shares take the pressure off of fishermen, who no longer have to worry about the annual quota being met by other crews. Instead of racing to catch the most fish in the shortest time possible, fishermen now have a set goal for the season, allowing them much more flexibility. Catch shares are good for fish populations, too, which are kept at sustainable levels. Although some fear the catch share system might favor big fishing companies, who have the resources to buy up many shares, commercial fishing deaths have decreased by nearly 80 percent since the system was put in place.