OPINION

There's More Than One Way to… Manage a Fishery! 

by Barry Darby & Helen Forsey

Imagine a fishery of the future where the harvest was ecologically sustainable, economic returns were optimized, high quality food was produced, harvesters were trained professionals, and coastal communities enjoyed food sovereignty and economic stability.

©Barry Darby

Imagine a fishery of the future where the harvest was ecologically sustainable, economic returns were optimized, high quality food was produced, harvesters were trained professionals, and coastal communities enjoyed food sovereignty and economic stability.


Such is the promise of our paper, Changing Course: A New Direction for Canadian Fisheries (see www.barrydarby.com/the-proposal/.) In it we propose a paradigm shift in our approach to fisheries governance: from attempts to control outputs through quotas, to managing mainly by controlling input, i.e. fishing effort. Effort-Based Management (EBM), we explain, would benefit not only the fishery but the ocean itself.


Is that an impossible dream? No indeed. We already have a successful model of EBM in practice. Ever since 1927, our lobster fishery has been managed without quota. Instead of limiting the catch, it relies on specifying who can fish, the type and amount of gear to be used, the fishing zones, and the open seasons. The Newfoundland lobster harvest has doubled in the past five years because the system automatically enables a higher sustainable catch as the ecosystem produces more animals.


What is the difference between these two contrasting governance models? Fishery managers, such as those in Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) have a variety of tools with which to manage ocean harvesting. The five main tools available to them are:


1. Who can fish? (professional harvesters)
2. What fishing gear and methods can be used?
3. When can they fish? (seasons)
4. Where can they fish? (zones)
5. How much can be harvested? (allowable catches and quotas)


The first four are the tools of Effort-Based Management, which controls inputs – the various elements of fishing effort. The fifth one is the foundation of Quota-Based Management, controlling output – the amount of fish caught. That is the system currently imposed by DFO on all fisheries except lobster. Managing by effort would shift the harvest planning focus to the four input control questions. The fifth tool – how much – would play a very minor role if any, perhaps occasionally taking the form of day, week or trip limits, never total allowable yearly catches.


Changing Course challenges some long-held beliefs in ocean governance. A major one is that stock sustainability demands "keeping removals as low as possible." This fails to recognize the complexity of ocean ecology. Instead, fishery management should aim to maximize net economic returns while safeguarding the sustainability of the stocks and ecosystem. Shifting to EBM would move us towards that goal. 


EBM (sometimes referred to as "parametric management") would also demonstrate the validity of the thinking of various scholars as well as harvesters, who have posited that:

 

  • selective "slow fishing" methods generate greater economic and ecological benefits than big rapid catches;

  • targeting middle-sized fish produces higher catches, better quality, greater profit and greater sustainability than non-selective methods or high-grading;

  • a smaller stock biomass with a high proportion of large, fecund fish provides greater sustainability than a larger biomass with proportionally fewer large fish;

  • small boat fisheries are more economically and socially efficient than large industrial vessels;

  • controlling effort (including gear, seasons and zones) enables responsiveness to the actual state of the stock and the ecosystem at a given time.


As Changing Course makes clear, the multiple benefits of shifting to effort-based management will accrue to the fish and the marine ecosystem, the harvesters and coastal populations, and the economy and society more generally. But the change needed is massive, and because DFO holds the power to manage our fishery, it has to happen there as well as at the grass roots. DFO's mandate must be made to include the goal of maximizing the net economic returns to harvesters and communities, and must implement the transition from the current quota-based system to one based on effort. 

The old paradigm of counting fish and setting quotas will be hard to dislodge. It will require input from a wide range of people with expertise and practical experience – scientists, academics from other disciplines, harvesters, fishery workers, and the people of our coastal communities and the general public – to move us towards a new paradigm, one aligned with the vision of the Blue Economy and the ideal of "Getting It Right". 

(...) we propose a paradigm shift in our approach to fisheries governance: from attempts to control outputs through quotas, to managing mainly by controlling input, i.e. fishing effort. Effort-Based Management (EBM), we explain, would benefit not only the fishery but the ocean itself. 

As Changing Course makes clear, the multiple benefits of shifting to effort-based management will accrue to the fish and the marine ecosystem, the harvesters and coastal populations, and the economy and society more generally.

Written by Barry Darby & Helen Forsey

Barry Darby grew up in a fishing family on Great Burin Island and in Collins Cove, Burin, on the south coast of Newfoundland. A sixth-generation fisherman, he fished commercially for eight seasons while obtaining a B.Sc and a BA (Ed) from Memorial University. Through the 1970s and ’80s he taught math and physics at the College of the North Atlantic, and then became Fisheries Adjustment Coordinator at the St. John’s Campus when that program was established in response to the collapse of the cod fishery. He currently lives in St. John's, NL, and for the past three years, has been a member of the board of the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador, and is an active volunteer at The Rooms. 

Helen Forsey has roots both in Newfoundland and on the mainland. She studied agriculture and then worked in Canada and overseas with CUSO, Oxfam and the National Farmers’ Union. A full-time writer and editor since 1991, she divides her time between St. John’s, a co-op in rural Eastern Ontario, and her Newfoundland Railway caboose at Cape St. Francis.

© 2019 by OFI Governance