Blog Post

Competing Goals in Fishery Management: A Case Study in Alaska

Mar 25, 2015 | Kailin Kroetz

Over the past several decades, fishery management has undergone significant change as nations around the world have implemented catch share programs. Among such programs, individual transferable quotas (ITQs)—a type of catch share that provides a market-based approach—often are designed with multiple objectives in mind. Goals can include ensuring that a fishery’s overall catch is sustainable and, at the same time, providing steady jobs and promoting the well-being of fishing communities. In fact, recent policies in the United States, including a mandate under the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, specifically require that the design and evaluation of such policies take into account the impact of management changes on fishing jobs and communities. But how do those requirements affect a program’s economic efficiency goals?

In a new RFF discussion paper, with RFF University Fellow Jim Sanchirico of the University of California, Davis, and Dan Lew of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center and UC Davis, we begin to answer this question using a unique data set from Alaska’s federal halibut and sablefish ITQ program. The program was implemented in 1995, limiting access to each of the fisheries to reduce overcapacity and address problems related to conservation and management, which are not uncommon in open access fisheries. At the same time, restrictions on quota trading were imposed to address concerns about the potential impacts of the program on the social and cultural characteristics of fishing communities in Alaska.

Our study evaluates the economic efficiency losses that can be attributed to quota trading restrictions under the program. Employing data on the prices participants received when selling their restricted and unrestricted quota to other participants, we developed one of the few empirical measurements of the costs of meeting program goals. Our results suggest that the restrictions decrease the program’s efficiency by significantly reducing quota prices. More specifically, the quota subject to the restrictions that aim to keep smaller-scale fishermen in business trades for a lower value than unrestricted quota. We estimate that the program’s restrictions reduce the value of the quota in the halibut and sablefish fisheries by 25 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

In a related forthcoming paper, we’re working to quantify some of the gains to communities resulting from the inclusion of the restrictions in the program design.