NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Imperfect Laws Put Fishermen In Storm's Way

July 26, 2000

In the new movie, "The Perfect Storm," fishermen risk their lives in bad weather for the promise of a decent payday. In the Gulf of Mexico, imperfect laws force fishermen to work in extremely dangerous conditions, too.

To prevent overfishing in the Gulf, the government reduced the red snapper season to a very short nine-day opening. As a result, in February snapper fishermen were forced to work in terrible weather during those nine days, and one boat was lost.

  • Since the early 1990s, fishermen have had to work as quickly as the rules allow to maximize their share of the annual quota before the season closes.
  • This year, the red snapper season will last only about 50 days, setting off another dangerous "derby."
  • Once that ends, millions of pounds of red snapper will be inadvertently killed and wasted as fishermen target other reef fish.

A few years ago, the derby in Alaska's halibut fishery became so intense the fishing season was reduced to a few 24-hour openings. Troubled by numerous accidents and fatalities, the unnecessary waste of fish and bankrupt fishermen, fishery managers tried a new system: individual transferable quotas.

  • Each halibut fisherman was allowed to catch a specific amount of fish based on past performance - a fixed percentage of the total allowable catch for the fishery.
  • If a fisherman wanted to catch more, he could purchase allowances from others.

Unfortunately, it is against the law to adopt individual transferable quotas for red snapper and other reef fish in the Gulf.

In 1996, Congress prohibited new fishery management programs through Oct. 1, 2000, while the National Academy of Sciences studied fishery problems. Although a 1998 NAS report recommended lifting the moratorium, some in Congress want to extend it three years.

Source: Peter Emerson (Environmental Defense) and Felix Cox, "Imperfect laws add to danger of perfect storms," Dallas Morning News, July 25, 2000.


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