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Have fleetwide catches stayed within quotas?

Indicators: Ratio of Catch to Quota

Key Findings

Before the catch share system began in 2010, fishermen were not managed to a strict catch limit, so direct comparison is difficult. The average ratio of catch to total allowable catch (TAC) (expressed here as catch-to-quota) across catch share program vessels has ranged from 50 to 67 percent. Quota overages have been infrequent and small, but catch underages have been common. Average catch-to-quota ratios have been lower in the common pool, ranging from 22 to 52 percent; again catch overages were rare, while there were frequent instances of catch underages. Further, the annual average catch-to-quota in the common pool has been lower than for Northeast Multispecies Sector Program vessels in each year of the catch share program (2010–2014). The common pool also had a much larger proportion of stocks for which catch was far less than the TAC (ranging 56 to 88% of stocks).

Interactive Charts


This indicator shows the amount of fish caught compared to the total catch limit.


Baseline: Before Catch Share Program

Prior to implementation of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program, the multispecies fishery was managed with effort limits (Management Framework), complicating any analysis that attempts to track longer term changes in catch-to-quota and compare trends before and after the onset of the sector program. Moreover, the catch levels upon which effort limits were based were targets rather than limits, were not available for all species consistently through baseline years, and spanned multiple sectors of the fishery. For example, target total allowable catches for some stocks accounted for the sum of commercial landings, plus discards, recreational landings and Canadian landings, while for other cases only commercial landings were available for monitoring. As a result of these data discrepancies, comparison before and after the catch share program for this analysis would not be meaningful.

While the catch-to-quota data before and after the catch share program cannot be compared, the catches for those stocks for which data are available during the baseline period were generally well below target TACs. An especially low average catch-to-quota ratio occurred in 2007 due, in part, to the very low ratio for GB haddock, as the catch for that stock was only 4 percent of the target TAC. A major reason for the large target TAC underage was the sharp limits in days-at-sea (DAS) that followed the drop in biomass of several other stocks captured in the groundfish fishery, such as cod (Fishery Stock Status). Despite high target TACs for haddock (biomass levels of haddock during this period were twice the level that produces MSY), low target TACs for other stocks led to reductions in DAS, which prevented the fishery from catching the haddock target TAC. Other reasons for the inability of fishermen to catch the target TACs for healthy stocks may have included cod trip limits, area closures, the seasonal availability of species, weather conditions, low market demand for some species, and changing ocean conditions that disrupted fish distribution patterns. The economic impacts of low catch to quota ratios during the baseline period are discussed in Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings.

During Catch Share Program

In the first five years of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program, the average catch-to-quota ratio for vessels participating in the sector program ranged from 50 to 67 percent, and there were no instances of quota overages (catch exceeding quota by more than 10%). Quota underages (catch less than 50 percent of the quota) by fishery stock were common in all years, but especially in 2014. The lowest catch–to-quota ratios in the time series were observed for the eastern and western Georges Bank haddock stocks, where the catch averaged 15 percent of the quota, and was as low as 4 percent. Catch underages were also common for redfish and pollock. The continued inability of fishermen to harvest the catch limits for most stocks is likely a result of some of the same factors that occurred before the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program, such as low market demand and changes in fish distribution patterns. In addition, landings of the Sector fleet are constrained by so-called “choke” species, i.e., fish stocks for which a sector has a small amount of ACE. For example, the allocations of stocks such as Eastern GB cod, yellowtail flounder, and GOM winter flounder are so small that they impede fishermen’s ability to harvest co-occurring species for which they have substantial allocations. Economic impacts of low catch-to-quota ratios under the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program are discussed in Groundfish Landings.

Average catch-to-quota ratios were lower in the common pool fishery, ranging from 22 to 52 percent for 2010 – 2014. Notably, the average annual catch–to-quota was greatest (52 percent) in the first year of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program, and dropped thereafter where it has fluctuated around 30%. There were two incidences of catch overages: Witch flounder in 2010 and E. Georges Bank cod in 2014. In the latter case, the total sub-ACL was only 2.8 metric tons, so the total exceeded tonnage was not great. More notable was the greater frequency of catch underages, especially compared to the sector program fishery.  The common pool captured less than 1% of their allocated quota (sub-ACL for those stocks) for both Georges Bank and E. Georges Bank haddock in every year since 2012.

The proportion of stocks with catch underages has ranged from 18 to 59 percent for sector program catches and has been above 50 percent for the common pool fishery for all sector program years. As with the sector fishery, catch underages were most pronounced for Georges Bank haddock stocks, but also common for Gulf of Maine haddock, Georges Bank yellowtail flounder, plaice, Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine winter flounder, and redfish.

Data Gaps and Limitations

Prior to implementation of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program and Annual Catch Limits in 2010, catch-to-quota (specifically TAC in New England, as the annual recommended catch for a stock) information are not available in a format that will allow for informative or appropriate comparisons. From 1994 through 2009, the groundfish fishery was managed with limits on fishing effort, primarily by regulating the number of days that fishing vessels could operate (“days at sea”). These, in turn, were based on target Total Allowable Catch (tTAC) levels that corresponded to target fishing mortality rates. Comparing actual catches (landings + discards) to tTAC is difficult for at least three reasons. First, tTAC correspond to fishing years, which span May 1 to April 30, while catch estimates are based on calendar years (January 1 to December 31). Second, tTAC estimates for some stocks include discards, while those for other stocks do not. Because discard mortality can be substantial for some stocks (e.g., for ocean pout, discards are >95% of the catch during project baseline years), comparison of ratios across stocks is not straightforward. Finally, non-commercial catch (which is included in the tTAC estimates for some stocks) can be substantial for several stocks, but the focus of this study is the commercial fishery. For some stocks, such as pollock, recreational catch can comprise more than 15% of total catches in some years.

Further, the comparison of catch-to-quota between sector and common pool is based on distinct collections of fishing vessels. These collections change annually and could not be isolated for years prior to the catch share program. This lack of baseline data precludes a formal comparison that would identify whether there has been a unique change in catch-to-quota ratios among the sector program and common pool participating vessels.

There are some differences in sub-ACL (or TAC) stock allocations between the sector program and common pool components of the fishery. There have been no TAC allocated in any year for N. and S. windowpane flounder, ocean pout, halibut, and wolfish. Further, allocations of Southern New England winter flounder began in FY2013. In comparison, the common pool had allocated TAC for all species from 2011 onwards (but had no allocated TAC for the same set of stocks in 2010). For these reasons, we based our analysis only on stock/year combinations for which both sector and common pool components of the multispecies fishery had allocated quota.

Information Sources

For 2010-2013, data were taken from final fishing year catch results, available at: http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/aps/monitoring/nemultispecies.html

For 2014, data taken from sector and common pool commercial annual catch limits documents, available at: http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/aps/monitoring/nemultispecies.html

National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Monitoring Reports for baseline and catch share program years. Available online: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/MultiMonReports.htm

Data compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on quota and landings: https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/aps/monitoring/nemultispecies.html 

New England Fishery Management Council Staff provided invaluable advice and guidance in preparing these summaries. In particular, we thank Tom Nies, NEFMC Executive Director.

Updated: October 2015

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