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Have fleetwide catches stayed within quotas?

Indicators: Ratio of Catch to Quota

Key Findings

  • The groundfishs fishery has been underutilized before and after catch shares
  • Quota balancing is better in the sector compared to the common pool.
  • Sector program had no quota overages, while the common pool had 3 since 2010.

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 groundfish 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, comparisons before and after the catch share program are not very meaningful for this indicator.

Fishermen under days-at-sea management were not managed to strict catch limits, and they did not have strong incentives to avoid overfished species. However, fishermen in the groundfish s fishery had difficulty catching large amounts of available fish due to few days-at-sea or low quotas for overfished species like Atlantic cod.

While the catch-to-quota data before and after the catch share program cannot be compared, comparison of catch targets to actual catches is useful to provide context for the catch share period. Generally, abundant species like haddock were captured well below the catch targets, while high value species such as cod and SNE yellowtail flounder were captured near, or sometimes over the catch targets. For instance, in 2009 only 7 percent of the GB haddock catch target was caught, while cod catches were over 75 percent of catch target.

One reason for low catches relative to targets is that the management response to depleted species was to reduce the number of allowable days-at-sea, which prevented the fishery from catching abundant and healthy stocks.

Additionally, fishermen were limited by many other factors. Cod trip limits, area closures, the seasonal availability of species, weather conditions, low market demand for some species, and changing ocean conditions limited fishermen’ abilities to catch target species. 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

The development of the Sector Program offered an option for fishermen to opt out of sectors and fish a “common pool” quota. The common pool accounted for less than 2 percent of the catch in the groundfish fishery. Fishermen in the Sector Program caught higher amounts of fleetwide quotas than fishermen in the common pool fishery. Since 2010, when the fishery first operated under annual catch limits and the Sector Program, quota overages have been infrequent and small. On average annual catch-to-quota ratios over all stocks have ranged from 51 to 67 percent for sector vessels and 22 to 52 percent in the common pool.

For the 16 stocks that had allowable catch for every year of the program, 10 stocks were fished at catches equal to or exceeding 50 percent of the quota, on average, in the sector program, compared to 3 stocks in the common pool. The higher degree of catch-to-quota balancing may be due to the greater coordination among vessels in sectors. For example, the members of some sectors coordinate fishing effort to reduce catches of constraining species ( Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings). For the sector program, catch-to-quota ratios across stocks have fluctuated from roughly 50 to 70 percent. Still, some stocks were fished well below quota levels, most notably the GB haddock and yellowtail flounder stocks. The continued inability to achieve allowable quotas for valuable abundant species is in part a reflection of highly constraining stocks with very low allocations, such as cod and yellowtail flounder (LINK TO Annual Catch Limits & Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings). Large catch overages did not occur for any stock in any of the catch share program years.


The common pool fishery has struggled even greater to catch quotas and were less successful at avoiding large catch overages. The average annual ratios were highest at 53 percent in the initial year, but declined to around 20-30 percent thereafter. Notably, in 2016 the low eastern and western Georges Bank cod quota allocated to the common pool, (14 metric tons) led nearly zero catch of haddock, yellowtail flounder, and winter flounder in those regions. Overages greater than 10 percent were infrequent in the common pool and absent in the sector program. The common pool had three overages: witch flounder in 2010, Eastern Georges Bank cod in 2014, and Western Georges Bank cod in 2016.

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

Data were taken from final fishing year catch results, 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.

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

Updated: April 2018

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