Did fleetwide catches stay within quotas?

Indicator: Ratio of Catch to Quota

Short Answer: Yes. On average, catches were below quota in the six years preceding the catch share program and decreased further under catch shares.

Key Findings

  • Looking across all groundfish stocks, fishermen landed an average of 47 percent of quota during the six years leading up to the catch share program (2005–2010). In the first six years of the program (2011–2016), they landed only 29 percent of quota.
  • The low percentage of quota landed across all stocks under catch shares seems to have resulted from fishermen being constrained in catching some stocks with relatively high quotas because of the risks of inadvertently catching too much of other stocks that had very low quotas.
  • Under catch shares, fishermen were able to land more than 75 percent of quota for the three most valuable species in the fishery (sablefish, petrale sole, and Pacific whiting).
  • Ecologically, the catch share program has been successful in terms of maintaining catches below catch limits. However, the low percentages of quota that fishermen were able to catch led to mixed economic and social effects of the catch share program.

Interactive Chart Story


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

In Their Own Words

Although some of the quantitative data analyzed for this indicator exhibited clear trends, it was challenging to discuss the relationships between observed data trends and implementation of the respective catch share programs, especially in the Northeast. The Measuring the Effects of Catch Shares project team believed that those stakeholders most involved in the fishery, either as active participants or as representatives of an involved coalition of participants (e.g., sector managers in the Northeast), would be able to provide insight and help to explain trends seen in the existing quantitative data. The following quotes were selected to illustrate some of those perspectives and highlight trends such as effects on small vessels, the effect of avoiding “choke stocks,” fleet diversification, and product quality. The individual quotes do not represent findings or conclusions for this indicator, nor do they represent a consensus across any category of participants.

“Gear switching really hasn’t worked the way they thought. What it’s done is let the fixed gear people come and buy trawl quota and put it into the fixed gear side. And that is hamstringing the Dover you’re going to get out of the water. Where you had 100% of the amount of black cod to prosecute your old fisheries, now you don’t have that, and it’s going to leave Dover, it’s going to leave other fisheries in the water. So I don’t think that that was right. I don’t think that they foresaw that.”
~ Fishermen

“Right now two months is all I groundfish. I’ll go get my petrale, my black cod, and what little Dover I get with those two species. And when I catch the petrale and black cod, I’m done. I’ve got 1.2 million lbs. of Dover sole, but I can’t catch that Dover because I’ve caught all my black cod.”
~ Fishermen

“If the abundance of a species isn’t recognized by the stock assessment, and you start running into a lot of it, then you got a problem.”
~ Fishermen

“This thing, it just inhibits and inhibits and inhibits. There’s no new opportunity developing here at all. They’ve taken black cod and allowed to be caught by pot boats. Sounds real good on the surface until you figure that black cod’s your biggest choke species for Dover. And then you double the Dover ACL. I mean honestly…”
~ Processor

“Lingcod has been declared rebuilt, but you can’t really target ling cod because ling cod and yellow-eye like the same kind of grounds. Canary rockfish is another very constraining species, extremely so. If a boat has 2,000 or 3,000 pounds of canaries in his quota, that’s a pretty decent quota, and he’s got to leave fish in the ocean because he can’t target them for fear of going over. Canary has become a very big bargaining chip late in the season. We’ve got increased numbers on our rockfish and ling cod, but you’ve got to be very, very careful. You can put yourself out of business from one day to the next if you’re not careful.”
~ Fishermen

“The way I look at it, we’ve had great shrimp years. Environmentally, we’ve had just terrific conditions for the last four or five years. And that’s not going to stay. It never does. And when it goes downturn now, it used to be you can go out there and work harder and do whatever, and you can’t do that now. You have so many constraints, and you got the costs so high. The fixed costs are so high that you can’t go out there and scrape anymore. And you can’t afford to catch too many canaries, yellow eye, halibut, all that stuff. Plus you’re paying a $500 day. Plus you’re paying the lease rates. And that’s why I think it’s more volatile. Pretty soon you’re going to have a crappy shrimp year, whether it’s next year or year after. And there’s going to be a bunch of guys, oh well, I better try to go dragging, you know, or spend more time dragging. So then everybody is going to be competing for leasing fish, which is great for the guys leasing it, ’cause their lease price will go up. But for those of us fishing, it just chips away at the profit.”
~ Fishermen


Baseline: Before Catch Share Program

The catch-to-quota ratio in the non-whiting groundfish fishery declined by more than a quarter from 2004 to 2010, averaging 40 percent and ranging as high as 62 percent in 2005 and 54 percent in 2006. Catches were routinely well below fleetwide quotas. For all baseline years, more than 59 percent  of all stocks had catches less than 50 percent of quota. Fishermen most often caught close to the full quotas for commercially valuable species such as Dover sole, Pacific whiting, sablefish, shortspine thornyhead, and petrale sole, as well as for long-lived and slow-growing stocks such as bocaccio, canary rockfish, and cowcod that were later declared overfished, requiring rebuilding action.

During Catch Share Program

In the first six years of the catch share program, fishermen routinely caught below fleetwide quotas at a higher proportion compared with baseline years. Catch-to-quota ratios for groundfish stocks and rebuilding stocks averaged 29 percent (2011–2016), a substantial decline from the average of 47 percent prior to catch share implementation (2004–2010).

In the Pacific whiting fleet, a large fishery with low bycatch of the other groundfish species, catch-to-quota ratios declined from 99 percent in 2011 to 61 percent in 2016, which coincided with a large increase in biomass and quota, suggesting that market forces may have played a role in the decline.

Average catch-to-quota ratios for rebuilding species increased from 20 percent in 2011 to 29 percent in 2016, with a peak of 40 percent in 2015. As of 2016, rebuilding species included canary rockfish, cowcod, darkblotched rockfish, Pacific ocean perch, and yelloweye rockfish.  

The proportion of stocks with catch below half of the quota remained above 80 percent since implementation of the catch share program. For only three stocks (petrale sole, Pacific whiting, and northern sablefish) were catches consistently more than half of the quota after program implementation. The higher catch-to-quota ratios for those three stocks were due in part to the flexibility awarded to fishermen and the ability to target certain species by changing fishing gears and fishing patterns. Petrale sole form spawning aggregations in winter, making them easier for fishermen to target while avoiding overfished species. Pacific whiting are caught with midwater trawls, as opposed to the bottom trawls used to harvest most non-whiting groundfish. A large proportion of sablefish were caught with fixed gear, which are more selective than other types of gear. As a result, fishermen are able to avoid catching rebuilding species and selectively target those three profitable species.

From 2014 to 2016, no stocks had catches above the fleet-wide quota limits.

Information Sources

All catch and TAC (either as Annual Catch Limit, Optimum Yield, or Allowable Biological Catch) data were obtained from reports listed on the NWFSC observer program website:

Updated: May 2018

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