Did economic and social effects on local communities change?

Indicators: Fishing Vessel and Crew Safety

Key Findings

  • The transition to a catch share program brought with it a number of regulatory changes that could potentially affect fishing vessel safety. The move from bimonthly cumulative trip limits to individual fishing quotas increased the operational flexibility of non-whiting groundfish vessels.
  • The catch share program potentially enhanced fishing vessel safety in the shorebased whiting fishery by eliminating the race for fish, and thereby reducing the incentive for vessels to fish in hazardous conditions. However, no clear pattern in safety-related USCG-reported incidents in the groundfish fishery is seen either before or after implementation of the catch share program.
  • It is difficult to separate catch share program effects from the effects of other factors that alter vessel and crew safety, such as on-going efforts by the Coast Guard to improve safety in the U.S. commercial fishing fleet.

Interactive Chart Story

Metrics

The metrics for this indicator are

  • the number of reported safety incidents on fishing vessels, and
  • the incident rate, which is the number of reported safety incidents per 1,000 days at sea.

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.

“What’s improved the safety actually is the observer program because an observer cannot go out on your vessel if you don’t have a current safety inspection sticker and all your safety equipment’s not up to date, and fishermen are notorious for putting things off that they can get by without, so if you’ve got flares or fire extinguishers that are expired, you’ve got to get that stuff fixed before you can go to sea. The observer goes through and does the inspection, and they’ve been very good about it. They’ll make notes like if we have—if I take an observer out say in November, I’ve got—say your flares are due to expire in December, they’ll make a note of that, and they’ll come to say, “Hey, you know, you’ve got to replace some flares before you can go back out next trip.” I don’t think the fisheries have evolved from the IFQ program and gotten safer. I mean guys just know when they can go fishing. If you have a bigger boat, you can fish tougher weather. But I wouldn’t say the program has been really a big benefactor in that regard.”
~ Fishermen

“What they said is you don’t have to go fishing when the weather’s bad. Well, guess what, the guy’s that’s going to have the best market opportunity is the guy who goes when nobody’s out there.”
~ Fishermen

“They’ve made more money, so they spend more money on their boats, and the boats are bigger, safer. So yeah, the safety has improved.”
~ Fishermen

“When it’s an IFQ program, yes, you still fish because you have to meet the demands of the market, but you don’t fish that extreme weather. You fish the day after, the day forward. I don’t get to sit, take the winter off and only fish June, July, and August. I’m still fishing, but I’m not fishing near as tough of weather as I used to.”
~ Fishermen

Analysis

Baseline: Before Catch Share Program

During the baseline period, management of non-whiting groundfish vessel efforts using bimonthly cumulative trip limits precluded the development of a “race for fish” (Management Framework), and this flexibility in choosing when to fish likely resulted in less pressure to fish during periods of unfavorable weather, thereby increasing safety. For the shorebased Pacific whiting fleet, which operated under seasonal harvest limits, there was concern that race for fish conditions could encourage vessels to operate more unsafely than would otherwise be the case, although the larger size of shorebased Pacific whiting vessels reduces the risk of fishing in bad weather.

Due to the mix of sometimes offsetting factors affecting fishing vessel safety during the baseline period, there was no discernable trend in the number or rate of safety-related USCG-reported incidents in the limited entry groundfish trawl fishery. Fatalities from injuries were relatively rare. Data on non-fatal injuries are unavailable. While there was no clear trend in the data, it is likely that overall safety increased in the fishery as technology improved.

During Catch Share Program

The Shorebased IFQ Program resulted in a number of changes in fishing operations that could potentially affect fishing vessel safety. The move from bimonthly cumulative trip limits to individual fishing quotas further increased the operational flexibility of non-whiting groundfish vessels. However, according to the NMFS Five-year Review of the catch share program, there has been no significant change in the proportion of non-whiting groundfish trips beginning on high-wind days since catch share program implementation.

An analysis in NMFS Five-year Review indicates that the proportion of non-whiting groundfish trips starting between midnight and 2:00 a.m. has steadily increased since the beginning of the catch share program. One possible explanation is that vessels are leaving just after midnight to avoid paying for extra observer time. Both of the main private observer service providers charge by the 24-hour day, and they start charging for a “day” at midnight. Thus, to minimize observer costs, a non-whiting groundfish vessel has the incentive to start its trip just after midnight. While no correlation to accident rates has been observed, this incentive to begin a trip during a specific period could reduce vessel safety if that period does not align with safe tide and weather conditions.

The Shorebased IFQ Program enhanced fishing vessel safety in the shorebased whiting fishery by eliminating the race for fish, and thereby reducing the incentive for vessels to compete to fish in hazardous conditions. As with non-whiting groundfish trips, however, there has been no significant change in the proportion of shorebased whiting trips beginning on high-wind days since catch share program implementation.

Due to the multiplicity of sometimes offsetting safety-related effects of the Shorebased IFQ Program, quantifying the impacts of the Shorebased IFQ Program on safety in the groundfish fishery is difficult. Attributing changes in safety to the program is further made complicated by concurrent events that might also account for any changes noted. In particular, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 and Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 made significant revisions to the safety and equipment requirements for commercial fishing vessels.

There is no discernable trend in the number or rate of safety-related USCG-reported incidents in the limited entry groundfish trawl fishery. Days at sea have decreased since the Shorebased IFQ Program was implementation (Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings), resulting in a higher incident rate relative to the number of incidents. According to the NMFS Five-year Review of the Shorebased IFQ Program, a two-sample t-test used to determine that the difference in the rate of vessel disasters before and since catch shares implementation is not significant (p=0.697), nor is the rate of non-disaster incidents (p=0.220).

Data Gaps and Limitations

Incidents include only those reported to the USCG, but such incidents are known to be under-reported, especially for smaller vessels and incidents in which injuries occurred but did not require a rescue. In addition, matching the incident data to the fishery in which the vessel was participating has the potential for some errors.

Information Sources

National Marine Fisheries Service. 2017. West Coast Groundfish Trawl Catch Share Program Five-year Review – Draft. Pacific Fishery Management Council. Portland, OR.

Pacific Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service. 2010. Rationalization of the Pacific Coast Groundfish Limited Entry Trawl Fishery. Final Environmental Impact Statement Including Regulatory Impact Review and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis. Portland, OR.

Pfeiffer, L. 2016. Safety Incidents in the West Coast Catch Shares Fisheries. NOAA Technical Memorandum, NMFS F/SPO-160. National Marine Fisheries Service. Silver Spring, MD.

Updated: May 2018

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