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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Productivity Change in U.S. Catch Share Fisheries 

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Spring 2015
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In fisheries, productivity is the relationship between the quantity of fish produced and the quantity of inputs, such as crew, capital, fuel, ice, bait, etc., used to harvest fish. Productivity change is measured through changes in outputs and inputs between two time periods and can increase either by using fewer inputs to catch the same amount of fish or by catching more fish using the same amount of inputs. By ending the “race to fish” catch share programs may be expected to lead to improved productivity at the fishery level by retiring redundant capital and by allowing fishing firms to become more technically efficient in their harvesting activities by, among other things, changing the composition of inputs and outputs. Productivity can also increase after the movement to a catch share program by quota transfers from less to more efficient vessels.

Yet, there have been relatively few empirical studies of productivity changes in catch share fisheries and no comprehensive treatment of a cross-section of programs using a common measure of productivity change. In this study we provide estimates of multi-factor productivity change for 20 catch share programs or sub-components of catch share programs in the United States using a Lowe index. The Lowe index is an aggregate index that avoids computational problems associated with changes in fleet size over time, is easy to construct, requires less data than most alternative productivity measures, and can be applied consistently to all U.S. catch share programs.

Of the 20 programs, 13 included a pre-catch share baseline period and 10 of those experienced increased or were increasing during the first 3 years after program implementation relative to the baseline. These productivity gains were maintained in all six catch share programs in existence prior to 2008, and productivity continued to substantially improve in five of six longer-term programs after the first 3 years of program implementation.

Ideally, productivity would be estimated using full information on all inputs including capital, labor, energy, materials, and services. However, 11 of the 20 fisheries evaluated in this report (including 9 of the 10 from the North Pacific) lack data on energy, materials, and services and are therefore estimated only with capital and labor. Analysis of the nine programs that included energy found that energy made a larger contribution to estimated productivity than capital and labor alone. This suggests that new data collections or methods to estimate fuel use may be a priority for improving estimation of productivity in future studies.

Biomass also plays a large role in determining the productivity of a fishery as biomass changes may affect the catchability of fish and thus harvesting productivity. In most instances, the measures of biomass adjusted and unadjusted productivity were consistent in terms of productivity change relative to baseline conditions. However, since the biomass unadjusted productivity estimate will overestimate productivity when biomass is increasing and underestimates productivity when biomass is decreasing, if the biomass trend is sufficiently large, then the biomass unadjusted productivity measure may give a false impression of the change in productivity. Therefore, obtaining reliable biomass data is essential to accurately characterizing the economic performance, in terms of harvesting productivity, of catch share fisheries.

Results of this study are summarized in a NOAA tech memo (Walden et al., 2014) as well as a forthcoming manuscript in a special issue of Marine Policy on Productivity Change in Commercial Fisheries.

By Eric Thunberg, John Walden, Juan Agar, Ron Felthoven, Abigail Harley, Stephen Kasperski, Jean Lee, Todd Lee, Aaron Mamula, Jessica Stephen, and Andy Strelcheck



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