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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

New Economic Data Collection Projects Planned for 2006

In January the Economics and Social Sciences Research (ESSR) Program finalized its plan for new data collection projects for 2006. The following four projects will be undertaken:

Project 1:  Regional Economic Data Collection for Fisheries of Southeast Alaska. There is an ongoing need to improve the economic models for Alaska fishing communities by collecting additional data on these communities and revising published data (such as IMPLAN data, a commercially available set of data for conducting regional economic analyses) that can be inaccurate. There are three regions in Alaska which depend heavily on fisheries - the Southwest, Gulf Coast, and Southeast regions. Currently, regional economic data collection projects are funded (by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Headquarters). Data collection activities are now under way for boroughs and U.S. Census areas in Southwest and Gulf Coast regions. Therefore, once regional economic data for these remaining fishery-dependent regions are collected, most of the important data required for regional economic impact analysis of Alaska fisheries will be ready, and extensive modeling efforts can begin.

Project 2:  Fuel Consumption Pilot Survey for Alaska Groundfish Fisheries. One of the largest components of a fisher's costs of operating is the cost of fuel. As such, it is a critical element in the analyst's tool kit when attempting to estimate the economic impacts of any management action (such as marine protected areas) that will affect where fishers may fish. Unfortunately AFSC economists do not have reliable estimates from which to gauge the amount of fuel burned by vessels of a given gear type, length, tonnage, and horsepower.

The other primary cost of fishing is the payment made to crew, which is typically some percentage of revenue (for which we have good data). If we could account for the cost of fuel for vessels, along with our current estimates of crew share payments, we would be able to account for a large portion of operating costs. This will not only facilitate analysis of impacts from having to fish in different location, but also allow us to calculate quasi-rents from the trip, and how such rents have been impacted by the recent increases in fuel costs. It is well known that the prices of fish products have increased in the recent past, in part attributable to increased fuel costs, and it would be interesting to estimate the percent of those cost increases that has been passed on to the final consumer. Simply put, data on fuel consumption per day or per nautical mile will be a major workhorse for analysts tasked with estimating the impact of all kinds of policies and will also be valuable in applied empirical models.

Project 3:  Vessel Monitoring System Data Collection and Compilation. The National Marine Fisheries Service has long recognized the importance of spatially explicit data to improve fisheries management. Although data from the Observer Program, fish tickets, and logbooks allow AFSC researchers to conduct research on the various fishing fleets active in Alaskan fisheries, the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) allows NMFS to have real-time knowledge of the precise location of trawling vessels in the Bering Sea. Researchers at the AFSC and at the NMFS Alaska Regional Office have employed VMS data to examine some aspects of fleet behavior, but due to the format of the VMS data, this information has been underutilized in spatial research.

This is unfortunate, as the underlying spatial detail in VMS records is exactly the type of information that could be used by scientists trying to better understand and explain the fishing behavior of Alaskan fleets. VMS data truly present researchers with the best spatial data available in the world, a resource that should be fully utilized to improve management and methods of spatial fisheries research; this research aims to do just that.

Raw VMS data contain several basic pieces of information (e.g., vessel identification, location, and a time stamp) along with calculated fields that provide additional information such as the speed of a vessel. However, no information is currently provided in VMS data about whether a vessel is actively fishing, traveling to fishing grounds, in port, or waiting out a storm. Analyzing VMS data and determining whether vessels are fishing, traveling, or in port will substantially increase its usefulness in modeling fishers' behavior. Furthermore, linking it to existing Observer records will allow us to organize the VMS data on a trip-by-trip basis (the format most amenable to spatial behavioral analysis).

The VMS data will also be integrated into a GIS framework in order to obtain a graphical depiction of the distances traveled while fishing, and distances traveled to and from port. An examination of these data may also provide information about fleet search behavior. Further, this project will allow us new insight into how observed and unobserved fishing trips may differ (in terms of fishing location choice and harvesting strategies).

Project 4:  Fishing Target Accuracy Data Collection Pilot Project. The National Marine Fisheries Service uses the definition of a "targeted fishery" to develop management strategies and to define the vessels active in different fisheries. The target of a particular fishing trip is defined by the species that comprises the largest portion of retained catch, rather than what the skipper of the vessel intended to catch.

We recognize that vessel operators choose to accept certain amounts of bycatch at different times because the costs of avoidance are high. What we do not know, however, is to what degree skippers actually have control over what species they catch in a given haul or trip, particularly in the multispecies flatfish fishery. There may be significant policy implications if we observe that vessel operators in some fisheries have little ability to make choices over their target species when attempting to avoid bycatch of prohibited species.

In general, the question of what fishermen expect to catch when choosing different fishing locations is an area that has received considerable attention from fisheries economists. However, there has been little systematic data collected to compare realized catch with intended catch, which is what this project proposes to do. We have expressed a desire to have observers collect this data on a regular basis and have proposed this as a pilot study. We hope that by verifying that target species and realized catch frequently differ, the Observer Program will collect this information in the future. The data collected in this project will also be useful in decisions and analyses regarding bycatch regulations and fisheries management.

By Ron Felthoven

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