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NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-304

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Industry perceptions of measures to affect access to quota shares, active participation, and lease rates in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fisheries

Executive Summary

In 2010 the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) completed a 5-year review of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Crab Rationalization Program. The review highlighted a suite of social concerns that have emerged in the fishery since the management change. The central issues perceived by the NPFMC were that lease rates are being charged against crew pay, the difficulty for skippers and crew to purchase quota shares, and concerns about quota ownership by people or entities that do not have a financial stake in a vessel. The NPFMC initiated discussion and analyses on these issues and ultimately decided to encourage the crab fleet to address the issues through voluntary measures. The crab cooperatives developed measures to address the NPFMC’s concerns, which were implemented in 2013. The measures include the Right of First Offer (ROFO) program, which gives skippers and crew an initial opportunity to purchase quota shares, and a voluntary lease rate cap for two of the eight crab fisheries. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center developed a study in 2014 to gather perspectives on the cooperative measures from fishery participants.

This study involved interviews with a diverse group of participants in the BSAI crab fisheries where their perceptions on measures to affect access to quota shares, active participation, and lease rates were discussed. A total of 220 individuals across 6 participant categories shared their perspectives. These individuals contributed to a response rate of 25.9% of the total population of participants in these fisheries; however, the overall response rate excluding crew was 45.1%, representing individuals from 87.2% of the active vessels in the BSAI crab fisheries in 2012.

Overall, the individuals that were interviewed spoke to many reasons why skippers and crewmembers are not, as a majority, purchasing quota shares. The reasons relate to the price of quota shares, the lack of availability of shares, a lack of knowledge to navigate the system, and misgivings about the time commitment to pay off an investment and remain committed to the fisheries. These perceptions and opinions are ultimately affecting the lack of use of the ROFO program. Several interviewees related the lack of availability back to the minimal active participation requirements of the program. A majority of participants stated that they perceive a need for more extensive active participation requirements in the fishery. Interviewees related this opinion back to their understanding of the risk sharing between those who own the quota and those who harvest the quota. The minimal active participation requirements in the program have allowed an extensive leasing culture in the fishery and the specific goals of the lease rate cap are not widely understood by interview participants. There is considerable sentiment among those who were interviewed that compliance with the caps is at best less than complete. Given this, the free rider problem has the possibility of eroding the current level of compliance over time. In general, many interviewees held negative views of the leasing market and were distrusting of their fellow participants likelihood of long-term compliance with a voluntary measure.

This study is an important step forward in incorporating the views of participants in the BSAI crab fisheries into the management of those fisheries. It provides an important complement to the fisheries’ economic data collection program and provides context for the quantitative data available on the operation of the fisheries. More importantly, it provides a voice to the people involved in the fishery and brings to light information about how those individuals understand and experience issues that have been a central discussion topic at the NPFMC over recent years. Specifically, the results of this study highlight underlying issues in the crab fisheries that seem to be driving the perceived issues with access to quota shares, lease rates, and active participation; issues that are not addressed by the current voluntary cooperative measures. Additionally, it suggests areas for future research that will ultimately better inform managers about how to more effectively address these social goals.

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