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This kind of outcome is what catch-share proponents hoped for. “The goal here is to have healthy oceans and have healthy and profitable fisheries, and to get us out of what has been a downward spiral that has meant fewer and fewer fish and crumbier and crumbier fishing jobs ... to a more profitable, more sustainable fishery and a healthy ocean,” says Dr. Jane Lubchenco. An environmental scientist and marine ecologist at Oregon State University, she is the former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She’s spent much of her career exploring catch shares. In 2010 she presided over the adoption of a new national policy that urges regulators to consider catch shares when making fishery-management plans, a coup for sustainable seafood.
She acknowledges the Pacific program is not perfect. Few catch shares are. “But it is one that many fishermen have said is light years better than it used to be.”
Even Georgon Lapham has so far prospered in the new program. The man ubiquitously known as Poggy is not an obvious winner. He’s not a quota holder; he’s a new entrant. Yet he feels lucky. Lapham is the new owner of the Michele Ann. Like Eder’s boat, it’s one that has a long history fishing sablefish, and Lapham was able to increase its catch by jumping into the catch share. After it began, he started leasing a trawl permit for about $10,000 a year, a move that makes the boat eligible to participate.
Lapham’s experience, however, illustrates why some observers of the catch share are concerned it will convert fishing from a small-business venture to a wage job.
Now, Lapham pays between $600,000 and $700,000 a year to fish in the catch share, or about 35% off the top of his revenue. This is rent, basically, payments made to roughly 20 different quota holders so he can catch their share of fish.
Many people Lapham rents from are whiting fishermen whose nonwhiting quota is up for grabs. The other quota holders he rents from, however — about half — are former fishermen who can earn just as much money leasing their quota as they can fishing. Once the costs are considered — fishermen traditionally shoulder the costs of boat maintenance, insurance, crew pay, bait, ice, food and fuel to get to the fishing grounds 18-miles away — renting quota is a break even and sometimes money-making prospect when compared to going fishing at all. Many former fishermen now prefer to stay home.
This is the trend that worries the likes of Eder. In a scenario where guys like Lapham prop up the industry’s retirees, it’s unlikely Lapham will own quota, at least not anytime soon. It wasn’t awarded to him — he wasn’t eligible because he didn’t own a trawl permit. And the rental economy is lucrative enough that there isn’t any for sale. Instead, Lapham operates on a tight budget to make payments on the boat and leases as well as cover expenses and his crew of five.
He isn’t complaining. “I’m extremely thankful that we are able to enter into the trawl program,” he says, adding that by doing so, even as a renter, he can catch five times the amount of fish he could otherwise. “I’ve never not leased, I’ve only ever leased. So I haven’t been spoiled, I guess.”
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