After 10-year crab review, council seeks social impact information

KODIAK — Statistics help explain economics, but fisheries managers want to find a way to put number to cultural impacts as well.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a 10-year review of rationalization on June 10, the program that ended derby-style crab fisheries in 2005 and gave quota shares to vessel owners, captains and processors. The aim was to reduce overcapitalization and create a safer fishery by allowing crew to fish slower with a guaranteed quota allocation compared to the previous free-for-all.

The program mandates reviews every five years. The next is scheduled for 2020.

The council voted to approve the review for publication, but allowed the Scientific and Statistical Committee to pepper additional points beforehand, including an extended summary and conclusion section and more context for the social impacts that accompanied fleet profile changes.

At the committee’s suggestion, the council also voted to explore creating a working group dedicated to social impact studies.

The study

The 10-year review charted a continuation of trends found in the five-year review. Crab stocks rebounded from their mid-1980s dive, and have been rebuilt in some cases. Half as many crew and vessels now make twice the money as before the program began. Non-captain crew members remain roughly as Alaskan now as in 2005.

Vessel consolidation continued along with quota consolidation, but both somewhat stabilized in the last five years. Fewer people hold quota than before. Each individual quota holder, naturally, holds more quota now than in 2004; 53 fewer people hold Bristol Bay red king crab crew shares now than in 2005.

In the two years following rationalization, the crab fleet shrank from 256 vessels in 2004 to 91 in 2006.

“In subsequent years, the aggregate number of participating vessels has varied between 75 and 88 vessels, with marginal increases in some years, but continuing a general declining trend,” reads the report. “The smallest active fleet of 75 vessels occurred in 2013/14, concurrent with the lowest aggregate catch of 63.75 million pounds across all fisheries since 2009/10 season. “

Vessel revenues increased as well. Per vessel, crabbers raked in $1.22 million to $3.38 million in the last 10 years — seven times the average from 1998, 2001 and 2004, the references years the council used.

Council staff said it’s nearly impossible to compare pre-rationalization employment to post-rationalization, and to link a shrinking participation directly to quota shares. 

“While crew employment and remuneration were clearly substantially changed following the transition to rationalized management, to what degree those changes were caused by the implementation of IFQ, per se, as opposed to the mitigation of overcapitalization generally, and of derby conditions specifically, is likely not possible to ascertain.”

There were roughly 1,300 non-captain crew positions in the three pre-rationalization reference years. By 2006, this number was halved to 640.

Vessels also fish far longer seasons and catch more crab. Over the 2006-14 period, average catch per vessel was 1.047 million pounds, 123 percent higher than during the reference years. Per person, a crew member made an average $57,000 between 2006 and 2014, about twice the $28,500 from pre-rationalization.

Processors followed roughly the same route, halving in the 10 years after rationalization but each taking on double the pre-rationalization workload with the accompanying revenue.

Crew has stayed as Alaskan as it was when rationalization began.

Of the 584 commercial crew license holders in 2014, 34 percent were Alaska residents. This number of Alaska crew has remained steady since 2006 when it was first tracked. Between 2006 and 2014, the percentage of Alaska crew has stayed within the 36-34 percent range. Crew numbers have gone as high as 631 and as low as 515.

The Alaska residency of gear operators has dropped five percent from 1998. The total number of gear operators has dropped from 349 to 92.

During the first five years of the program, vessels in the two highest landings quartiles — meaning volume of landings — consistently paid both captain and crew members at lower rates per pound than vessels in the two lower volume quartiles.

This disparity has smoothed since 2010.

“In the most recent seasons, however, this has shifted in part, with vessels in the highest and lowest quartiles paying between 10.0 and 11.9 percent of gross revenue to captains, while crew member gross percentage shares continue to be highest (3.0-3.3 percent) on the vessels with smallest volume of landings, but nearly equal levels prevail across the other three quartiles (from 1.8 to 2.2 percent).”

Stocks have recovered from their early 1980s collapse, but in some cases declined since rationalization began.

Total biomass of Bristol Bay red king crab fell from 698 million pounds to 76.1 million pounds in 1985, but increased to 207.01 million pounds in 2007, and subsequently declined to 156.1 million pounds in 2015. Other stocks followed a similar route.

Stocks that had been previously classified in danger rebounded. Several have been a classified as “rebuilt” since rationalization. Fishing above the total allowable catch stopped entirely.

“Between 2000 and 2004, the (guideline harvest limit) for Bristol Bay red king crab was exceeded in 2 out of 5 years; the GHL for Bering Sea snow crab was exceeded in 5 out of 6 years; and the GHL for Aleutian Islands golden king crab was exceeded in 2 out of 5 years.

“Since the implementation of the Crab Rationalization Program, the (total allowable catch) for these target fisheries has never been exceeded.”

Mixed signals

The Scientific and Statistical Committee and certain council members want catch share reviews to have more cultural studies in the future, leading to concerns about time management and labor costs for the council staff.

The committee gave somewhat mixed messages about whether the 10-year review is ripe for publication in the Federal Register, confusing council members who wanted a clear-cut yes or no.

“The SSC finds the document to be a satisfactory broad and comprehensive review of the crab rationalization program,” wrote the SSC in its recommendation to council. “The document presents the best data available on a broad range of measures affected by crab rationalization, and is summarized in a fashion that is useful for identifying ‘red flags’ in program performance.”

Later in the minutes, the SSC said the opposite.

“The SSC determined that the framework and format for this document falls short of the scientific standard for analysis that is mandated for a 10-year review,” reads the briefing. “This review did not identify program impacts separate from other causes and trends, or evaluate them against the goals and objectives laid out in the Council’s problem statement.“

The SSC referred to a letter written to U.S. Congress by then-chairman Dave Benton, outlining the expected impacts of crab rationalization, in particular community protections and the economic health of crew.

To get the best information about these social impacts, the SSC wants the review, and further reviews, to give a quantitative weight to social studies.

These would a need to reinstate fieldwork funds for the social impact assessment in the next program review, a description of active participation by quota holders, and methods to characterize how access and upward mobility has changed.

The SSC already has a meetings scheduled for June to discuss social impact studies. Council members and the executive director fear the workload could distract from the myriad management duties it has elsewhere.

“If we were to attempt what they were suggesting, it would take all of our staff,” said Chris Oliver, the council’s executive director. “With the various catch share programs we have…we would be doing nothing but program reviews for the rest of this council’s eternity.”

Others believed fisheries management will depend more and more on such studies, and the council should at least examine what such a workgroup’s duties and contributions might look like.

 “I believe social science plan teams are something that will be incorporated on a national level,” said member Duncan Fields, who introduced the motion.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].


06/15/2016 - 4:17pm