Researchers work on better model for impact of fishery closures

Fisheries managers are faced with a firestorm every time they decide to close a fishery because of poor returns or low population numbers. A new economic model is trying to help them see into the future to understand the effects of a closure before it happens.

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington worked together on the model, finished in 2017 and published in the journal Marine Policy this past September.

It takes into account items like fishery participation, the amount of each vessel’s annual revenue that comes from the affected fishery, which vessels participate in other fisheries and the value of the fishery; the aim is to calculate the total impact when managers have to limit or close a fishery.

The origin of the idea came after a disastrous broad closure in salmon fishing on the West Coast in 2008. The closure, caused by poor salmon returns correlated to unfavorable ocean conditions, resulted in a federal disaster declaration and a $170 million relief distribution.

Had officials and fishery managers been able to estimate the impact better, relief funds might have been distributed sooner, said Kate RIcherson, a marine ecologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the lead author of the study.

Fisheries are a difficult economy to track, in part because of the multiple management agencies, fishermen participating in multiple fisheries and seasonal employment, among other factors. Many fishermen aren’t single-species reliant — they participate in multiple fisheries, depending on the season. For example, on the West Coast, some salmon fishermen jump over to participate in the crab fisheries while others fish solely for salmon.

“It’s kind of hard to make a blanket statement about how fishermen might have reacted (to the 2008 closure),” Richerson said. “…What I found when I started looking into this was it was hard to make generalities about the folks who are salmon fishing.”

Working off the model they developed, Richerson and her two co-authors — Jerry Leonard and Daniel Holland — estimated the economic impact of the 2017 closure on the ocean chinook salmon troll fishery between southern Oregon and northern California. Their result estimated that the closure cost between 200 to 330 jobs, $5.8 million to $8.9 million in income and $12.8 million to $19.6 million in sales.

The impact didn’t fall equally among communities, either, they wrote in the paper.

“The impacts are not distributed evenly in space, with the largest relative losses occurring in the Coos Bay, Brookings, and Eureka region,” the paper states. “This information may be useful as policymakers consider mitigating economic losses in the fishery and associated communities.”

The model is far from a universally applicable model, Richerson said — rather, it’s a first step. First, it relies on landings data, so it’s more tied to vessels than to fishermen. Second, it’s only the ocean troll fishery, which occurs in federal waters and is under NOAA jurisdiction. It doesn’t estimate the economic impact on recreational fisheries or subsistence fisheries, nor would it include any fisheries occurring in state waters.

The purpose of the model wasn’t so much to coordinate whether or not to close something; managers don’t always have a choice based on their biological guidelines for salmon stocks, RIcherson said. Instead, it was to help make faster determinations of the impact for fund distribution.

“It’s not like you can tell your landlord, ‘Hey, I’ll pay you rent in two years when I get my money (from a fishery disaster),’” Richerson said.

Fishery disaster declarations have to escalate up a long ladder before fishermen may see any cash. In Alaska, pink salmon fishermen were asking for a disaster declaration after the 2016 season when harvests were dismally below expectations. Gov. Bill Walker accepted the appeal for disaster declaration, escalating it to the federal government, where Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker accepted it and forwarded it to Congress for acceptance and to appropriate funds for the relief.

Nearly two years later, in summer 2018, fishermen finally received notice that they were going to see some funds to provide relief after the 2016 season; $56 million was appropriated by Congress in response to the disaster declaration.

Fisheries are by nature unpredictable, but with changing ocean conditions as waters warm and harvest pressures change, there may be more closures in the future. There’s interest in developing models for predicting fisheries closures based on environmental conditions, though that work is not complete, Richerson said.

With the paper published and now having moved on to a different position, Richerson said she wasn’t sure she’d get the chance to look into it further but encourage further research on it.

“I would definitely think of it as a first step,” she said.

Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected].

11/20/2018 - 10:22am