H.R. 2063: A win for fishermen and the free market

For too long, the Federal Government has had it wrong when it comes to the science of our nation???s fisheries. Unfortunately, this has often come at the expense of the 11,000 watermen who fish in the state of Virginia, as well as their national counterparts.

To combat this problem, Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-1) recently introduced H.R. 3063, the ???Healthy Fisheries Through Better Science Act.???  The legislation would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act to require the Secretary of Commerce to develop and publish a plan at least every three years to conduct stock assessments for all stocks of fish under federally managed fisheries.

If enacted, this legislation would also produce improvements in stock assessments through the increased involvement of fishermen and non-federal partners. Fishery science would be enhanced and the costs of compliance and monitoring would be reduced.

By requiring the government to issue regular stock assessments ??? rather than divert the needed funds to unproven climate science experiments ??? and making the government rely on input of local fishermen ??? those who best know the fisheries ??? this bill corrects two of the most serious problems currently existing in fishery management.

Congressman Wittman???s effort is an important part of moving the nation???s fisheries away from the current command and control management systems, which cost taxpayers over $70 million in subsidies and bailouts annually, and toward a catch shares system based on the free market and property rights.

Catch shares, which utilize market-forces to allocate resources and encourage conservation via personal responsibility, ultimately save federal monies because they are not top-down, command-and-control environmental regulation.

Under a catch shares system, a total allowable catch is set for a given season, and shares of the catch are apportioned to individuals, boats, or firms as a form of transferable right. By allocating portions of the fish catch, catch shares systems eliminate the ???race to fish??? and encourage less wasteful fishing techniques.

This approach has already helped spark a turnaround for a number of fish, including the Virginia striped bass and mid-Atlantic golden tilefish. In New Zealand, where the program was pioneered, the long-term effects have been impressive. Fish exports have almost doubled from $469 million in 1986 when the program began, to $923 million today.

Catch Shares are also making commercial fishing, which has consistently topped the Bureau of Labor Statistics??? list of jobs with the most fatalities (over 31 times the national average), less dangerous.

Take the Alaskan King Crab fishery, one of the earliest adopters of catch shares.  According to Edward Poulsen, director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers ???there has been only one death in the Alaskan crab fishery in the past six years — a significant improvement from the 1990s which saw an average of 7.3 deaths a year.???

In short, Congressman Wittman???s leadership is vital in the effort to extend property rights as a tool for species conservation and sound environmental management over the now-discredited command and control approach still practiced by many parts of the United States government.

The dockside value of Virginia???s seafood industry to waterman alone is over $191 million, third only to Alaska and Louisiana. Programs like catch shares, and the science the underpin it, allow watermen to fish more safely and profitably. They are also crucial to restore the health of out nation???s fisheries, ensuring continued economic viability into the future. For the sake of the Virginia and national economy, it is important that we get this right.

Travis Korson is the Communications Director for Special Projects at Frontiers of Freedom, an educational institute whose mission is to promote the principles of individual freedom, peace through strength, limited government, free enterprise, free markets, and traditional American values as found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. You can read more at