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The Effectiveness of Fisheries Enforcement

November 14, 2011 King, Porter, and Price (2009) have contributed an excellent article and I think all ocean policy wonks should read it.  The topic is little-discussed, the analysis is sharp, and the conclusion is rather concerning.  And if that’s not enough, it’s surely a topic you know very little about since non-compliance with fisheries regulations is terribly under-studied in the U.S. and everywhere else.

Here are my favorite bits:

1. The US Coast Guard’s at-sea enforcement program for domestic fisheries receives most of the funds for federal fisheries enforcement.  For the 2003-2006 period, that program accounted for 90.5% of the federal fisheries enforcement spending.

2. The costs of at-sea enforcement programs are huge!

USCG cost per boarding during the period was $61,700 to $97,100, cost per detected violation was $1.7 million to $3.6 million, and cost per detected violation that resulted in a penalty was $5.5 million to $6.9 million.

Of course, these measures do not take into account all the crime that was deterred.  If the alternatively to at-sea enforcement is a fishing free for all, then the social return would be very, very high.

3. A key performance metric for this USCG at-sea enforcement program is the rate of observed compliance, yet the rate is measured unscientifically.

[T]he USCG …uses the rate of observed compliance during at-sea boardings of domestic fishing vessels as its primary annual performance metric (APM). High observed compliance rates, in other words, are used as a metric that shows how successful the USCG at-sea enforcement program is at deterring domestic fishing violations. The USCG performance target under this APM is 97%. The USCG considers its at-sea enforcement program to be successful at deterring domestic fishing violations if it detects “significant” violations on 3% or less of the fishing vessels it boards…

[T]he USCG consistently reports that its at-sea enforcement program meets or approaches its performance target of 97% compliance. In fact, the USCG asserts that the actual compliance rate being achieved is higher than the compliance rates they observe during at-sea boardings because…the USCG targets frequent violators, it expects that vessels chosen for boarding will be out of compliance more often than if vessels were selected randomly. As a result, the USCG asserts that actual compliance rates are higher than rates observed during at-sea boardings.

So we need to take the USCG at its word, that it is a) catching violations during at-sea boarding, b) truly targeting the most likely violators, and c) properly classifying “significant” violations.

4. Survey data reveal that non-compliance is likely far greater than 3% of all fishermen, as estimated by the USCG.  Fishermen, on average, estimated that 15% of fishermen in three U.S. fisheries routinely violate fishery laws and that an additional 21% occasionally violate fishery laws.

A snippet of King et al.’s survey results table.

5. Statistics suggests that the USCG is failing to detect violations, rather than failing to identify frequent violators.

USCG reported an average of 4,914 annual boardings which yielded an average of 167 annual violations detected from 2003 to 2006, a noncompliance rate of 3.4%. Based on our survey, fishers estimated the percent of routine violators to be 15%, and enforcement personnel estimated 31%. So, even if the USCG were selecting fishing vessels for boarding on a random basis, the survey results suggest that 737 to 1,523 (15% to 31%) of annual boardings would have been on vessels operated by frequent violators.

And survey respondents felt that rule violators are able to evade detection. How would they do this?  Here’s the speculation:

One reason evading detection by the USCG maybe relatively easy is that USCG fishery surveillance and enforcement vessels are usually well marked and visible by the naked eye over water for several miles in clear weather; and, under most conditions, are detectable via radar from around 40 miles away. Interviews with fishers indicated that, when radar shows a vessel approaching at high speed from as far away as 40 miles, it is “a sure bet” that it is USCG or state fishery enforcement. Previous research and interviews with fishers also indicated that fishing vessels operating in the same general area frequently share information via very high frequency (VHF) radio and cell phones or, further offshore, via single-sideband radio, and that such communications routinely include information about the location of USCG surveillance/enforcement assets.

All in all, the paper shows that our at-sea detection programs can be greatly improved, but not how.  I think a great opportunity lies in comparing fisheries enforcement strategies in different countries.  For example, do some countries more effectively use GPS tracking data?  Have other techniques to identify frequent violators?  Or have lower non-compliance rates through the use of catch shares, community-based management, and other management schemes?

I think we should also consider whether dockside inspections should get more of the budget.  Such inspections are far less costly and perhaps rather effective at catching illegal fishers.  Here the authors explain:

Some fishing violations do not occur at sea or cannot be detected during USCG boardings while other types of violations can be detected only at sea.…valid permit, gear, and area closure/season violations make up 65% of reported violations by the USCG. Permit violations included fishing with no permit,fishing without a permit onboard, fishing with an expired permit, and being in possession of a target species without a permit. Gear violations detected during USCG boardings focus on use of illegal mesh size or gear types, bycatch reduction device (BRD) infractions, and improper construction of traps or exclusion/avoidance gear (e.g., for turtles, seabirds). Types of area closure and season violations included fishing within a closed area, transiting a closed area with gear improperly stowed, and possession of a target species outside its legal season.  By contrast, NMFS and state enforcement, whose focus is mostly dockside, tended to detect landings overages, such as trip limit violations, which are impossible to detect at sea.

It seems a number of the violations caught by the USCG might also be caught dockside by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries service (NMFS).

King, D., Porter, R., & Price, E. (2009). Reassessing the Value of U.S. Coast Guard At-Sea Fishery Enforcement Ocean Development & International Law, 40 (4), 350-372 DOI: 10.1080/00908320903285414

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