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What is Risk-based Fisheries Enforcement?

July 10, 2012

Here’s a term I’ve heard a fair bit: risk-based fisheries enforcement.  I hear it from NOAA and the Coast Guard, and I hear it now from Canada’s fisheries management agency (DFO):

Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, has announced that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is taking the next steps in its new approach to protect recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries and the fish habitat on which they depend. As a part of this new approach, the Minister launched a nationwide public engagement and consultation process to be held throughout the summer and autumn to develop the policy and regulatory framework that will support changes to the Fisheries Act adopted by the House of Commons earlier this month…

The Government is proposing to move forward with a standard-based and intelligence-led approach to fisheries protection that would allow officials to focus their efforts on high risk projects and on risk-based, targeted enforcement activities.  (source)

What’s interesting is I never hear this term defined.  I wonder…does the term mean anything?  A couple months agoat the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) I heard Ben Friedman, Deputy General Counsel at NOAA, tell me that NOAA’s enforcement is ‘targeted’ and ‘risk-based’.  The trouble is my initiating question was: Why don’t we systematically assess fisheries compliance in the United States, especially when we know that law enforcement incorrectly perceives the rate of non-compliance?  His answer suggests to me that he didn’t really know why NOAA deploys its enforcement efforts as it does.

And another issue is what sort of risk are we talking about?  Biological?  Economic?  What about the burden to the tax-payer?  We know that the cost of at-sea detection is extremely high. By one study, the US Coast Guard’s cost per boarding during the 2003-2006 period was $61,700 to $97,100.  And the cost per detected violation was $1.7 million to $3.6 million.  Up that to $5.5 million to $6.9 million if you’re only counting those detections that resulted in a penalty.

Finally, as asked by a colleauge at Oceana, wouldn’t the best risk-based fisheries enforcement loop back into the fishery management rules?  For some reason, the Fishery Management Plans we use to manage fisheries in the U.S. all assume 100% compliance.

Sounds pretty risky to me.

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