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Enforcement and Compliance Under Catch Shares

August 6, 2012

There’s a nice paper out in Marine Policy that was put together by Read Porter and his colleagues at the Environmental Law Institute (ELI).  It represents a valiant attempt to get at relationship between fisheries management institutions and compliance.  That is, do marine resource regimes based on catch rights better engender rule compliance than marine resource regimes based on restricted common property?   (Or even simpler, do fishermen better follow/self-enforce the rules when they have a right to future catches?)

The introduction to the paper alone is worth the read.  It’s a beautiful roadmap to where we are with catch share and compliance theory.  Here’s an excerpt on how the two come together:

Some research demonstrates that catch shares can encourage compliance [5,20]. Because fishers in catch share systems suffer directly  when  others  violate  the  program  due  to  reduction  of potential future catch, catch share programs provide incentives for fishers to accept and support strengthened monitoring, enforcement, and penalization of violations and to report overfishing that they witness [10,21]. For example, catch share participants have  demanded  increased  dockside  and  at-sea  enforcement monitoring to augment rates of detection [6], including observer coverage [22] and taxation [23]. Fishers also have worked with fisheries management authorities to create regulations that make noncompliance  easier  to  detect  [24,25]…

Little empirical information exists to test the effects of catch shares on compliance. Some studies indicate high rates of compliance [28], but others report substantial noncompliance (e.g. [19,29–32]). These studies led Branch [10] to conclude that while ‘‘quota busting’’ (i.e., non-reported catch) is not a major problem in most catch share fisheries, effective enforcement is an important factor in this success.

Porter and his team assembled two fascinating data sets to evaluate how the transition to catch shares affected compliance in the Gulf of Mexico commercial reef fish fishery.  One is a set of records of enforcement actions involving alleged violations of federal laws and regulations  under  NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) jurisdiction,  including  fisheries  regulations, originating with NOAA, the United States Coast  Guard (USCG),state enforcement agencies, and other sources.  The other is survey data from 2007 and 2011 on fishermen’s perceptions of compliance and noncompliance.

What did they find?  Well, not a whole lot with any certainty, and I think it’s fair to say that this was a risk worth taking.  The problems were two-fold.  First, the transition to catch shares was accompanied by other significant changes in management and enforcement, including the imposition of a mandatory observer program, a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), and marine reserves.

And second, the data sets were just too incomplete.  On the dataset of enforcement activities:

Fisheries enforcement in the Gulf of Mexico relies heavily on state agencies, which enforce federal fisheries regulations pursuant  to  cooperative  and  joint  enforcement  agreements  with NOAA. State agencies prosecute some detected reef fish violations – particularly less serious violations – under corresponding state law rather than forwarding them to NOAA for federal prosecution. The JEA program requires states to report these cases to NOAA [57], but LEADS does not include all cases reported pursuant to the JEA program [personal communication]. As a result, LEADS includes some, but not all, potential violations identified by state agencies….[Furthermore e]nforcement agencies currently lack the resources to allow agents to be present at most landings, so the accuracy of landings reports and the effects of noncompliance on the resource remain unclear… The potentially substantial incidence of noncompliance that isnot represented in LEADS indicates that the enforcement dataset should be interpreted as an underestimate of noncompliance.

As for the surveys of fishermen, the 2011 data is rather limited.  In 2007, 186 people responded out of a possible 396 for a response rate of 47%.  But in 2011, just 67 people responded out of a possible 408 for a response rate of 17%.  That’s pretty low.  Interestingly, the perceptions of noncompliance remained quite high and only slightly decreased after all the management changes. There was only one statistically significant reduction: the decline in occasional violators.  This adds an interesting layer to the fisheries crime theory that occasional violators may be most swayed by rational economic considerations.

Ultimately, I think this paper is an excellent contribution to fisheries criminology, particularly in showing how a study can be structured, how the data can be analyzed, and that we need the government to require a higher standard of data collection to really analyze the effectiveness of U.S. fisheries enforcement and the contribution of catch share regimes to compliance.

Read D. Porter, Zachary Jylkka, & Greta Swanson (2012). Enforcement and compliance trends under IFQ management in the Gulf of Mexico commercial reef fish fishery Marine Policy DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2012.05.018

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