by Adam Soliman
Yesterday, Canadian Atlantic Lobster announced on its Facebook page that MP Shea for Egmont is suggesting a boat quota to be implemented in the East Coast Lobster fishery. The good news is that Shea is suggesting that the “discussion should be industry driven” rather than a policy set in isolation of industry. In my recent discussions with lobster fishermen, I was informed by Mr. James Mood –founder of the 1688 Professional Lobster Fishermen Association representing lobster fishermen and crew members – that the transferability of a quota would harm their community. He described that the current practices today (licence stacking) are consolidating licences and letting go of crew members. As a result, Mr. Mood asserts that his small community decreased from about 1200 to 900 residents in just a few years. Mr. Mood describes that a transferable quota will definitely increase consolidation and hence have a severe negative impact on the communities involved. So the important questions here are: a) does the DFO want to protect and maintain the livelihood of small coastal communities? and b) can a quota system be designed to mitigate such concerns, and how?
First, the question of whether the government / DFO has an interest in protecting small coastal communities might seem awkward. However, it must be made clear whether the government’s objective is to do so or whether the government’s objective is to extract maximum benefits from the fishery while not exceeding a maximum sustainable yield. Once the objectives are clear, a quota system can be designed to meet these objectives.
Second, quotas have been applauded for conserving fisheries, reducing race-to-fish, enhancing safety, and combating wasteful practices. However, quotas don’t come without concerns. For example, a quota – if allocated without being paid for – raises equity concern: where the public (the owner of the resource) gives away the resource and does not receive anything in return. On the other hand, if the quota is paid for, a private property right will be created and the government will face litigation for compensation. Another potential issue is that fishermen who receive a quota would lease out their quotas (which usually becomes worth millions) and capture an unjust return; these are known as armchair fishermen.
To mitigate some of these concerns, many tools are available. For example, a quota could be allocated to the community rather than to specific fishermen. The transferability of the quota could be restricted to active fishermen who belong to specific communities. A maximum quota limit could be set to mitigate consolidation effects. And requirements for active participation could be put in place.
Lessons learned from past experience serve as a great tool for initiating new quota schemes