Use It or Lose It

Fisheries economics report may be a useful tool…if NOAA Fisheries uses it

Posted on March 19, 2013

Recently, NOAA Fisheries released its economic report, Fisheries Economics of the United States 2011. Better late than never.  The report provides economic statistics on U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries and marine-related businesses for each coastal state and the nation.
This is the sixth time NOAA has created the report which contains a great deal of interesting information. The question is will the agency ever do anything with it to justify even the expense of compiling it.

This latest report says that overall, seafood industry-harvesters, seafood processors and dealers, seafood wholesalers and retailers generated $129 billion in sales impacts, $37 billion in income impacts and supported 1.2 million jobs in 2011. Recreational fishing generated $70 billion in sales impacts, $20 billion in income impacts, and supported 455,000 jobs.

When you look at those figures in a vacuum, it appears that the commercial sector is indeed somewhat worthy of being the darling of the agency. 
However, when you pull out things like imported seafood and menhaden, shellfish and Alaskan Pollock – just a few of the largest purely commercial fisheries that are not in conflict with recreational anglers – the picture suddenly changes quite a bit. Without those purely commercial fisheries, the commercial industry generates 307,044 jobs and less than $21 billion in sales impacts.

Ideally, the agency would now take its own report and begin to analyze how it is allocating its resources and how it is managing fisheries based on those economic statistics. The agency would begin to question whether it is worth it to continue to subsidize and protect what are essentially niche commercial fisheries, like Gulf red snapper, that are producing tremendous conflict with far more valuable recreational fisheries. In a perfect world, the agency would follow the economics out to a logical conclusion and determine if buying out marginal commercial fisheries or reallocating them or giving them to the states to manage would solve a wide array of problems currently plaguing federal fisheries management and produce far greater economic benefits at the same time.

That’s a how a Fortune 500 company would use this information. It would use it to determine how best to apply capital, allocate resources, etc. But since NOAA Fisheries has had five chances to act on information like this in the past and hasn’t, it doesn’t seem likely that the agency will suddenly start acting like a Fortune 500 company anytime soon.

Albert Einstein once said that information is not knowledge. The sixth Fisheries Economics of the United States 2011 is chock full of information. It is now up to NOAA Fisheries to turn that information into knowledge and actually apply it. If not, the sixth edition of this document will simply end up collecting dust on the shelf next to the five previous editions.