Ecotrust Canada’s A Cautionary Tale about ITQ Fisheries report, which examines the shortcomings of individual transferable quotas in B.C. fisheries, is creating a stir in the United States as the Obama Administration prepares to implement a similar policy throughout their fisheries.

The Environmental Defense Fund, a U.S. environmental group that is a prominent advocate of ITQs or “catch shares” as they are known, wrote a blog post about our report.

In the blog, Johanna Thomas, EDF fisheries director, wrote about how our report confirmed the conservation benefits of ITQs and how they increase the value of fisheries and thus provide “significant societal benefits.” Thomas made A Cautionary Tale sound, ironically, incautious, as though Ecotrust Canada advocates for their speedy adoption as public policy.

Her blog posting was misleading and we responded through a blog comment, pointing out how, at least in the context of B.C. fisheries, the implementation of ITQs did not meet many of the objectives that EDF has stated in their promotion of catch shares. We wrote the report, as the title suggests, to caution decision-makers against embracing catch shares as a panacea for the ecological, social and financial ills plaguing commercial fisheries. Too many industry and environmental groups are overstating the benefits and understating the costs of ITQs.

Ecotrust Canada advocates for a more balanced and responsible perspective regarding the measures need to stop and reverse fish stock declines and meet the socio-economic needs of small-boat fishermen, rural communities and First Nations.

Our disagreement with EDF was then picked up in an article headlined “Distorting’ catch share criticism” in the Gloucester Times in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where debate is raging about the effectiveness and shortcomings of catch shares. The Gloucester Times subsequently wrote a feature article looking at the negative impacts of catch shares in several other countries, including the experience in B.C.

So, what are the lessons that should be taken from this cautionary tale? Well, both Ecotrust Canada and Ecotrust, our sister organization based in Portland, Oregon, have been working on solving some of the problems with ITQs and improving the design of new catch share programs.

In 2003 we together published Catch-22: Conservation, Communities and the Privatization of BC Fisheries which made specific recommendations on regulating quota markets including the creation of a transparent public registry of quota ownership, implementation of national standards to protect crewmen and communities, establishment of community quota entities and inclusive co-management that isn’t just restricted to quota owners.

Since then, Ecotrust Canada has pioneered fisheries licence banks to allow small-boat fishermen, communities and First Nations to pool capital to increase their access to expensive quotas and licences. We founded the Pacific Coast Fishermen’s Conservation Company in partnership with a group of B.C. dogfish fishermen as a model licence bank. The Groundfish Development Authority was also established to protect the interests of communities and crews in the B.C. groundfish trawl fishery which became a quota fishery in 1997.

Portland-based Ecotrust has also recommended that the U.S. Fisheries Management Councils support community trusts, such as the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, and Community and Regional Fishing Associations as permitted by the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act.

However, before we can agree on the solutions, we need to agree on the problem. That’s why we published A Cautionary Tale, to point out the short-comings of ITQs which many proponents seemingly choose to understate or ignore.