Fishery Management:

American Fisheries Act Produces Benefits

RCED-00-176: Published: Jun 29, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2000.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the: (1) American Fisheries Act's impact on the production of pollock fillets and the price paid for them; and (2) act's positive and negative impacts on fishing operations in the pollock fishery and other fisheries in Alaska.

GAO noted that: (1) the act has had a positive effect on the production of pollock fillets; (2) although U.S. production of Bering Sea pollock fillets dropped by about 10 percent in 1999, production for the completed portions of the 2000 season are up nearly 27 percent over 1999 levels; (3) the act is just one of many factors that affect supply, and GAO was unable to isolate its effects from those of other factors, such as price fluctuations and increases and decreases in fillet production in other parts of the world; (4) however, increased fillet production does appear to have resulted in part from the act's structure for creating fishing cooperatives; (5) by giving cooperative members more certainty about a share of the fishing quota, the cooperative agreements largely stopped the competition for fish; (6) as a result, cooperative members could take more time to process their catch into fillets rather than surimi, which is faster to produce; (7) by slowing down to produce fillets, cooperative members who process fish aboard ships at sea were also able to increase the amount of edible product from each pound of catch by 20 percent over 1998 levels; (8) to the extent that the act encouraged greater production of fillets, it had some effect on price as well; (9) between 1998 and 1999, when fillet production slumped worldwide, prices for pollock fillets rose as much as 74 percent; (10) however, for the completed portion of the 2000 season, prices have fallen over 20 percent from the comparable parts of the 1999 season; (11) lower prices in 2000 may also have been affected by larger-than-usual inventories carried over from 1999, decreased demand after customers switched to other products when prices rose in 1999, and the Chinese offering their pollock fillets at below-market prices; (12) the act's provisions had a clear effect on certain other aspects of fishery operations; (13) cooperative members almost universally report that the cooperatives are working well--even better than expected; (14) they are able to conduct operations in a more businesslike fashion, and the notoriously dangerous job of fishing at sea is considered safer because operators no longer feel compelled to spend even the worst weather days racing for fish; (15) overcapacity in the fishery has been further reduced because the remaining participants do not use all their vessels; and (16) while most results have been positive, industry officials also point to some ongoing concerns which deal with the act's restrictions on the extent to which those involved in the pollock fishery can also participate in other fisheries.

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