Commercial Fisheries:

Effectiveness of Fishing Buyback Programs Can Be Improved

GAO-01-699T: Published: May 10, 2001. Publicly Released: May 10, 2001.

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Barry T. Hill
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Fish populations in many commercial fisheries are declining, causing a growing imbalance between the number of vessels in fishing fleets and the number of fish available to catch. Federally funded fishery buyback programs are one tool available for managers to bring the number of vessels and the number of fish back into balance. Buyback programs need to be carefully designed if they are to sucessfully sustain fisheries. If buyback programs are not accompanied by other measures that reduce incentives to reenter a fishery, capacity reductions resulting from buybacks will erode. Unless a buyback program prevents it, fishermen can use previously inactive vessels or permits and reenter the buyback fishery. By themselves, the buyback programs do not address a root cause of overfishing, which is called the "race to fish." In most fisheries, fishermen have an incentive to increase their fishing capacity to catch fish before someone else does or use their existing capacity more intensely. Plans for evaluating the results of buybacks should also be considered when these programs are being designed. Measuring and evaluating results can identify important lessons that can improve the effectiveness of future buybacks. The federal government has done little to evaluate whether recent buyback programs have achieved their intended benefits. This testimony summarizes two GAO reports (RCED-00-8R and RCED-00-120).

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