Commercial Fisheries:

Information on Federally Funded Buyback Programs

RCED-00-8R: Published: Oct 20, 1999. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 1999.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on federally funded fishery buyback programs, focusing on the: (1) number, objectives, and key features of federally funded buyback programs since 1976; (2) costs, sources of funds, and results of these programs; and (3) key features and estimated costs of proposed federally funded buyback programs.

GAO noted that: (1) since 1976, the federal government has authorized 10 buyback programs under a variety of laws, including the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act of 1986, the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996, and the American Fisheries Act of 1998; (2) the programs have generally focused on buying back federal or state fishing permits, and a few have included buying vessels or placing restrictions on their use; (3) the programs have also attempted to provide economic assistance to fishermen leaving the industry, to increase the profitability of fishermen remaining in the fishery, or to provide for the conservation of the fish stocks; (4) when completed, the 10 buyback programs will have cost a total of about $160 million; (5) about $140 million of the costs will have been incurred since 1995, an indication of the increasing use of the buyback programs; (6) about $20 million of the costs were incurred in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s for programs to assist fishermen in the Northwest salmon industry; (7) of the total costs, about $80 million is funded through federal grants for economic assistance and relief to fishermen adversely affected by closures of fishing areas or natural disasters that reduced fish stocks; (8) most of the remaining costs are funded by a $75 million federal loan provided to Bering Sea groundfish fishermen to buy large fishing vessels specified by the American Fisheries Act; (9) the loan is repayable over 30 years based on a fee tied to the pollock caught by those left in the fishery; (10) the remaining $5 million of the cost is funded by a combination of state and private funding; (11) six additional buyback programs have been proposed by industry groups or the state of Washington; (12) preliminary cost estimates prepared by the sponsors of these proposals exist for 5 of the 6 programs; (13) these 5 programs could cost from about $150 million to $220 million; (14) one of the programs would be financed by a federal loan to purchase federal fishing permits and would be administered by the Fisheries Service; (15) a second program would involve a federal grant for about $32 million to purchase salmon fishing licenses associated with June 1999 changes to an existing treaty with Canada; (16) three proposals could cost in total from $70 million to $130 million; (17) the financing, administration, and other features of these programs are still being determined; (18) a Pacific groundfish proposal was submitted to the Fisheries Service but is now being reconsidered by an industry group; and (19) no cost estimate is available for the proposed program.

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