Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Technical Memorandum
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 8396
Title: Safety incidents in the West Coast catch shares fisheries
Author/Editor: Lisa Pfeiffer
Publication Year: 2016
Tech Memo Number: NMFS - F/SPO -160
Pages: 33
Date: 5/26/2015

The United States Coast Guard collects and maintains data on incidents at sea in the commercial fishing industry. Safety-related incidents include injuries, falls overboard, vessel collisions, deaths, pollution events, and equipment failures that required Coast Guard intervention. However, this information is not linked to the particular fishery that a vessel was participating in at the time of the incident. Doing so requires significant additional effort by a researcher with access to fishing permit, landings, and fishery observer data.  In addition, much of this data is confidential to non-National Marine Fisheries Service researchers under the requirements set forth in The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) at section 402(b), 16 U.S.C. 1881a(b).

This report matches Coast Guard incident data to fisheries data in two important West Coast fisheries: the sablefish fixed gear tier limit fishery and the limited entry groundfish trawl fishery. Both fisheries have undergone management transitions to catch shares (individual fishing quota) management in recent years. National Standard 10 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, NOAA Catch Shares Policy (NOAA, 2010), and the individual program goals of both catch share programs all include “improving safety in the fishery” as one of their stated goals (Amendment 14 of the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan, 75 FR 32993).  In addition, both programs have recently or will in short order be subject to a programmatic review, during which attainment of the program goals will be evaluated. Therefore, this matched dataset is of particular interest for these two fisheries.

This report also presents a method for calculating incident rates using a risk exposure based on estimated total days spent at sea. Annual total days at sea are estimated for each fleet, and an incident rate is calculated for each fleet. The West Coast sablefish tier limit fishery is evaluated from 1994-2012, and the West Coast groundfish trawl limited entry/catch share fishery is evaluated from 2002-2012. These time frames include periods before and after their respective catch share programs were put into place.

Coast Guard incident and casualty data that has been matched to fishery data has been used to evaluate changes in incident rates over time in other fisheries. In this report, however, we also discuss some of the problems with such data and how it should be appropriately used, given those problems. For example, without an identification strategy to establish causality, these data should not be used to claim that a particular factor “caused” a change in the number of incidents or incident rate. Even with an identification strategy, causality is very difficult to establish with sparse data like annual incident rates. In addition, the data measure the number of reported incidents, and should not necessarily be used to make conclusions about fishing safety in general.

Despite these caveats, the data that are developed in this report are important because ultimately, a reduction in safety-related incidents and deaths is the goal of safety policies. This report also highlights improvements that could be made in data collection and tracking, as well as caution users on the interpretation of such data.

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Theme: Ecosystem approach to improve management of marine resources
Foci: Describe the interaction between human activities, particularly harvest of marine resources, and ecosystem function.