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Allocation of Fishery Resources



Allocation Resources

Allocation Policy

Procedural Directives:

Other Resources


Allocation is defined by NOAA Fisheries as “a direct and deliberate distribution of the opportunity to participate in a fishery among identifiable, discrete user groups or individuals.” Allocation of fishery resources is one of the most challenging issues faced by fishery managers because of the economic value, history, and tradition associated with access to fishery resources and the perceptions of fairness that arise with allocation decisions. Allocation can be across jurisdictions (international, state, regional, etc.), across sectors (commercial, recreational, tribal, research, etc.), and within sectors (individual fishermen, gear types, etc.). 

Allocation and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters. First passed in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act fosters long-term biological and economic sustainability of our nation's marine fisheries out to 200 nautical miles from shore.  The Magnuson-Stevens Act created eight regional fishery management councils (councils) responsible for the fisheries that require conservation and management in their region. The councils are composed of both voting and non-voting members representing the commercial and recreational fishing sectors in addition to other (e.g., environmental, academic, and government) interests. 

Language relevant to allocation decisions is found throughout the Magnuson-Stevens Act, most significantly in National Standards 1, 4, 5, and 8 concerning optimum yield, allocation, economic efficiency, and communities, respectively. NOAA Fisheries created specific guidance for the councils on how they should implement these national standards. In addition to the national standards, Magnuson-Stevens Act section 303A on Limited Access Privilege Program (LAPPs) includes multiple requirements that apply to LAPP allocation decisions. Since LAPPs (a type of catch share program) allocate a portion of the catch to individual fishermen or groups of fishermen, the Magnuson-Stevens Act outlines requirements for determining who is eligible for quota and how much quota they receive. 

NOAA Fisheries National Allocation Policies and Resources

In 2016, NOAA Fisheries created an Allocation Policy to provide a mechanism to ensure fisheries allocations are periodically evaluated to remain relevant to current conditions. The Policy defines roles and responsibilities for NOAA Fisheries and the eight regional fishery management councils in reviewing allocations. The Policy includes two procedural directives that provide more details on implementing the policy. The first procedural directive was developed by a Council Coordination Committee and it outlines three categories of triggers that can be used by a council to initiate an allocation review: public interest, time, or indicators. Each council will identify by August 2019 (or as soon as practicable) one or more triggers for each fishery with an allocation. The second procedural directive was developed by NOAA Fisheries, and it outlines recommended practices and factors to consider when reviewing and updating allocations. The policy and complementary procedural directives provide guidance for the periodic assessment of fishery allocations among users. They also help improve understanding of the process behind such allocation decisions.

The Allocation Policy and Procedural directives were initiated in response to a 2012 report (Lapointe, 2012) that compiled fisheries allocation issues. The report summarized input from discussions with a wide range of stakeholders and suggested five steps NOAA Fisheries could take to address allocation issues: 1) increase stakeholder engagement in allocation decisions, 2) increase biological and social science research and data, 3) periodically review allocation decisions, 4) compile a list of past allocation decisions, and 5) create a list of factors to guide allocation decisions.

Multiple other reports and technical memoranda have been prepared by NOAA Fisheries that provide guidance on making allocation decisions. Discussions center around three main topics (economics, fairness, catch shares), with some documents covering more than one topic. The most recent report (Morrison and Scott 2014) summarized laws, guidance, technical memorandums, court cases and case studies related to fisheries allocation decisions. It also summarized regional fishery regulations that create or modify commercial and recreational allocations or catch share program allocations. Three technical memorandums focused on allocations to catch share programs (Anderson and Holliday 2007Pooley 1998Huppert (ed) 1987), and two other technical memorandums (Plummer et al. 2012, and Edwards 1990) provided general information on fisheries allocation decisions as a whole. In addition NOAA Fisheries collects and analyzes data on both recreational and commercial fisheries including catch and effort data and socio-economic data.

Allocation and the Regional Fishery Management Councils

NOAA Fisheries works in partnership with the eight fishery management councils to address allocation at the regional and national levels. NOAA Fisheries actively supports council actions related to fishery allocations. For example, NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center has produced three technical papers to inform council discussion related to allocations between 2008 and 2014:

In addition, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center is preparing a paper detailing a new cost benefit analysis for recreational fisheries which uses a bioeconomic model that combines information on the biological stock structure, historical catch-at-length data, and angler choice.