Congressional audit pans effectiveness of buybacks

Posted: Friday, July 07, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Buyback programs for fishing boats don't achieve their aims unless Congress also stops other boats from entering fisheries targeted for reduced competition, a congressional audit has concluded.

The General Accounting Office looked at vessel buyback programs in Alaska, Washington and New England to examine whether the total federal expenditure of nearly $130 million had relieved the concentration of boats competing for the same fish stocks.

The GAO report, released last month, didn't criticize the $90 million buyout of nine factory trawlers in the Bering Sea pollock fishery two years ago because that legislation also closed the fishery to new entries.

But it panned a $24 million buyout of 79 vessels in the New England groundfish fishery that contained no restriction on new entries.

The report said that 62 vessels have become active in the groundfish fishery since the New England buyout. In addition, nine of the ships that were bought out shifted to the lobster fishery, which already had too many boats.

In Washington state, about $12.8 million in federal money was used to buy more than 800 salmon fishing permits. The GAO said that, while that program did not prevent new entries, collapsed salmon stocks have made it impractical for new vessels to get into the fishery and fishing capacity has dropped.

''The experience of these three programs demonstrate that the long-term effectiveness of buybacks depends upon whether fishermen return to the fishery,'' the report said.

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