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Both quantitative and qualitative measures of fishing capacity exist.
Both quantitative and qualitative measures of fishing capacity exist.
FAO/19584/G. Bizzarri

Issue

During the last half century, fisheries management has long tried to address overfishing and related socio-economic crises in domestic and global fisheries – but it is more recently that it has become recognized that these problems are a symptom of a far more serious problem: overcapacity. Indeed, overcapacity is a significant, if not the primary, reason for overfishing and related socio-economic crises in domestic and global fisheries. In addition, because overcapacity is a harmful, long-run phenomenon that does not self-correct itself and will persist indefinitely if not addressed, it is important to measure fishing capacity as a critical part of the fisheries assessment process. (In contrast, excess capacity - the difference between what a production facility could produce if fully utilized and what is produced by the owners, given the prices of inputs and outputs - is a common, short run, self-correcting phenomenon in all types of industries at different points in time and is not particularly critical to measure.)

Measuring capacity provides fishery managers with information on the ability of a fishing firm or industrial fleet to harvest the target level of capacity at its lowest cost for a given desired stock abundance level. Alternatively, in terms of what is produced (output), measuring capacity helps determine whether the maximum harvest level that a fisher could produce with given levels of inputs (such as fuel, amount of fishing gear, ice, bait, engine horsepower and vessel size) would exceed the desired level of harvesting or TAC.

Defining capacity and overcapacity

Fishing capacity as defined by FAO is the amount of fish (or fishing effort) that can be produced of a period of time (e.g. a year or a fishing season) by a vessel or a fleet if fully utilized and for a given resource condition.

Thus, capacity can be measured either in terms of inputs (what is used in production) or in terms of outputs (what is produced). In input terms, the economic definition of capacity can be considered as the minimum fleet and effort required to produce a given total allowable catch or given output (harvested catch) level. In output terms, capacity can be considered as the maximum harvest level that a fisherman or a fleet can produce with given levels of inputs, such as fuel, amount of fishing gear, ice, bait, engine horsepower and vessel size.

As a result, the economic term “overcapacity” also can be described in two ways. In input terms, "overcapacity" means there is more than the minimum fleet and effort required to produce a given TAC or given output (harvested catch) level. Thus, overcapacity can be measured to provide fishery managers with information on the ability of a fishing firm or industrial fleet to harvest the target level of capacity at its lowest cost for a given desired stock abundance level. It can be measured at the target levels as well as at economically efficient levels of production. Alternatively, in output terms, overcapacity means that the maximum harvest level that a fisher could produce with given levels of inputs, such as fuel, amount of fishing gear, ice, bait, engine horsepower and vessel size would exceed the desired level of harvesting or TAC.

Assessing capacity and overcapacity

The process of capacity assessment can be simplified into a series of questions:

  • What is the current capacity? and Is there excess capacity?
  • If there is excess capacity, is this a problem? Is underutilization a result of the nature of the fishery (e.g. highly variable stocks), the current market conditions (e.g. temporary price or cost fluctuations), or is it indicative of the very serious problem of overcapacity?
  • What level of capacity is required in the fishery to meet the objectives of management?
  • What does this mean in terms of the number of boats in a fishery (fleet size), effort levels and capacity utilization? Do we want a small fully utilized fleet or a larger underutilized fleet? How might this change over time (e.g. as a consequence of stock recovery)?
  •  How do we move from the current situation to the desired situation?
An observer controls the dimensions of a net and its catch
An observer controls the dimensions of a net and its catch
Courtesy of NOAA

Answering these questions, however, is more complex, as decisions need to be made how to measure capacity, and more critically, how to manage capacity if overcapacity is perceived to be a problem.

Both quantitative measures and qualitative indicators exist and can be employed to determine the level of capacity in a fishery, an important point given that quantitative estimation of overcapacity can require detailed information on a fishery or fisheries that may not be readily available.  As a result, subjective measures and qualitative indicators of overcapacity levels may provide useful information to managers who manage fisheries as open access or regulated open access resources.

Quantitative measures require the definition of the target level of capacity (in terms of effort, catch or boat numbers) so that overcapacity can be determined as either the difference or ration of the potential level to the targel level. Two such techniques are data envelopment analaysis (DEA) and bioeconomic modelling.

Sometimes, however, subjective measures may be the only way to derive estimates of overcapacity, thus the use of qualitative assessments based on verifiable indicators may make better use of existing information. Clearly, no one indicator can be sufficient to make a determination of overcapacity in a fishery, but a combination of indicators utilizing time trend information can be used to determine qualitative capacity levels in fisheries.  Such indicators may include the biological status of the fishery, the ratio of harvest totarget catch, ratio of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) to season length, the level of conflict in a fisheries over the allocation of fish, the existence of latent or unused permits, catch per unit of effort, value per unit of effort, and other measures such as declining profitability and increased age of the fleet.

Outlook

As countries work to develop and implement both Regional and National Plans of Action on the Management of Fishing Capacity, both quantitative and qualitative capacity assessment and monitoring mechanisms are being developed and increasingly applied.

 
 
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