SAFA News   |    The South Atlantic Fishermen's Association

A closer look at trip limits

June 28, 2011

Trip limits have been proposed in the South Atlantic and across the United States as a commercial fishery management tool that places trip-based limits on fishing in order to lengthen fishing seasons, avoid complete fishing closures, reduce fishing pressure, and alleviate the hazardous effects of derby fishing. 

For the four commercial fisheries described below, trip limits mostly did not accomplish these management goals. In fact, other problems often arose such as increased discard rates and reduced fishermen revenue.

Gulf of Mexico grouper-tilefish fishery:

The Gulf of Mexico Council implemented trip limits for groupers in 2004 to reduce derby fishing, improve quota tracking, lengthen fishing seasons by spreading out landings over the year, and lower the likelihood of overfishing. However, trip limits encouraged fishermen to fish as fast as possible, like in a derby race, in order to catch as much as possible under the limit before it closed.  This oftentimes caused the season to close even earlier:

  • Trip limits were implemented in 2005, and in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, the deep water grouper season closed earlier than prior to the implementation of trip limits.
  • Tilefishes were a bycatch of the deepwater grouper fishery, and had no closures prior to implementation of grouper trip limits.  By 2009, this fishery was closed six and a half months early.

New England multi-species fishery:

The New England Council implemented trip limits in the multi-species fishery in 1994 to rebuild stocks. This regulation had limited success combined with the Days at Sea regulations (a limit on the number of days a fisherman could go out and fish):


  • The haddock fishery was no longer declared "overfished" in 2010, along with Gulf of Maine cod.  Trip limits had been in place for sixteen, and thirteen years respectively.  However, when most of the multispecies fleet moved away from trip limit and Days at Sea regulations in 2010, the cod fishery was still classified as undergoing overfishing
  • Fishermen reported major issues with trip limits while overfishing was addressed including excessive discarding, enforcement issues, and encouragement of derby fishing.
  • The Gulf of Maine 200 pound/day trip limit for cod was implemented on May 1, 1999, however within three weeks into the fishing season the limit was reduced to 30 pounds a day because seventy-five percent of the quota had been caught.

Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery:

The Gulf of Mexico Council implemented trip limits for red snapper in 1992to prevent derby conditions, lengthen seasons, and provide higher ex-vessel prices.  By the early 2000s the gulf red snapper fishery had monthly, ten day micro-seasons, and early closures to prevent overfishing of the resource.  Such short, concentrated harvests caused market gluts and lower dockside prices, along with higher costs, and dangerous fishing conditions.


  • A study showed that had the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery eliminated its trip limits and seasonal closures, fishermen would have earned $2.438 million to $3.977 million more in 1993.
  • Fishermen fished in high seas and storm conditions because the opportunities to catch red snapper were so limited.  As a result, boat sinkings were not uncommon.
  • Costs were also higher because of the fuel and supplies needed to make the extra trips, which further reduced profitability.

West coast groundfish fishery:

The Pacific Council implemented trip limits in the West coast groundfish fishery in 1989 to control landings, avoid early closures, and to minimize the targeting of specific species while allowing for take of some incidental catch.  In reality, in order to maximize catch under trip limits, fishermen harvested greater than the trip limit amount and discarded the rest of the catch. 


  • Studies of the West coast groundfish fishery in the mid 1990s showed that discards increased as the trip limit decreased and fishermen took more trips.  Plus, when fishermen limited out, they continued to target other species, and discarded the protected fish caught over the limit. 
  • When trip limits in the widow rockfish fishery were reduced from 30,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds, the percentage of discards compared to catch rose from 5.7% to 52.3%.[i]

Trip limits have an inconsistent track record of extending seasons, managing discards, reducing fishing pressure, nor keeping fishermen safe, and otherwise protecting fisheries.   


[i]Branch, Trevor A., Rutherford, K, Hilborn R.  2006. "Replacing trip limits with individual transferable quotas: implications for discarding." Marine Policy, 30: 281-292


Join the South Atlantic Fishermen's Association

© Copyright 2022 South Atlantic Fishermen's Association | Privacy Statement

Site Design and Programming by T2H Advertising