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NOAA Fisheries Economist Receives Presidential Early Career Award

President Barack Obama talks with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Official White House Photo)

NOAA Fisheries economist Alan Haynie.

Alan Haynie is being recognized for his innovative work to ensure that fishery rules promote sustainable fishing.


There are at least two species in every fishery: the fish, and the people who go after them. And there are at least two kinds of fishery scientists: those who study fish, and those who study people. On April 14, one of the scientists who studies people will be recognized for his outstanding contributions to the field. The NOAA Fisheries economist Alan Haynie will receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Several biological and physical scientists from NOAA Fisheries have won this award in the past, but this is the first time the award is going to an economist with that agency.

"People play an important role in the ecosystem,” Haynie said, "And people respond to incentives." Haynie's work focuses on designing rules that give fishermen greater incentives—and flexibility—to fish sustainably. 

One problem that Haynie has worked on is reducing the number of Chinook salmon, some of which come from poorly performing runs, that are unintentionally caught by pollock fishermen in the Bering Sea.

Until recently, Chinook bycatch was managed by temporarily closing hotspots. But once outside closed areas, fishermen had no further incentive to avoid Chinook. A diverse group of fishermen and other stakeholders worked to devise a new incentive system and, with Haynie’s scientific advice, they constructed a system that assigns each fisherman an individual bycatch cap. If they hit that cap they must stop fishing. However, the system allows flexibility if fishermen also develop other measures that lead to salmon avoidance. In several of the programs implemented, if they manage to reduce their bycatch more than required, they can bank some of the difference for use in a future year.

This system gives fishermen a continuous incentive to avoid Chinook salmon while allowing them the flexibility to run their business as they see fit. Since the new rules went into effect in 2011, the rate of Chinook bycatch has fallen to its lowest recorded level.

"There are ways to set up the system to produce the outcomes we'd like, and to get there as efficiently as possible," Haynie said.

Economists sometimes have a reputation for ivory tower aloofness from the real world. But one of the things that drew Haynie to NOAA Fisheries was the opportunity to work on real-world problems.. The Chinook bycatch effort involved countless meetings and discussions among fishermen, industry groups, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and NOAA Fisheries. Every fishery is different, and the key is designing a system of incentives tailored to the unique circumstances of each. Haynie’s practice of seeking input from fishermen is integral to his success.

In addition to his work with Chinook, Haynie is leading a NOAA Fisheries effort to build computer modeling tools that predict how fishermen will shift fishing spots in response to changing rules or environmental conditions. FishSET—the Spatial Economic Toolbox for Fisheries—is already being used to improve the management of sea turtle bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico, identify low-cost wind power areas off the New England coast, and anticipate how the multi-billion-dollar Bering Sea pollock industry will adapt to climate change.

Haynie grew up on the Louisiana coast and fishing is in his blood. But he became a fisheries economist because he saw that smart policy can solve a lot of problems. "Working at NOAA is exciting because there are a lot of win-win opportunities, where intelligent policy can make both fishermen and the environment better off," Haynie said. "There are more interesting challenges here than I could ever hope to study.”

Haynie works for Ron Felthoven, head of Economics and Social Sciences Research at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “Alan is inquisitive, hard-working, and creative,” Felthoven said. “Through his leadership and dedication, he’s helping to solve some of the most challenging problems in fisheries management today.”

Both Haynie and Felthoven work for Richard Merrick, Chief Scientist at NOAA Fisheries. "This agency works best when our natural scientists and economists cooperate to solve the problems that affect our coastal communities,” Merrick said. “Alan Haynie has been a leader in making that approach a reality at NOAA Fisheries."

All three work for the President, who will welcome the awardees to the White House on April 14, 2014.