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Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?

This week, Science published the study “Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?” by Costello[1], Gaine[2] and Lynham[3], which may be used as a road map for federal and regional fisheries managers interested in reversing years of declining fish stocks.

fish Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?

The study has already received a lot of praise from environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) who says that the study shows how the overfishing problem can be fixed by implementing catch shares. “We can turn a dire situation into an enormous opportunity to promote better food security, create jobs and revive ecosystems,” says David Festa, vice president and director of the oceans program at EDF.

Catch share programs is intended to replace complex fishing rules and hold fishermen directly accountable for meeting scientifically determined catch limits. In a catch share program, fishermen are granted a percentage share of the total allowable catch, individually or in cooperatives. They can also be given exclusive access to particular fishing zones, so called territorial use rights. As long as the fishermen do not harvest more than their assigned share, they will retain a comparatively high flexibility and decide for themselves when to carry out the fishing, e.g. depending on market fluctuations and weather conditions.

The trend around the world has been to fish the oceans until the fish are gone,” says Festa. “The scientific data presented today shows we can turn this pattern on its head. Anyone who cares about saving fisheries and fishing jobs will find this study highly motivating.

As the fishery improves, each fisherman will find that the value of his or her share grows. This means that fishermen will be financially motivated to meet conservational goals.

In January 2007, a catch share system for red snapper went into effect in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the 2007 commercial snapper season to be open 12 months a year for the first time since 1990. According to EDF, fishermen in the area now earn 25% more and wasteful bycatch has dropped by at least 70%.


[1] Christopher Costello, Associate Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics at the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California

[2] Steve Gaine, Professor of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, University of California

[3] John Lynham, Assistant Professor in the Economics Department at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa

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