A study published in the September 19 issue of Science shows that an innovative yet contentious fisheries management strategy called "catch shares" can reverse fisheries collapse. Where traditional "open access" fisheries have converted to catch shares, both fishermen and the oceans have benefited.
Catch shares are common in New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, and increasingly the US and Canada.* They guarantee each shareholder a fixed portion of a fishery's total allowable catch, which is set each year by scientists. Much like stock shares in a corporation, these shares can be bought and sold. Each share becomes more valuable when the fish population and thus the total allowable catch increases. With catch shares, every shareholder has a financial stake in the long-term health of the fishery.
The results of the study are striking: while nearly a third of open-access fisheries have collapsed, the number is only half that for fisheries managed under catch share systems. Furthermore, the authors show that catch shares reverse the overall downward trajectory for fisheries worldwide, and that this beneficial effect strengthens over time.
"Under open access, you have a free-for-all race-to-fish, which ultimately leads to collapse," says lead author Christopher Costello, an economist at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "But when you allocate shares of the catch, then there is an incentive to protect the stockwhich reduces collapse. We saw this across the globe. It's human nature."
The results of this study are certain to have wide-ranging implications as more fisheries in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and elsewhere consider switching to catch shares systems. It is particularly timely for the West Coast of the United States, where the groundfish fishery which encompasses more than 80 species including sole, rockfish (snapper), hake, and sablefish (
|Contact: Liz Neeley|