How catch shares work: A promising solution

Reviving fisheries and fishing communities

Catch shares are a type of management system that dedicates a secure share of fish or fishing area, to individual fishermen, communities or fishery associations. Each year, the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) also known as a "catch limit" is set with portions of the limit divided among fishery participants.

With a secure privilege of the total catch and clearly defined access to resources, fishermen have the ability to catch a certain amount of fish each year and are responsible for not exceeding that amount. And with this privilege, fishermen are afforded great flexibility in planning their business operations. They are no longer told exactly when or how to fish and are able to enjoy the freedom to do what makes sense for them.

Often, fishermen have the opportunity to buy and sell shares which improves flexibility and increases economic efficiency. Fishermen are also able to coordinate harvests to meet market demands, resulting in higher prices for their catch, and overall, resulting in improved levels of the fishery’s profitability.

Catch shares foster better fishing practices, higher prices and less waste

Catch shares "right the ship." With a secure share of the catch, there is no pressure or need to race for fish. And with a clear stake in the overall health and sustainability of the fishery, fishermen’s incentives change from maximizing volume to maximizing value. Fishermen no longer become fierce competitors but are now inspired to collaborate as environmental stewards of the resource their livelihood depends on. This type of cooperation is almost unheard of in non-catch share fisheries where competition — not communication — is the rule.

With more time and flexibility to fish, fishermen can more effectively plan their harvest, delivering fish when the demand is higher and staying ashore when the weather conditions are unsafe. More time to fish also allows fishermen to catch more sustainably — avoiding "bycatch," unwanted species, and reducing the amount of "discards" — fish thrown overboard often dead or dying. And with greater accountability from fishermen, regulators are able to relax many of constraints on fisheries.

Like stockholders, fishermen want their shares to go up, so they protect their fishery

Evidence shows that catch shares overcome the "tragedy of the commons" by providing a clear economic rationale for conserving resources. Similar to how shareholders in a company have a stake in the success of a business, fishermen under catch share programs have a direct investment in the fish stock because as fish populations rebound, their share grows. Under these programs, there is also an increased effort to avoid unmarketable species, known as bycatch, which minimizes impacts on ecosystem health.

Designed for safety and profit, catch shares also lead to environmental gains

In addition to improving safety and economic performance, catch shares have also been shown to increase environmental benefits. Catch shares give fishermen longer and more leisurely fishing seasons. With more time to fish, they are able to adjust fishing methods and increase efficiency allowing them to stay within catch limits and reduce impact on unwanted species. Reducing costs, avoiding penalties and engaging in conservation simply make good business sense. In addition, catch shares have provided more secure, full-time jobs, eliminated overcapitalization and alleviated the substantial stress and instability of short "derby" fishing seasons.

Catch share programs are not a silver bullet

Sustainable fisheries rely on a healthy ocean including a protected seafloor and estuaries, and reduced ocean impacts from climate change, among others. Catch shares provide the performance-based framework necessary for ensuring compliance with catch limits. Also, by tying together economic and conservation performance, catch shares create a constituency for addressing other challenges affecting fisheries.

Good design and implementation are key to redressing thorny issues

Different fisheries can have varying goals. For example, one fishery may want to maximize profits while another may want to preserve the current owner-operator fleet structure. Catch shares can be designed to help incorporate and balance these various goals.

A number of special design features, from allocation to trading rules to new net designs, have come about from the great diversity of fisheries where catch shares have been used. As catch shares continue to be utilized around the world, the innovation will only continue. Offering flexibility and versatility, catch shares allow customized management and balance needs and goals of each fishery.