How to turn around the overfishing crisis

By giving fishermen ownership rights, we make sustainability a priority

Once nearly depleted, the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico has rebounded, thanks to sustainable fishing management.

John Rae/EDF

In many of the world’s fisheries, poor policies give fishermen a stronger incentive to poach rather than protect. With billions of people relying on seafood as a key protein, we must change the trajectory of crashing fish populations—or risk a global food crisis.

Fixing a broken system

Traditional fishery management has motivated fishermen to catch as much as possible as quickly as possible, without regard to the long-term health of the fishery. But when fisheries institute rights-based management, fishermen become highly motivated to become stewards of their oceans.

How it works: Fishermen receive a secure share of the catch, and they agree to adhere to strict limits that allow fish populations to rebuild. This long-term ownership stake—in the form of a percentage of the fishery—is an asset that a fisherman can sell or grant to his children. And when the fishery grows, his stake increases, along with his profits. 

  TRADITIONAL MANAGEMENT FISHING RIGHTS

When to fish

In designated seasons, some as short as a few days When weather and market conditions are at their best

How much to catch

As much as possible in the limited seasons A set amount, spaced throughout the year

Incentive to follow rules

Fear of penalties, not consistently enforced Ownership of shares that grow in value as the fishery regains health

The incentives are working

Rights-based fishing has already transformed fisheries in the U.S., where it’s known as catch shares. Today, more than two-thirds of the seafood supply in the U.S. is sustainable, and more than 100 species are now on the path to recovery. 

From Australia, Belize and Chile to Denmark, Namibia and the United States, sustainable management is creating healthier oceans that support more fish, feed more people and improve livelihoods.

Fisherman and fishery managers are now some of our biggest allies in this sea change.

Next: Focus on regions with big impact 

By changing the policies and practices of 12 nations, we can get 70% of the world’s catch under managed rights, tipping the entire system toward sustainability. This is our goal for 2020—and we need your support to get us there.