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.
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
A kind of rights-based fishing called catch shares has already transformed fisheries in the United States. Overfishing has dropped 60 percent in federal waters since 2000; and better management is providing more stable fishing jobs and increased revenue.
In Belize, Denmark, Namibia, the United States and elsewhere, sustainable management is creating healthier oceans that support more fish, feed more people and improve livelihoods.
Fisherman and fishery managers are some of our biggest allies in this change.
"We're catching bigger fish and getting more bang for our buck," says Buddy Guindon, a Gulf of Mexico commercial red snapper fisherman.
"[Sustainable fishing] will help fish rebound without marginalizing those who have fished for generations," says Belize Fisheries administrator Beverly Wade.
- Report: Fixing fisheries management could offset many negative effects of climate change
- For practitioners: The Fishery Solutions Center provides a toolkit for sustainable management
Next: Focus on regions with big impact
By changing the policies and practices of 12 nations, we can get 70 percent of the world's catch under managed rights, tipping the system toward sustainability. We need your support to get us there.