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Study: Privatization could avert fisheries' collapse

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / September 26, 2008

Cod and haddock are unloaded and sorted at Lydia's Cove in Chatham, Mass. The depletion of fisheries is clouding the future of the fishing industry in Cape Cod.

Mary Knox Merrill / The Christian Science Monitor / FILE

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Replacing the fishing season with a quota system could prevent fisheries from being depleted, a new study has found.

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Writing in last week's issue of the journal Science, a trio of researchers has found that the world's handful of fisheries with a "catch share" system, in which individual fishermen own long-term rights to a percentage of a predetermined catch limit, are half as likely to have collapsed than traditionally managed fisheries, in which fishermen try to catch as many fish as possible during a fishing season.

The study's authors – two from the University of California at Santa Barbara and one from the University of Hawaii – surveyed 121 fisheries with catch-share systems and compared them with catch statistics from 11,135 fisheries around the globe from 1950 to 2003. Their conclusion: "Implementation of catch shares halts, and even reverses, the global trend toward widespread collapse. Institutional change has the potential for greatly altering the future of global fisheries."

It can't happen soon enough. As the Monitor reported in June, one-quarter of the world's fish stocks are overfished, and another half are fished to full capacity. One study found that, if current trends continue, the world will completely run out of seafood by midcentury.

So how does a catch-share system work? First, marine scientists establish a safe level of annual catch for a species or group of species. Then, each individual boat or fleet is granted the right to a percentage of that catch, and they have all year to fish for it. The allowable catch fluctuates from year to year, but the percentages are guaranteed.  Fishermen can buy and sell these shares, but no new shares are allowed.

The Washington Post quotes Galen Tromble, fisheries chief at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, who explained how fishermen qualify for the shares:

Each share system operates differently, Tromble said, but federal guidelines dictate that anyone who has "substantially participated" in a fishery deserves part of the overall quota and that no individual can have "an excessive share." In the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, which switched to a share system on Jan. 1, 2007, managers set quotas based on the 10 best consecutive catches an individual had brought in from 1990 to 2004.
David Krebs, who owns Ariel Seafoods in Destin, Fla., and has been fishing there since 1969, owns almost 6 percent of the gulf's annual red snapper catch, just below the maximum share. Krebs noted that red snapper used to fetch $1.50 a pound dockside and has risen to $4.50 a pound as the fishing pressure has eased. He calls the new system "truly a success story."
"It's the most versatile tool that allows a fisherman to fish when the market needs the fish," Krebs said.

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