Are Catch Shares on the Rise in U.S. Fisheries?

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by Shawn Regan

Today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a policy advancing the use of catch share programs in U.S. fishery policy. Catch shares are a form of rights-based fisheries management that allocates a portion of the total allowable catch to individuals, cooperatives, or other entities — an approach PERC has advocated for many years.

The Environmental Defense Fund, which has partnered with PERC in promoting rights-based fishing, explains why this policy is welcome relief for marine fisheries:

For too long the government has propped up a failed system of ocean fishery management. Conventional management has resulted in shrinking fishing seasons, fishery closures, and increased waste.  Fishermen are faced with burdensome and ineffective regulations. Because of this today’s fishing jobs are dangerous, part-time, and relatively unstable, and more than 60 federal fish stocks are classified as overfished or undergoing overfishing. Rebuilt fisheries could increase the dockside value of commercially-caught fish by $2.2B (54% above current value) in the US.

Catch shares management is the right approach because it improves the conservation of the fishery, drives economic growth, and empowers fishermen to have stable, profitable businesses. Unlike conventional management, which manages the details of how fishermen conduct their business, catch shares provide fishermen with flexibility — allowing them to be more targeted and efficient. This means overfishing ends, wasteful bycatch declines, and revenues increase.

The NOAA policy will make it easier to adopt rights-based fisheries management programs in the future — a change that could not happen too soon. Recent research warns that all of the world's fisheries could collapse in 40 years and that catch shares have the power to stop or reverse this collapse.

About 275 fisheries around the world have implemented catch share systems, including 25 in the U.S. However, at a global level, less than 2% of the world's fisheries have adopted such rights-based management.

Shawn Regan is a research fellow at PERC. He holds a M.S. in Applied Economics from Montana State University and degrees in economics and environmental science from Berry College. He is also a visiting fellow at the Breakthrough Institute. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Quartz, High Country News, Reason, Regulation, Grist, and...
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