Ocean fisheries are a classic example of the tragedy of the commons. For decades, governments have imposed command-and-control regulations to combat overfishing, but such restrictions have rarely worked. Shortened seasons and early closures created a dangerous, zero-sum “race to fish.” The result was a wasteful—and often deadly—derby that was bad for both fish and fishermen, who expended great costs to catch as many fish as possible before the closures set in.
PERC has been a leader in the development of a property-rights-based alternative known as individual transferable quotas (sometimes called “catch shares” or “individual fishing quotas”). With ITQs, fishermen have a right to catch a share of a total sustainable catch limit determined by fishery managers each season. Fishermen can buy, sell, or lease quota for each other, and they no longer have to race to fish. There is also more accountability for harvests and an incentive for stewardship.