Could sharing the catch save fisheries?

Amid the collapse of once-rich fisheries around the world, policymakers, fishermen and environmentalists have been debating a controversial question: Can a fishery be saved by giving those who harvest the sea a guaranteed share of its bounty, rather than having them compete to see who can extract the most the fastest?

A study published in the journal Science, conducted by two economists and an ecologist, suggests that the answer is yes. The authors — two from the University of California at Santa Barbara and one from the University of Hawaii — surveyed 121 fisheries worldwide where individuals receive a predetermined portion of a fishery’s catch limit and found that they were half as likely to have collapsed as those without a “catch share” system. In addition, the researchers found that when a fishery that had relied on traditional methods — such as seasonal limits or overall catch restrictions — was converted to using catch shares, the change did not just slow the fishery’s decline; it stopped it.

Once people are given a fixed share in a fishery, said lead author Christopher Costello, they are less likely to overfish, because they have a financial interest in having the species thrive

“We’ve moved well beyond theory into the realm of real experience and hard science that demonstrates the benefits” of an individual quota system, said James L. Connaughton… “This changes all the bad incentives to good incentives,” he added. “When fishermen own their share of the stock, they become partners in enforcement rather than bystanders.”

This is a problem I grew up with. The usual governmental response – when there is any response to good science at all – is to put all the energy into orders and telling fisherfolk what to do. Participation in regulation as well as harvesting is almost too sensible to believe that many governments will adopt the plan. I have a bit more faith in organized seafarers.

Saying that – this sounds like a sensible beginning.

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