Q-n-A: Catch Shares

Welcome to The Fisheries Blog‘s first Q-n-A!  We are introducing this segment to showcase the knowledge and specialty of someone in the fisheries world who flat out knows their stuff.  For this inaugural Q-n-A, we are featuring Kelly Denit, a Fisheries Management Specialist for NOAA.  I recently asked Kelly to clarify some of the information surrounding catch shares…

1. What are catch shares?

“Catch share” is a general term used in fisheries management strategies that dedicate a secure share of fish to individual fishermen, cooperatives, or fishing communities for their exclusive use.

2. “Catch shares” seems to be relatively new term in the US.  How old is this type of management and where did it originate?

The term “catch share” refers to a range of similar management programs such as individual fishing quota, individual transferable quota, dedicated access privilege program, and limited access privilege programs.  The term “catch share” was adopted by NMFS in 2009 to facilitate communication about this class of management programs.  This style of management approach goes back to the 1970s.  The first program of this type in U.S. Federal fisheries was the individual fishing quota program for the the Mid-Atlantic Surf Clam and Ocean Quahog Fishery, which was implemented in 1990.  Currently, six of the regional fishery management councils have adopted 15 catch share programs across the country. 

3. Within fisheries, we hear more about catch shares in the context of the Pacific Northwest than in other regions.  Are more catch share programs taking place in certain regions of the US?

There are catch share programs in every region of the country except the Pacific Islands.  Approximately one third of our catch share programs are in the North Pacific/Alaska region.  The remaining two thirds are spread across the country.  A map showing all of the existing programs is available here:

List of present Catch Share programs by region

4. What are some of the reasons catch share programs are adopted and how are they integrated into an existing fishery?

Catch share programs are developed through a highly participatory and public process led by one of the nation’s eight regional fishery management councils, which are made up of representatives from the fishing community, scientists, and fishery managers.  Catch share program design varies widely across programs and regions, reflecting unique fishery characteristics and program objectives.  However, a substantial number of catch share programs have several objectives in common.  The most frequently stated program objectives are:  meeting conservation requirements, improving economic efficiency and/or flexibility, and improving safety at sea.

With clearly defined fishing privileges, fishermen in catch share programs no longer need to “race to fish,” but instead can make business decisions that better align their economic incentives with the long-term sustainability of the fishery.  For example, with more flexibility about when and how to operate, a fisherman can decide to fish when market conditions are best (e.g., prices are high) and weather is favorable.  This results in improved economic results for the fishermen as well as safer operating conditions.  By not needing to compete with other fishermen, catch share management can also encourage fishermen to adopt more sustainable fishing practices such as reducing the incidental catch of species not being targeted and to collaborate with each other to avoid areas of high bycatch.

5. Often we hear about catch shares in a positive light. What are the disadvantages or problems with catch share management?

As with any fishery management approach, there are challenges with the development and implementation of catch share programs.  For example, balancing the desire for improved economic efficiency with other social or economic objectives such as maintaining small boat fleets can be an issue the regional fishery management councils have to work through as they develop a catch share program (e.g., who can purchase or lease quota from who, establishing quota share caps to limit consolidation, etc.).  Frequently the implementation of catch share programs requires increased individual accountability.  This is often associated with increased monitoring requirements and/or changes to reporting and compliance activities, which can increase costs for both NOAA Fisheries Service and industry.

The Mid-Atlantic surf clam was one of the first fisheries to transition to catch shares management. (Source)


6. What is the future of catch shares in the US and around the world?

Catch share programs have been successfully implemented in a variety of fisheries in the United States and across the world however, they are not appropriate to use in all fisheries.  Catch share programs are another option in the toolbox of fishery management that can help improve the ecological and economic sustainability of fisheries and fishing communities.


7. Considering the fisheries that have transitioned to catch shares, is there a common theme before their transition, such as most were overfished or, conversely, already well-managed?

Before transitioning to catch shares, some fisheries had problems with overfishing, but others did not.  The most common theme among the programs was overcapacity—a misalignment between fishery capacity and the sustainable size of the resource.  For fisheries where the overall catch was well controlled and preventing overfishing, overcapacity led to increasingly shorter seasons as fishermen competed to catch a share of the resource before it was caught by others.  With clearly defined fishing privileges, fishermen in catch share programs no longer need to “race to fish,” but instead can make business decisions that better align their economic incentives with the long-term sustainability of the fishery.

Steve Midway

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