Catch Share Fishing

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From a report on equal share fisheries by Stephen Leahy:

“It is widely known that in the majority of fisheries there are too many boats vying with each other to catch fewer and fewer fish. Fish quotas just mean that hundreds of boats fish intensively and indiscriminately to get as many fish as possible before the total quota is reached and the fishery closed.

“The government rules didn’t work,” said Wes Erikson, a fisher and restaurant owner from British Columbia (BC).

“We had just six days to grab all we could,” Erikson said.

That hyper-competitive situation was dangerous for fishers, gear was lost, bycatch was extremely high, and they caught more than they should, he confessed. Instead of continuing along this path, local fishers created an integrated groundfish vessel catch share system.

Individual fishers are each allowed to net a designated percentage of the total amount for each of 60 ground fish species set aside for fishing annually. The total cap on each fish type is adjusted yearly by the government according to how the well the species is doing.

In an equal share fishery, 50 boats equally divide up a 100 tonne quota of halibut so each is allowed to catch two tonnes. Shares could be traded as well. This “ownership” over the stock provides a financial incentive to grow it.

The key to making it work is each vessel must account for everything they catch. Detailed logs are backed up by a video system that automatically records every fish caught. The logs and videos are audited by a third party and the data is considered so accurate that it is now used by scientists, Erikson said.

“We removed the competition at sea by working it out on shore,” he said

Setting the original quotas was very difficult and involved long and loud arguments between governments, scientists, conservationists and fishers. But the hard work was more than worth it, he said. “We under-fish now and get better quality. And we can fish any time of the year.”

“If catch share fisheries were in place in the early 1990s, only a few fisheries would have collapsed,” said Kate Bonzon of the Environmental Defence Fund, a U.S.-based NGO.

Bonzon said that is the implication of a 2008 study by resource economists at the University of California that compared data from fisheries around the world. It showed that fish stocks where there were catch share fisheries had reversed their stock declines and were growing.” (



"From the Ecotrust Canada press release [1]:

"A new socio-economic study released by Ecotrust Canada today highlights a long list of troubling trends that has resulted from the implementation of individual transferable quota (ITQ) markets in B.C. fisheries since the early 1990s. The report is coming out at the same time as Ottawa plans to expand ITQ markets in Canada and U.S. President Barrack Obama is considering the widespread adoption of ITQs, also known as "catch shares," in American fisheries.

The study, titled "A Cautionary Tale about ITQ Fisheries," found that B.C.'s highly unregulated market for trading fishing quota is encouraging speculative buying and leasing of quota by "armchair" fishermen and investors. This is driving up business costs for working fishermen, which is hindering their competitiveness relative to American fishermen. Income is also being drained away from skippers and crewmen to pay for expensive lease fees. More troubling are safety statistics and anecdotal reports that suggest the economics of ITQs may be affecting the safety of working fishermen.

From the study's conclusion:

Proponents often exaggerate the importance of ITQs in sustainable fisheries. Setting a scientifically defensible TAC (Total Allowable Catch) and establishing an inclusive and transparent co-management process are by far the most important aspects of fisheries conservation. No fishery, ITQ or otherwise, will be sustainable in the long run without these two key measures." (


Silvia Federici:

" The fishing commons of Maine are presently threatened with a new privatization policy justified in the name of preservation and ironically labeled “catch shares.” This is a system, already applied in Canada and Alaska, whereby local governments set limits on the amount or fish that can be caught by allocating individual shares on the basis of the amount of fishing that boats have done in the past. This system has proven to be disastrous for small, independent fishermen who are soon forced to sell their share to the highest bidders. Protest against its implementation is now mounting in the fishing communities of Maine."

See “Cash Shares or Share-Croppers?” Fishermen’s Voice, Vol. 14, No.12, December 2009.


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