NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 17, 2009

Since 1950, nearly 30 percent of all fisheries have collapsed, and some scientists project that in 40 years, all of the world's fisheries could collapse.  The problem is a failure of humans to manage fisheries in a way that is consistent with both maximum economic benefit and long-term survival of ocean fish stocks.

Yet researchers have found that a system of catch shares called individual transferable quotas (ITQs) is stunningly successful in protecting fisheries.  They examined 121 fisheries where ITQs have been implemented, and compared the outcomes to the 11,014 fisheries around the world where such systems have not been instituted.  The results:

  • A conventional measure of collapse for a fishery is a decline in catch to a level that is less than 10 percent of the maximum recorded catch for that fishery.
  • By this criterion, an average of more than 50 fisheries has reached collapse each year since 1950, in a worldwide pattern that seems to be pointing toward the demise of all fisheries.
  • But they found that once a catch share system is implemented, the process of collapse halts.
  • Moreover, in many of the ITQ fisheries, recovery of fish stocks begins soon after implementation, even as fishermen continue to profitably catch fish.

If ITQs had been implemented beginning in 1970, the rate of collapse would have been cut by two-thirds, estimate researchers.  We would now be seeing fisheries getting healthier.  More importantly, it appears that the power of ITQs to prevent and even reserve fishery collapse applies to species and ecosystems throughout the world.

Source: Daniel K. Benjamin, "Save the Fisheries," Property and Environment Research Center Reports, Vol. 26, No. 4, December 2008; based upon: Christopher Costello, Steven D. Gaines and John Lynham, "Can Catch Shares Prevent Fishier Collapse?" Science, Vol. 321, No. 5869, September 2008.

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