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Transferable quotas are the key to conserving stocks, study shows
The risk of fish stocks collapsing can be cut by half if fishermen agree on a system of ‘catch shares’.
That’s the conclusion of a major study led by Professor Christopher Costello of the University of California, which examined over 11,000 commercial fisheries around the world.
It could be the key to reversing the potentially catastrophic decline in some of the world’s major fisheries, and help to promote sustainable fishing.
Under catch shares systems, individual fishermen, communities, or co-operatives are allocated a percentage share of a total allowable catch within a particular fishery.
Catch shares – effectively a form of individual transferable quotas (ITQ) – date back to the 1970s, but are still relatively rare. The study found just 121 in operation, mostly in the US, New Zealand, Canada and Iceland. They are almost unheard of in Europe and the UK, but where implemented they provide a vital “stewardship incentive” which motivates fishermen to conserve stocks, Costello says.
Costello’s work was triggered by mounting concern over the speed and scale of fisheries decline. “One widely reported study has suggested we could see a global collapse of fish stocks by 2048. The question we asked ourselves was, ‘can we do anything about it?’”
“So we decided to look for lessons learned in management institutions around the world. This led us to a theory that has mostly been put forward by economists, but has been largely untested to date, with only anecdotal evidence to support it. The theory is, if you assign rights to individuals to some form of asset, they have an incentive [to safeguard it]."
Based on the results, Costello concludes that just 9% of global fisheries would be in danger of collapse if they had implemented some form of catch shares system back in the 1970s. Current estimates suggest one third are in danger. “Our projections show that if ITQs had been implemented at 100% of fisheries, they could wholly offset the current decline. That is the most striking result.”
The study’s welcomed by Rupert Howes, CEO of the Marine Stewardship Council, the international marine eco-labelling and certification programme for sustainable seafood. “Anything which gets the incentives right has to be a good thing. ITQs can do just this by ensuring fishers have a long-term interest in maintaining the health and productivity of the fishery upon which their livelihoods ultimately depend. They are a powerful management tool available to fisheries regulators and management agencies.” – Mark Lupton