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Catch-share System Offers Hope To Collapsing Fisheries

September 20, 2008

A new report found that programs guaranteeing fishermen a share of the overall catch could avert danger for global fisheries.

The so-called catch-share programs reduce the effects of traditional open-access fishing, which promotes overfishing and habitat destruction, putting a key global food supply at risk.

“Under open access, you have a free-for-all race to fish, which ultimately leads to collapse,” said Christopher Costello of the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose study appears in the journal Science.

“But when you allocate shares of the catch, then there is an incentive to protect the stock, which reduces collapse. We saw this across the globe,” he said in a statement.

Global fisheries, which supply protein for 2.6 billion people worldwide, face threats from climate change and pollution.

Costello and colleagues studied 50 years of data from 11,000 fisheries around the world.

“What we found is a management system called catch shares reverses the global trend in fishery failures,” he said.

Catch-shares, which are common in New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, and increasingly the United States and Canada, grant each shareholder a fixed portion of a fishery’s total allowable catch, a figure set by scientists each year.

“Fisheries managed by this approach are dramatically less likely to collapse,” Costello said.

He added that only 1 percent of fisheries currently use the catch-share system, but those that still use traditional methods are half as likely to collapse.

“We found that fish fare far better when people directly benefit from taking just the right number of fish from the water,” said Steven Gaines of UCSB, who worked on the study.

“Fish populations rebound, and so do yields from the fisheries,” he added.

The Environmental Defense Fund welcomed the new research.

“The trend around the world has been to fish the oceans until the fish are gone,” said David Festa, vice president and oceans director at EDF. “The scientific data presented today shows we can turn this pattern on its head. Anyone who cares about saving fisheries and fishing jobs will find this study highly motivating.”

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