Catch shares

This is a repost of several articles by Mark Gibson from Breaching the Blue:

new study evaluates the impacts of catch share management in the U.S. and Canada, finding:

[C]atch shares result in environmental improvements, economic improvements, and a mixture of changes in social performance, relative to the race for fish under traditional management. Environmentally, compliance with total allowable catch increases and discards decrease. Economically, vessel yields rise, total revenues grow, and long-term stock increases are encouraged. Socially, safety increases, some port areas modestly consolidate, needed processing capacity often reduces, and labor markets shift from part time jobs to full time jobs with similar total employment.

Here’s a good graphic:

I find the evaluation compelling, and I again turn to think on the theory of catch share management.  Why does it work?  The standard argument is based in economics: the incentives are not properly aligned. As the authors write:

Traditional management fisheries are non-catch share fisheries that use any or all of the following management tools: limited entry, effort control, trip limits, and total catch limits…this style of management contains inherent imbalances. In theory, it reins in overfishing through input and output controls that limit how a fisherman can fish and how much a fisherman can produce. In practice, fisherman innovation leads to increased fishing capacity and effort, which then leads to progressively more Draconian command-and-control measures…This process locks fishermen into a cycle of increasing effort and control called the “race for fish.” In a race for fish, fisheries are closed either for the remainder of the season or until the next pre-determined opening as soon as the TAC is reached. Thus, an individual fisherman must catch the fish quickly; otherwise, other fishermen will catch the limited supply of fish. This situation has negative environmental, economic, and social repercussions…

Catch shares remedy the shortcomings of traditional management by directly addressing the common property problem of rival, non-excludable fish stocks. As each fisherman’s stake in the fishery is secure, there is no incentive to race for fish. Similarly, since the value of a fisherman’s quota is directly dependent on the long-term stock level, there is an incentive to support long-term management for high biomass levels. By changing fishery management institutions to properly align incentives, catch shares can end the race for fish, helping to avoid fisheries’ collapse.

I wonder if we might also find important explanations in political science.  Could there also be separate and equally important learning and trust building processes that are occurring alongside this change to the economic institutions?  And perhaps the absence or failure of these processes explain why sometimes catch share programs do not work, or are slow to get off the ground, and why sometimes traditional management succeeds?

A great deal of collaboration and communications work goes into implementing catch shares, and I suggest that increased private enterprise-government interactions may increase participants’ knowledge of fisheries science and levels of trust of public managers.  As I have pointed out before, fishermen may be prone to a ‘sampling bias’ and see fish as being more abundant than they really are.  And fishermen may have little trust in the objectivity of the science when their views are challenged.  In some cases, you even hear discussion of conspiracies by environmentalists to stop all fishing.

Going forward, I would enjoy seeing research into fishermen’s knowledge and trust in government before and after transitions to catch shares.


Catch shares are increasingly promoted as an effective way to manage fisheries and better align private incentives with conservation. I’ve blogged a bit on this myself.

But we too rarely talk about the theory driving the trend in catch shares and which hypotheses need further testing.  To support that discussion, I thought it would be nice to list the various hypotheses surrounding catch shares as found by MRAG Americas through two technical workshops.  This I hope will complement a past blog of an excellent piece by EDF and Redstone Strategy Group earlier this year.

  • Catch shares will improve stock status to levels that maximize economic gains: under exploited species may experience higher fishing rates and over exploited species may experience lower fishing rates.   Inter annual variability in F [mortality] will be reduced.
  • Catch shares combined with high observer coverage and discards that count against the quota will result in discard reductions.  Catch shares combined with discards that do not count against the quota will lead to highgrading.
  • Catch shares will lead rights-holders to better match their total catches (including discards) with their catch quotas.
  • Catch shares will incentivize stakeholders to be better stewards of their resources.
  • Catch shares will lead to much fewer instances of fleet-wide quota overages.
  • Catch shares will lead fishermen to improve their ability to avoid constraining species and target more abundant species.
  • Catch shares will lead to fishing effort being spread out over a longer period of time.
  • Catch shares will lead fishermen to focus more on maximizing quality than quantity.
  • Catch shares will lead to data (landings) being available more immediately and used to inform in season management.
  • Catch shares will lead to fishing operators investing in cooperative research.
  • Catch shares will cause a shift in governance activities from federal managers to individuals, sectors, or co-ops.
  • Catch shares will lead to greater economic efficiency in fishing operations.
  • Catch shares combined with extreme consolidation allowance will lead to the failure of small businesses.
  • Catch shares will lead to negative overall impacts for community stability.

These hypotheses were liberally adapted from MRAG’s Catch Share Evaluation Methodology found here.  The document is nice as it provides indicators that might be used to evaluate these hypotheses.  The last hypothesis above is primarily what is put forward by opponents of catch shares, such as the Food and Water Watch (for example, as argued here).

In my own view, the ecological and economic hypotheses are increasingly well-supported by existing catch share programs. As for the governance and social impacts, it’s still an open question.  Do we get more collaborative research?  Is there better data sharing? Is governance further decentralized? And how severe are the employment impacts in overcapitalized fisheries?

The last question is something I think about quite a lot.  There’s no question that catch share programs can and do create unemployment.  But, so do overfished stocks and overcapitalized fisheries when brought under science-based, top-down management.  It’s a hard fact that many fleets are overcapitalized and people will need to be moved other activities. The U.S. is no exception.


There’s a nice paper out in Marine Policy that was put together by Read Porter and his colleagues at the Environmental Law Institute (ELI).  It represents a valiant attempt to get at relationship between fisheries management institutions and compliance.  That is, do marine resource regimes based on catch rights better engender rule compliance than marine resource regimes based on restricted common property?   (Or even simpler, do fishermen better follow/self-enforce the rules when they have a right to future catches?)

The introduction to the paper alone is worth the read.  It’s a beautiful roadmap to where we are with catch share and compliance theory.  Here’s an excerpt on how the two come together:

Some research demonstrates that catch shares can encourage compliance [5,20]. Because ?shers in catch share systems suffer directly  when  others  violate  the  program  due  to  reduction  of potential future catch, catch share programs provide incentives for ?shers to accept and support strengthened monitoring, enforcement, and penalization of violations and to report over?shing that they witness [10,21]. For example, catch share participants have  demanded  increased  dockside  and  at-sea  enforcement monitoring to augment rates of detection [6], including observer coverage [22] and taxation [23]. Fishers also have worked with ?sheries management authorities to create regulations that make noncompliance  easier  to  detect  [24,25]…

Little empirical information exists to test the effects of catch shares on compliance. Some studies indicate high rates of compliance [28], but others report substantial noncompliance (e.g. [19,29–32]). These studies led Branch [10] to conclude that while ‘‘quota busting’’ (i.e., non-reported catch) is not a major problem in most catch share ?sheries, effective enforcement is an important factor in this success.

Porter and his team assembled two fascinating data sets to evaluate how the transition to catch shares affected compliance in the Gulf of Mexico commercial reef fish fishery.  One is a set of records of enforcement actions involving alleged violations of federal laws and regulations  under  NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) jurisdiction,  including  ?sheries  regulations, originating with NOAA, the United States Coast  Guard (USCG),state enforcement agencies, and other sources.  The other is survey data from 2007 and 2011 on fishermen’s perceptions of compliance and noncompliance.

What did they find?  Well, not a whole lot with any certainty, and I think it’s fair to say that this was a risk worth taking.  The problems were two-fold.  First, the transition to catch shares was accompanied by other significant changes in management and enforcement, including the imposition of a mandatory observer program, a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), and marine reserves.

And second, the data sets were just too incomplete.  On the dataset of enforcement activities:

Fisheries enforcement in the Gulf of Mexico relies heavily on state agencies, which enforce federal ?sheries regulations pursuant  to  cooperative  and  joint  enforcement  agreements  with NOAA. State agencies prosecute some detected reef ?sh violations – particularly less serious violations – under corresponding state law rather than forwarding them to NOAA for federal prosecution. The JEA program requires states to report these cases to NOAA [57], but LEADS does not include all cases reported pursuant to the JEA program [personal communication]. As a result, LEADS includes some, but not all, potential violations identi?ed by state agencies….[Furthermore e]nforcement agencies currently lack the resources to allow agents to be present at most landings, so the accuracy of landings reports and the effects of noncompliance on the resource remain unclear… The potentially substantial incidence of noncompliance that isnot represented in LEADS indicates that the enforcement dataset should be interpreted as an underestimate of noncompliance.

As for the surveys of fishermen, the 2011 data is rather limited.  In 2007, 186 people responded out of a possible 396 for a response rate of 47%.  But in 2011, just 67 people responded out of a possible 408 for a response rate of 17%.  That’s pretty low.  Interestingly, the perceptions of noncompliance remained quite high and only slightly decreased after all the management changes. There was only one statistically significant reduction: the decline in occasional violators.  This adds an interesting layer to the fisheries crime theory that occasional violators may be most swayed by rational economic considerations.

Ultimately, I think this paper is an excellent contribution to fisheries criminology, particularly in showing how a study can be structured, how the data can be analyzed, and that we need the government to require a higher standard of data collection to really analyze the effectiveness of U.S. fisheries enforcement and the contribution of catch share regimes to compliance.

Grimm, D., Barkhorn, I., Festa, D., Bonzon, K., Boomhower, J., Hovland, V., & Blau, J. (2012). Assessing catch shares’ effects evidence from Federal United States and associated British Columbian fisheries Marine Policy, 36 (3), 644-657 DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2011.10.014

Read D. Porter, Zachary Jylkka, & Greta Swanson (2012). Enforcement and compliance trends under IFQ management in the Gulf of Mexico commercial reef ?sh ?shery Marine Policy DOI:10.1016/j.marpol.2012.05.018


2 Responses to “Catch shares”

  1. KallenDK says:

    I spent a lot of time researching catch shares and quota systems a few years ago. The Pacific NW fishing industry was in the process of vetting the system around 2008.

    Although there are problems with the system (amassing of quotas, quota-busting, high-grading), the state of the fishing industry demanded a change. The current system was unsustainable and quota shares showed initial successes.

    I’ve covered this topic before on my blog:

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