When people think of fishing, they probably imagine an independent sea captain and his crew braving the elements in a small vessel to bring a fresh catch to shore and to our plates. But the current focus of U.S. policy for managing our fisheries, called catch shares, is destroying the way of life of our nation’s fishermen and coastal communities. This time-honored trade is being replaced by a privatized system that often leaves the future of our nation’s fish, one of our most precious natural resources, in the hands of a small number of larger operations, whose primary goal is often immediate profit rather than sustainable use and long-term conservation.
The United States lost most of its family farms to the large industrialized agriculture model. Catch shares create similar conditions on our seas by transferring the wealth of our fish populations from the public trust into private hands, by allocating a percentage quota of the total amount of fish that can be caught in a year and allowing these quota to be leased, bought and sold. When catch shares are given to fishermen, those who receive the largest initial distribution of shares — or have the most capital to buy and lease shares — often gain control over the entire fishery. Smaller-scale traditional fishermen are pushed out of the fishery while larger companies, which often use fishing practices that stress ocean ecosystems, take over.
Proponents of catch shares claim they are the best solution to profitably, safely and sustainably manage our fisheries. In this report, Food & Water Watch examines these claims and finds them all wanting.