A catch share, also known as an individual fishing quota, is a transferable voucher that gives individuals or businesses the ability to access a fixed percentage of the total authorized catch of a particular species. Fishery management systems based on catch shares turn a public resource into private property and have led to socioeconomic and environmental problems.
Contrary to arguments by catch share proponents – namely large commercial fishing interests – this management system has exacerbated unsustainable fishing practices. Most programs operate by giving away catch shares to companies and individuals based on their catch history and then allowing them to lease or sell their quotas in a private market system. While this may sound like a fair approach, the reality is that smaller fishermen who fish slower and catch less are pushed out if the levels of fish that can be caught are set too high. Wages for crews fall because many captains have to buy or lease quota to fish. Ultimately, the industry is skewed toward industrial fishing vessels employing fewer people and using less sustainable fishing methods.
In fact, catch shares have:
- Drastically consolidated profits for a few larger participants
- Eliminated jobs
- Decreased crew pay
- Not improved fishery health
Fair Fish = Fair Shares
Once implemented, catch share programs fundamentally transform fisheries and are difficult to reverse. Without policies that explicitly stop catch shares, this management system will spread to new fisheries. Rather than subsidizing privatization and job loss in fishing communities by giving away catch shares to the biggest participants, our fishery management policy should maintain public control of fish and allocate them in the public interest and on fair terms.
For example, the government could rent the ability to fish directly to eligible entities, such as community fishing associations and independent fishermen, and then invest rental revenues back into the fishery. We call this concept Fair Fish.