I appreciated Jonathan V. Last’s thorough review, “Taking Stock of the Seas,” in the Winter 2009 issue of Philanthropy. I join him in noting the opportunity we as philanthropists have to help transition fisheries management away from its current downward spiral and toward long-term sustainability for both the oceans and the people who depend on them. I wanted to clarify several points, however, regarding the terminology, design, and progress of catch shares in the United States.
Economic schools of thought often refer to catch shares as “rights-based” management. However, this interpretation of the management tool has long drawn criticism from fishermen and environmentalists who were fundamentally opposed to handing out a “right” to a select group of fishermen to harvest a public resource. We now have enough experience with catch shares to illustrate that they can be designed as limited-term access privileges, thereby alleviating the concerns of former critics.
Also, many fishermen were cautious after early catch-share experiences allocated quota to individuals through Individual Transferable Quotas. These catch shares saw quota go to a small group of politically powerful and wealthy individuals. The result was a consolidation of fishing efforts to fewer ports, which put part-time and small-boat fishermen out of business. It provoked a schism between the resource and those who care most about the long-term health of the resource—fishermen.
As we have gained a more textured understanding of possible catch-share impacts, the fisheries-management community has shifted its focus to design. Catch shares come in many forms, including Individual Transferable Quotas, territorial use or area-based privileges, gear-sector allocations, and community quotas. Fisheries managers are moving to customize catch-share design to fit the needs and goals of their fisheries, making trade-offs suitable to each fishery’s unique social, economic, and environmental characteristics. For example, while one fishery may want to preserve an owner-operator fleet structure, another may choose to sustain a certain number of ports or maximize economic efficiency. Catch shares can be designed to optimize any of these goals. Some fisheries have even implemented catch shares with quota set-asides for specific communities, community license banks to maintain local capacity, caps on quota accumulation by any one individual, or rules that quota owners must be fishermen on board the vessel. Private philanthropy has contributed to test-driving many of these alternatives.
Given the success of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association’s (CCCHFA) catch-share management model, fishermen across New England and the country are now looking to CCCHFA. In June 2009, the New England Fishery Management Council made a landmark decision to approve catch shares for the entire groundfish fishery. The new rules allow fishermen to form cooperatives and work jointly among themselves on divvying up the quota, thereby creating 17 new catch shares in New England by May 2010. In the meantime, Jane Lubchenco, the new administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has declared catch shares as one of her priorities and created a task force to assist her agency and the regional fishery management councils as they consider and implement catch-share programs.
A window of opportunity has opened in the United States. We now have the chance to institute catch shares nationwide—and provide a model of sustainability that can be scaled worldwide.
Program officer, Marine conserivation initiative, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation