Saving Fisheries Through Catch Sharing

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 2003

Concerned about the decline of the world’s fish population and the abysmal failures of existing government interventions to solve the problem, Barrett Walker decided to use market-based techniques and funding from his family’s Walker Foundation to take on the issue. He started a chain reaction of philanthropy that in less than ten years transformed solutions to overfishing.

Previously, government regulations had simply capped the total number of fish that could be caught, or the number of days that fishing was allowed. These encouraged a survival-of-the-fittest rush each year to garner as big a haul as possible before the caps set in, which led to safety problems and overfishing. Encouraged by experiments in Alaska and overseas, Walker decided to promote catch sharing—which makes fishermen shareholders in each year’s total allowable catch (which is set by scientists based on fish populations). Shares can be traded, and grow in value as the allowable catch increases thanks to improved fish reproduction and sustainability. Walker started working in 2003 with the Bradley and Koch foundations to improve understanding of the subject. In 2006, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen made a $5 million research grant to the University of California, Santa Barbara to research the effectiveness of catch sharing. The study concluded that it could stop and even reverse the decline of fisheries. The Allen Family Foundation then provided money to allow the California Fisheries Fund to plan a transition to such a system.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a multibillion-dollar entity established by the ex-Intel CEO with a focus on water and marine life and a particular interest in “aligning economic incentives with conservation goals” in fishery management, then donated funds to test an onboard video system that allowed fishermen to monitor their catches efficiently. It was so successful the foundation followed up with a 2007 grant to New England fishermen. Catch sharing was implemented in 2010 in New England, and in 2011 for Pacific trawl groundfishing. In 2012, the Moore Foundation made a $2.7 million grant to assess the New England and Pacific systems so operations could be refined.