Implementing catch shares in commercial-only fisheries can be a useful tool for managing harvest of marine fisheries. However, they are an inherently inappropriate tool for recreational-only and mixed-sector fisheries. In fisheries where there is a large and growing recreational sector, exclusive fishing rights proposals maximize benefits to the commercial fishing industry while ignoring and ultimately suppressing participation and the beneficial economic impacts of recreational fishing.
Limited Access Privilege Programs, or “catch shares”, allocate a specific portion of the annual catch limit to individuals or entities such as commercial fishermen, cooperatives or communities. When designed correctly, catch share programs can help eliminate the race to fish, reduce overcapacity of commercial vessels and bycatch, and improve economic efficiency for the commercial sector. Catch shares, however, are an inherently inappropriate tool for recreational-only fisheries. In mixed-use fisheries where there is a large and growing recreational sector, exclusive fishing rights proposals maximize benefits to the commercial fishing industry while ignoring the participation and beneficial economic impacts of recreational fishing.
Catch share programs have existed in the U.S. since 1990, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has taken the initiative to promote catch shares throughout the country as authorized under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Page 170, as amended in 2007). However, catch shares are not a one-size-fits-all approach, and any positive benefits to the commercial sector should be weighed against the negative consequences to the recreational sector. Before any catch share program is implemented in a fishery, it is important to consider the following:
Points of Interest
- Catch shares are inherently designed to reduce the commercial fleet size through consolidation of available quota into fewer and fewer hands. These programs primarily benefit larger commercial fishing operations, while smaller commercial fishing operations and the angling public stand to lose access to the resource.
- Once distributed, catch shares can ideally be leased or sold to eligible parties including individuals, communities, fishing cooperatives, and states, which can further distribute the catch, provided shares can be traded between sectors. However, catch shares often result in simply transferring public wealth to a relatively few fortunate individuals.
- The implementation of any new catch share program should be preceded by a thorough review of commercial and recreational sector allocations based on the current social, economic and environmental conditions relative to the stock of fish being managed.
- Following an economic review, in 2016 the Washington legislature attempted to maximize recreational sport fishing opportunities within harvest limits before determining commercial fishing opportunities (WA H 1660/S 5844).
- Unlike other natural resource extraction activities on public lands or waters, commercial fishermen currently owning a catch share do not pay a resource rent or royalty for the right to harvest a public trust resource for profit. Any future catch share program should include a compensation mechanism to the American public for the exclusive right to harvest a public trust resource.
- In 2017, legislation was passed in North Carolina (NC S 370) and South Carolina (SC H 3856) voicing opposition to the privatization of South Atlantic public fishery resources through catch share programs.
It should not be the policy of the federal government to “give away” access and public resources for commercial profit. States should urge NOAA to consider a thorough analysis of the impacts on all the sectors in the fishery, especially the impacts on recreational fishing, prior to the initiation of a catch share system. Furthermore, any new catch share programs should include a fee or rent paid to the American public for the commercial fishermen’s exclusive right to profit from a public resource. Finally, in a mixed-use (commercial and recreational) fishery, the Regional Fishery Management Councils should be required to examine the existing allocation, and periodically thereafter, to determine if it is consistent with the best use of the resources for the nation as a whole.