What are fishing rights?

Similar to dividing a pie, rights-based management or fishing rights, also known as "catch share programs," allocates access to a fishing area or a share of a fishery's total catch to a group or an individual. Programs establish appropriate controls on fishing mortality and hold participants accountable to their limits.

Rights-based management (RBM) can be administered as area-based or quota-based programs. Area-based programs, often called Territorial Use Rights for Fishing (TURFs) allocate secure and exclusive privileges to fish in a specified area. TURFs are assigned to groups or, in rare cases, to individuals. TURF participants, in turn, are required to comply with appropriate controls on fishing mortality and maintain a healthy ecosystem. Under quota-based programs, managers establish a fishery-wide catch limit and assign portions of the allowed catch, called shares, to participants. 

Comparing conventional management to RBM

Many of the world's fisheries are collapsing, threatening the foos supply for a growing population. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), around the world nearly 9 out of 10 fisheries are fully or overexploited.

The problem is many fisheries are either poorly managed or have no rules at all. Many nearshore fisheries are open access or unmanaged with no fishing restrictions, which fuels a race to catch as many fish as possible, resulting in overfishing.

In other places, where efforts have been made to manage fisheries, the micro-managed rules and regulations have failed to solve overfishing. Managers often start by limiting access by licensing participants. When this approach fails to control fishing efforts and catches, managers pile on more and more effort-based regulations (i.e., trip limits, gear restrictions, etc). In most cases, these regulations are unsuccessful in maintaining stable fish populations and creating safe and profitable fisheries. They also tend to frustrate fishermen, making it more difficult for them to run efficient fishing businesses.

Most commercial fisheries start as open access—anyone who puts in the effort can fish. As competition increases and the race to fish intensifies, managers often limit access by licensing participants. When this approach fails to control fishing effort and catches, managers pile on more and more effort-based regulations (i.e., trip limits, gear restrictions, etc). In most cases, these regulations are unsuccessful in maintaining stable fish populations and creating safe and profitable fisheries. They also tend to frustrate fishermen, making it more difficult for them to run efficient fishing businesses.

Conventional Management Infographic

Over the past four decades, many fisheries worldwide have implemented RBM programs as an alternative. With a clearly defined fishing rights, there is no pressure or race to fish. Fishermen have more flexibility to operate more efficient and profitable businesses, making fishing trips when the weather is fair and market conditions are opportune. They also have more time to fish selectively, dramatically reducing the amount of bycatch and discarded fish as well as the impacts on ocean ecosystems.  In essence, the ability of RBM to align fishermen’s economic incentives with the health of fish stocks distinguishes them from conventional management approaches. 

Fishing rights are flexible in design capabilities

Fishing rights are helping ailing fisheries become productive and prosperous again. These innovative management tools have been used in a variety of fisheries all over the world and they can be flexibly designed to meet the particular biological, economic and social needs of different fisheries.

  • RBM programs can be implemented in single-species or multi-species fisheries.

  • Allocations can be quota-based or area-based.

  • The secure, exclusive privilege to fish can be allocated to individuals or groups, such as communities or fishing associations.

  • Shares can be permanently or temporarily transferable, or non-transferable.

Types of RBM programs

While researching effective fisheries management systems around the world, we found six commonly occurring types of RBM programs (See our Individually-Allocated, TURF and Cooperative pages for detailed definitions of the basic program types).

CATCH SHARE TYPESALLOCATED TOQUOTA OR AREA-BASED
Individual Quota (IQ) Individual Quota-based
Individual Transferable Quota Individual Quota-based
Individual Vessel Quota (IVQ) Vessel Quota-based
Cooperative1 Group Quota-based or Area-based
Community Fishing Quota (CFQ) Community Quota-based
Territorial Use Rights for Fishing (TURF) Individual, Group or Community Area-based2

1. The term “cooperative” has many meanings and generally refers to any group that collectively works together. Throughout the Design Manual,“Cooperative”is capitalized when referring to a group that has been allocated a secure share of the catch limit, i.e., when it is a type of catch share. When not capitalized,“cooperative”refers to an organized group that has not been allocated secure shares, but may coordinate other activities, such as marketing.

2. Some TURFs are also allocated a secure share of the total catch, in which case they are are-based and quota-based.

The key attributes of a RBM program

There are seven key attributes of RBM programs. Although not each characteristic is required for a program to be successful, the more completely a RBM program incorporates these traits, the more likely it will be to sustain a biologically healthy and economically profitable fishery.

Interested in implementing a RBM program? Learn how you can use our catch share design manuals to create a program tailored to your fishery's needs.