Effective fisheries management prevents overfishing, rebuilds depleted stocks, reduces bycatch and discards, protects the environment, and provides food, jobs and incomes to fishermen and fishing communities.
A review of rights-based management programs around the world shows that these systems regularly accomplish fisheries goals. RBM consistently outperform conventional management approaches—benefitting the environment and fishermen.
Safeguarding fish populations and marine habitats
Around the world, biologically rich marine habitats, like coral reefs and bays, support an abundance of sea life. But overfishing places the natural balance of these areas and the humans that depend on them for food and jobs at risk. Conventional management tries to control fishing by restricting fishermen, for example with strict controls on gear or season lengths. These approaches reduce flexibility and increase the cost of fishing, but rarely prevent overexploitation.
Rights-based management change that.
With fishing rights, fishermen have incentives and the control to maintain and restore the fish populations they rely on for a living. In fact, a review of 345 fish stocks from around the world found that those using RBM had significantly lower cases of overexploitation when compared to conventional management practices. Another study found that rights-based management implementation “halts, and even reverses----widespread fishery collapse.”
These trends are largely driven by good compliance with mortality controls. Several studies have found that in RBM fisheries, catch limits are rarely exceeded. Of these is one which analyzed 15 North American catch shares, finding that prior to implementation catch limits were exceeded 44% and after they were seldom exceeded.
This stops overfishing, allowing fish stocks to rebuild. And more fish left in the sea, means there are more fish to populate for future generations. In fact, the same North American RBM program saw catch limits rise nearly 20%, on average, after ten years under catch shares.
Numerous reports and studies have also found that under RBM there is a dramatic drop in bycatch—incidentally caught fish-- and discarded fish—fish thrown back into the sea. Catch share fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico reduced discards of red snapper by 50% in 2010 and in the Alaskan pollock fishery, catch share fishermen even work together to create voluntary no-take zones, to avoid salmon bycatch while targeting pollock. Some fishing organizations in the Chilean National Benthic Resources TURF system have also worked together to create no-take zones which have increased spawning within and around their TURF.
Another study found that after catch shares were put in place, the Alaska halibut fishery saw an 80% drop in ghost fishing (when lost or abandoned fishing gear continues to kill fish) in just one year. With more time to fish, fishermen are less likely to lose fishing gear in a rush and if they do, they are more likely to take the time to recover it.
Improving fishermen’s businesses
Under rights-based management, fishermen have the stability and flexibility to improve their businesses. They provide fishermen with a secure stake in the fishery and remove outdated regulations aimed at restricting the way in which fishermen fish. This leads to innovations and collaboration between fishermen that lead to higher quality seafood, lower costs, and a higher value fishery. A review of 130 fisheries around the world found that catch shares contribute to successful co-management by creating clear incentives for stewardship.
With fishing rights, the Baja California fishing Cooperatives coordinate their catches and fish processing to increase profits. The Cooperatives work together, sharing information on harvests of species under the TURF system, reducing search costs. In the Danish Pelagic and Demersal rights-based management programs, profits have increased from 9%-20% and fishermen have doubled new investments in value-added efforts, rather than in catch maximization technology, thereby reducing the race for fish.
RBM programs have been shown to stabilize the amount of fish caught as well as exploitation of fish populations. They also give fishermen more time and flexibility to choose when to take fishing trips. These factors make fishery management more certain and improve fishermen's ability to plan their business operations.
Protecting livelihoods and fishing communities
Millions of fishing industry workers around the world rely on healthy fish populations for a steady stream of income to support themselves and their families. Under conventional management systems, employment in fisheries often fluctuates with the uncertainty of fish stocks as well as the frequent openings and closures of fisheries. But longer seasons under RBM allow for stable, full-time employment and often better paying positions. For example, in the Alaska crab fishery, crew wages increased by 66% under rights-based management.
Under Cooperative RBM, many small-scale fishermen have gained a seat in the decision-making process and are actively co-managing their fisheries with government. In Japan, Fishery Cooperative Associations work alongside the government to protect small-scale fisheries from outside fishing pressure. And in Spain, since rights-based management implementation, there has been a significant drop in illegal fishing which has thereby improved legal fishing opportunities.
Fishing can be a dangerous profession but fishing rights help fishermen avoid needless risks. With time to plan fishing trips, fishermen can make boat repairs, crews can take breaks during storms, and boats can be taken out on the water when the weather is fair. With rights-based management, fishing safety in the U.S. and British Columbia nearly tripled on average in fisheries that switched to fishing rights. And in the Alaska halibut fishery, the number of search and rescue missions dropped from 33 per year to just 10 under rights-based management.