A Cooperative fishing rights program is a specific type of secure fishing right in which one or more groups of participants are allocated a secure portion of the catch or a secure fishing area and in exchange, accept certain fishery management responsibilities.

These fishing groups, or “Cooperatives,” work together to manage each members’ fishing activities to ensure compliance with their collective fishing quota, and in doing so also maintain healthy fish stocks for future fishing opportunities.

Cooperatives are generally comprised of fishermen from the same community that share common characteristics such as target species, fishing area or gear type. However, the key characteristic of a successful Cooperative is that its members share common goals. When members of a Cooperative work together to achieve shared sustainability goals, they collectively reap the benefits.

How do Cooperatives participate in fisheries management?

Cooperatives typically participate in “co-management,” a process in which the government and the Cooperative share fishery management responsibilities. This approach provides opportunities for locally appropriate management, in which fishing Cooperatives work with the government to design and implement fishing practices to meet their specific needs and goals. It also allows for real-time decision making where Cooperatives take on basic management responsibilities while complying with performance standards set by the government (such as maintaining healthy fish populations). In Japan, for example, Fishery Cooperative Associations have worked successfully with the government to protect small-scale fisheries from outside fishing pressure, include fishermen in management practices and incorporate their valuable knowledge into management decisions.

How are Cooperatives formed?

Cooperatives can form organically, with fishermen grouping together to collectively manage the resources, or they can be required to form by fishery managers or the government. This all depends on the existing context, history and management structure. Cooperatives can also use a variety of methods to manage members’ fishing activity to comply with the amount of quota or the fishing area they have been allocated. For instance, some Cooperatives in the United States Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Crab Rationalization Program have shares allocated to individuals who join Cooperatives and pool their quota.  To manage fishing activity and prevent a race for fish, the Cooperatives subdivide the pooled quota among individual members.

Cooperative programs take on a wide range of forms. Typical structures range from Cooperatives in which the group governs both quota allocations and harvesting decisions, to Cooperatives in which individuals have more autonomy.