Individually-allocated fishing rights programs allocate secure, exclusive shares of the total allowable catch (TAC) to individual fishermen or individual entities. In some rare cases, individuals may be allocated a secure, exclusive area. Individuals with shares, or fishing rights, are held accountable for their share of the catch. In turn, these systems give fishermen more flexibility in running their businesses, providing them with the opportunity to fish whenever they choose, in good weather and when fish prices are high. These programs are successful because they align fishermen’s economic incentives with the health of fish stocks, and provide more stability and predictability within a fishing year and over time.

Many names have been used to describe individually-allocated fishing rights programs. These names are often based on the two key features of program design: whether shares are transferable and who holds the fishing right. The three basic categories are:

  • Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) allocate shares to individuals or individual entities and allow shares to be transferred.
  • Individual Quotas (IQs) allocate shares to individuals or individual entities and do not allow shares to be transferred.
  • Individual Vessel Quotas (IVQs) allocate shares to individual vessels. The share may or may not be transferable.

What are the benefits of individually-allocated programs?

Individually-allocated programs can be tailored to balance a fishery’s environmental, biological and social goals. Stories from around the world show that these systems can assure the long-term sustainability of fish and maximize social and economic value created by the sustainable management of the fishery. These programs are frequently designed to:

  • Increase individual accountability. This ensures the integrity of the entire program by enhancing data quality and tracking changes in the fishery’s total economic growth as well as determining whether goals are being achieved.
  • Promote flexibility, efficiency and profitability. With individual shares of the catch, fishermen can select the best days to fish, avoiding inclement weather, high fuel costs and market gluts. Most of these programs are also transferable, meaning participants can buy, sell and/or lease shares. This type of market allows the fishery to internally adjust to changes in the catch limit and allow participants to enter and exit the fishery.

In Peru and the United States, individually-allocated systems are used to achieve their goals of increasing economic efficiency. The Peruvian Anchoveta Northern-Central Stock Individual Vessel Quota Program has successfully improved economic efficiency in the world’s largest fishery, which reaches up to 8% of global catch by volume in peak years. The United States Alaska Halibut and Sablefish Fixed Gear Individual Fishing Quota Program, one of the first IFQ programs to include a variety of design elements to meet social goals, was able to increase the value of the fishery while decreasing over capitalization.

Individually-allocated systems often result in increased coordination and cooperation among fishermen. In the United States West Coast Groundfish Trawl IFQ program, individual fishermen hold shares of the catch, but coordinate and share information to avoid bycatch of overfished species. Coordination among individual shareholders can provide the flexibility and choice of an individually-allocated system with the benefits of cooperatives.

Where are individually-allocated programs used?

More than 80% of rights-based management programs worldwide are individually-allocated. The first individually-allocated programs were implemented in the 1970s in the United States, the Netherlands, Iceland and Canada. As the popularity of these programs has grown, many of them have been adopted around the world. Among the most recently implemented programs are the United States Pacific Groundfish Trawl IFQ and the Argentine Individual Transferable Quota Program, which manages four important species, Argentine hake (Merluccius hubbsi), Patagonian grenadier (Macruronus magellanicus), Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) and southern blue whiting (Micromesistius australis).