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. Secure fishing rights help drive these positive outcomes.

A review of fishing rights programs around the world shows that these systems regularly accomplish fishery goals. Programs that allocate secure rights to fishermen consistently outperform conventional management approaches—benefitting both 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. Overfishing places the natural balance of these areas and people that depend on them for food and jobs at risk. Conventional management controls fishing by restricting fishermen, reducing flexibility and increasing the cost of fishing, but rarely preventing overexploitation.

Secure fishing rights change that.

With fishing rights, fishermen have incentives 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 that allocate secure rights had significantly lower cases of overexploitation when compared to conventional management practices. Another study found that rights-based management implementation “halts, and even reverses, the global trend toward widespread [fisheries] collapse.”

These trends are largely driven by good compliance with controls on fishing mortality. Several studies have found that catch limits are rarely exceeded in fisheries with secure rights. One study analyzed 15 North American catch share programs and found that prior to implementation, catch limits were exceeded 44% and after, they were exceeded at 6%. 

When scientifically-established catch limits are followed, overfishing ceases, allowing fish stocks to rebuild. With more fish left in the sea, more fish can populate for future generations, and catch limits rise. The same North American programs saw catch limits rise nearly 20%, on average, after ten years under catch shares.

Numerous reports and studies have also found that under secure fishing rights there is a dramatic drop in bycatch (incidentally caught fish) and discarded fish (fish thrown back into the sea). In catch share programs in the United States,  fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico reduced discards of red snapper by 50% in 2010 and in the Alaskan pollock fishery, fishermen 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. When fishermen are not in a race to fish, they are less likely to lose fishing gear, and if they do, they are more likely to take the time to recover it.

Improving fishermen’s businesses

Under secure fishing rights, fishermen have the stability and flexibility to improve their businesses. Secure rights provide fishermen with a secure stake in the fishery and allow fishermen more flexibility in how they 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 fishing rights contribute to successful co-management by creating clear incentives for stewardship.

Under a TURF fishing rights system, the Baja California FEDECOOP coordinates their catches and fish processing to increase profits. The Cooperatives work together, sharing information on harvests of species, reducing search costs. In the Danish Pelagic and Demersal fishing rights programs, profits have increased from 9%-20% and fishermen have doubled new investments in value-added efforts, rather than in catch maximization technology. 

Secure fishing rights can stabilize the amount of fish caught. 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 sector 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. Longer seasons under secure fishing rights allow for stable, full-time employment and often better paying positions. For example, in the Alaska crab fishery, crew wages increased by 66% under catch shares.

In small-scale fisheries, fishing rights allocated to Cooperatives have given fishermen a seat in the decision-making process and enabled them to actively co-manage their fisheries with government. In Japan, Fishery Cooperative Associations work alongside the government to protect small-scale fisheries from outside fishing pressure. Since secure fishing rights implementation in Spain, 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 and without the pressure to race to fish, fishermen can make boat repairs, crews can take breaks during storms, and fishing trips can be made when conditions are good. Fishing safety in the U.S. and British Columbia nearly tripled on average in fisheries that switched to fishing rights. In the Alaska halibut fishery, the number of search and rescue missions dropped from 33 per year to just 10 after implementation of the catch share program.