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Catch Shares Lead to Less Waste and Innovation

July 11, 2012

We’re starting to see some interesting developments as more and more fisheries come under rights-based management.  In Washington, it appears that catch shares have incentivized fishermen to reduce their discards and innovate for higher profitability.  Score ‘1’ for the stewardship theory of catch shares and other rights-based management schemes.

The new system divides the allowable catch among boat owners, giving each shares to 29 bottom-dwelling species.

The shares can be used by the owner, or eventually leased or sold like shares of stock, with their values tied to the health of the fisheries. Each pound of fish caught under this system — whether it is dumped or brought back to shore — is tracked by the federal observers. “This is a new day,” said Dunn, 54, a fisherman whose boat is home-ported in Warrenton, Ore. “We’re living under total accountability.”

The catch-share system replaces a convoluted management system that fined fishermen for bringing too much fish back to port, and thus encouraged them to throw out the excess at sea.

During a six-year period that ended in 2010, federal managers estimate that trawlers dumped more than 67 million pounds of fish, equaling about 20 percent of the catch of marketable species.

Under the new system, the waste has plummeted.

In 2011, the first year of this plan covering more than 100 trawlers, less than 6 percent of the marketable species went overboard, according to preliminary statistics. For the fishermen, revenue in 2011 went up. The total catch was worth more than $31 million, a 14 percent boost from recent year averages.

The switch also has spurred innovation.

Some fishermen have opted to set their nets aside when pursuing high-value species such as black cod. Instead, they use pot traps, more selective gear that brings fishermen higher fish prices from processors.

Some are experimenting with net configurations that try to exclude species they don’t want, and they use underwater cameras to monitor what happens. Other fishermen who once fiercely competed now share information about areas to stay away from to avoid catching overfished species. [bold added]

More here.

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