Giving people ownership rights in marine fisheries can halt or even reverse catastrophic declines in commercial stocks, researchers in California and Hawaii are reporting.
The idea goes against the grain among people who believe that anyone with grit and skill should be able to get in a boat, put to sea and make a living fishing. But that approach, even with licensing requirements and other restrictions, has produced fishing efforts so intense that by some estimates, the world’s commercial stocks will collapse in a few decades.
By contrast, the researchers write in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, allocating ownership shares of a particular fishery to individuals, cooperatives, communities or other entities gives them a reason to nurture the stock. In this arrangement, scientists set acceptable catch levels, and other authorities allocate shares, species by species, region by region.
As a local stock grows, shares in it — called catch shares or individual transferable quotas — become more valuable, just as shares of a company’s stock become more valuable as the business prospers. Those who have shares in a catch have a powerful incentive for doing everything they can to protect the stock.