Shared quota may increase fish population

September 19, 2008 6:35:33 AM PDT
A new study by California researchers shows that a change in the rules governing commercial fishing could actually reverse a worldwide trend of declining fish populations. It involves a plan to give fishermen an annual share of the catch quota, as an incentive to protect an area's long-term fish population.

When fishing season opens, fishermen race to see who can catch the most fish. But, worldwide fish stocks are dropping. About one third of fisheries have already collapsed and a 2006 study says we'll be out of fish by 2048. New research shows all that might be reversed by changing the rules, replacing fishing seasons, with so-called catch shares, giving fishermen all year to catch their quota.

"You wouldn't be guaranteed a given amount of harvest, you're guaranteed a given share of the scientifically determined catch," said Christopher Costello, UC Santa Barbara.

Of the more than 11,000 fisheries worldwide only about 120 use this relatively new management system. Researchers Steven Gaines and Christopher Costello compared fish population trends in these "catch-share" versus traditional fisheries.

"What we found was really quite striking; catch-shares not only slow the decline, they actually stop it," said Costello.

Writing in the journal Science, they report this beneficial effect gets stronger over time. Gaines also points out this system can also make things easier on those catching the fish.

"It allows the opportunity for fishermen to do things such as operate with smaller, more efficient boats, spread out their fishing over the year to take advantage of changes in price," said Steven Gaines, UC Santa Barbara.

The U.S. currently is considering changing many of its fisheries over to the catch-shares management style. Officials are expected to make a decision on that in November.


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