Written by Steven Katona, Managing Director, Ocean Health Index
Maximizing sustainable food production from the ocean by harvest of wild fish stocks and production of farmed species by mariculture is one of the 10 goals evaluated by the Ocean Health Index, and it is especially closely watched because it is so critical for the future.
Three billion people out of today’s world population of 7.1 billion people depend on seafood for their daily protein and fish contribute a greater proportion of protein to the average diet than poultry. A single serving of fish or shellfish (150 g) provides 60% of a person’s daily protein requirement, but the ocean’s continued ability to meet that need is in doubt. Our population is rising steadily and will reach about 8 billion by 2024 and 9 billion by 2040, but the annual catch from wild ocean fisheries has stayed at about 80 million metric tons since about 1990 despite increased effort. The reason is that too many stocks are overfished and too much productivity is sacrificed as bycatch, illegal and unregulated catch and as a result of habitat loss caused by destructive fishing practices.
Yet without increased wild harvest and augmented mariculture production, the risk of malnutrition will increase for hundreds of millions of people, because the catch will have to be shared by so many more mouths.
Why would we expect fish landings to increase in the future if they haven’t done so since 1990? Clearly with business as usual, they won’t, but a number of new strategies and tools offer hope. Catch shares is one of them. We’re pleased to welcome Kate Bonzon, Director of Environmental Defenses Fund’s Catch Share Design Center, to explain how catch shares are working worldwide and highlight some of their benefits.
Even though catch shares have been used in a diversity of fisheries around the world, the idea of catch shares is new in many places, and it has occasioned some misunderstanding and subsequent debate around the best way to manage fisheries. However, catch shares give a powerful incentive and opportunity for fishers to care for their fish stocks, thereby improving the consistency, sustainability and possibly magnitude of their catches, while also improving their livelihoods.
More sustainable fishing will not only help fishers and fish stocks, but it will also improve scores on many of the other goals evaluated by the Ocean Health Index. Of course there are trade-offs between the goals, but meeting the goals for sustainability embodied within each goal will improve the ocean’s ability to sustainably deliver a range of benefits to people now and in the future. What’s more, the ocean’s animals, plants and habitats will benefit too.
Catch Shares: Harvesting Sustainable Catches
Fish were once thought to be so abundant that we could take our fill and never deplete them; that wild fisheries were inexhaustible and would always be plentiful. But over the past few decades, there is growing recognition that most of the world's wild fisheries are in trouble and fishing has had a tremendous impact. Globally, nearly two-thirds of wild fisheries are overfished, leaving depleted fish stocks and low yields. New evidence on fisheries with little data, which account for 80% of the global catch, is especially concerning. Once thought to be relatively stable, many of these fisheries are, in fact, overfished and facing collapse. Depletion of this resource threatens not only ocean health but the billions of people who depend on fish for food and jobs.
The good news is fisheries are a renewable resource. And the key to sustainably managing them is ensuring there are enough fish left in the ocean to produce future generations. Future fish generations will keep fresh and sustainable seafood on the plates of the billions of people around the world who rely on them for protein, and wages in the pockets of millions of fishing industry workers who depend on them to support their livelihoods.
And there is more good news. There are effective fishery management programs-called catch shares-that are doing all of the above. As of 2013, about 200 catch shares programs are managing more than 500 different species in 40 countries. Very much like dividing a pizza or pie, catch shares give a secure fishing area or privilege to catch a share of a fishery’s total allowable catch to an individual or group. And with this privilege, fishing participants are expected to fish within their allotted amount.
The success of catch shares lies in the ability to give fishermen a long-term stake in the fishery and tie their current behavior to future environmental outcomes. Specifically, catch shares align fishermen’s incentives through a system of rights, responsibilities and rewards. By giving fishermen the privilege or right to a secure area or share of the catch, fishermen also retain the responsibility to conserve fish stocks and marine ecosystems and are subsequently rewarded by stable and healthy fish populations. Importantly, catch shares are flexible and can be custom designed to meet the different characteristics and goals of diverse fisheries. Some catch share programs have allocated shares to groups—often called Cooperative catch shares—and others have allocated shares to individuals—often called Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) or Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs). Area-based catch shares, often called Territorial Use Rights for Fishing, or TURFs, allocate secure, exclusive areas to fishermen. And within these differing types of catch shares are a multitude of design features that have, and can, be used to meet different goals. Around the world, from small artisanal fisheries to large commercial fishing operations, well-designed catch share programs are increasing compliance with catch limits, reducing the amount of bycatch and discarded fish, increasing revenues and reducing fishing expenses, proving that good yields can indeed happen sustainably. A 2011 study of 345 fish stocks around the world found that those managed with catch shares had significantly lower cases of overexploitation when compared to conventional management practices. And another study found that the implementation of these systems “halts, and even reverses—widespread fishery collapse.” This positive trend is largely driven by catch shares ability to encourage compliance with mortality controls.
Numerous studies on these fisheries have reported a dramatic drop in bycatch and discarded fish including a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report which found that catch share fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico reduced red snapper discards by 50% in 2010, just three years after a catch share program was implemented. And in some fisheries like the Alaskan pollock fishery, fishermen create voluntary no-take zones to avoid bycatch of at-risk species while targeting specific species. In the Alaska halibut fishery after just one year of catch share implementation, there was an 80% drop in ghost fishing (when lost or abandoned gear continues to kill fish). Read More