By Sarah Poon
Territorial Use Rights for Fishing, or TURFs, have been in place for centuries in fishing communities around the world. In a TURF, fishery participants have a secure, exclusive privilege to fish in a defined area. Many fishery policy experts view TURFs and catch share programs as separate options for managing fisheries. TURFs are a type of catch share, since the area-based privileges assigned under a TURF provide the same rewards for stewardship as quota-based privileges.
In recent decades fishery managers have channeled the historical successes of this approach by formally recognizing customary TURFs, applying them to more fisheries and experimenting with modern adaptations.
Community-based territorial rights that have existed for centuries are now formally recognized by national law in Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Palau. Empowered by national law promoting traditional community-based management, the Safata District of Samoa implemented a district-wide TURF in 2000. Bylaws developed by the community manage members’ fishing efforts and limit outsiders’ access. Safata’s leaders have further improved biological performance by establishing a network of no-take reserves. With a formalized role in management, the district has received strong community support, high regulatory compliance and increased abundance for important species.
TURF systems have been used in different types of fisheries, but they are particularly well-suited for managing near shore fisheries where there is a clear spatial range of fishing activity. While these systems are ideal for less mobile species that don’t move beyond TURF boundaries, they can also be designed for more mobile species.
In Mexico, fishermen are benefitting immensely from the Baja California Regional Federation of Fishing Cooperative Societies (FEDECOOP). Under the federation, 13 fishing Cooperatives from 10 villages manage Baja spiny lobster, abalone, and other species in 10 area-based concessions or TURFs. By coordinating management across a network of TURFs, FEDECOOP has served as a model for sustainable fisheries management. The fishery was awarded Marine Stewardship Council certification in 2004, making it the first small-scale fishery in a developing country to receive accreditation. The system has incentivized fishermen to protect stocks and many Cooperatives have even implemented voluntary no-take zones, allowing fish populations to recover more quickly and the oceans ecosystems to become more resilient to change.
Across the world, the Japanese Common Fishing Rights System is a model for managing nearshore species—including more mobile species—through a coordinated system of co-management. Japan’s program, formally established in 1949 when Fishery Cooperative Associations (FCAs) were granted TURFs, spans most of the nation’s coastline and includes more than 1,000 FCAs. Under the TURF system, FCAs are responsible for the day-to-day management of coastal fisheries. Fishery management organizations (FMOs) have also emerged to improve management by promoting collaboration between fishermen targeting certain species or using certain gear types, often including fishermen from multiple FCAs. Innovation is an outcome of the TURF system, and fishermen within and between Cooperatives have agreed to pool effort, costs, knowledge and revenues to increase profits and improve stock conditions.
These are just a few examples of fisheries that are successfully using TURFs to manage their resources. Below you will find links to additional examples of how fisheries have designed TURFs to meet biological, economic and social goals. A step-by-step guide to designing TURFs can be found here. To access our full fisheries toolkit click here.
The most productive fishing Cooperative in the Mexican-Caribbean since 1982, this area-based catch share program has steadied the Punta Allen lobster catch while ensuring access to community members.
Among the largest area-based catch share programs in the world, the Chilean TURF system includes more than 17,000 artisanal fishermen and co-manages more than 550 distinct areas along the coast.
The Galician goose barnacle fishery’s integration of traditional fishing guilds, provision of secure and exclusive fishing areas and use of an on-site fisheries ecologist have established one of the most successful models of fisheries co-management in Spain.