Fishing rights or fishing wrongs?

  • Hilborn R
  • Parrish J
  • Litle K
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Increasing attention is being paid to overfishing and the biological, economic, and social implications of persistent mismanagement of aquatic natural resources. In this chorus of concern, little attention is focused on sustainable fisheries, and the lessons to be learned from management systems that produce these successes. Although there is no one prescription for sustainability, a range of quota-based management tools have been used to eliminate the race for fish, increasing the incentives for long-term investment and efficiency. Variously referred to as fishing rights, tenure rights, or dedicated access privileges, quota-based fisheries confer a percentage (or quota) of the total allowable catch to named entities over some predetermined period, from short-term auction systems to intergenerational customary sea tenure. Whether a rights-based system stems from a traditional fishing rights system or has been recently introduced into modern commercial fisheries, achieving sustainability in the fishery is dependent on incentivizing the collective - from local communities to national fleets - to actively participate in self-regulation of the resource. Thus criticism of the approach often stems from the observation of the potential for cheating at the individual level (e.g., high grading, excessive discards), and the necessary exclusivity that accompanies any transition in management from open access to club membership. It is also worth noting that the resource in question - the fish - remain a public good, and as such, the public should be compensated - or at least not taxed - for their use. Thus the cost of fishery management, and the windfall profits of fishery conversion, should be shared. Rights-based management is not a silver bullet, and is probably not appropriate for all fisheries; however, the successes of the longline fisheries for Pacific halibut and sablefish in Alaska, the artisanal fisheries for loco in Chile and for spiny lobster in Mexico, and the Australian fisheries for Northern prawns and rock lobster, all clearly indicate that fishing rights should have a central place in the fisheries management toolbox.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Auctions
  • Co-ops
  • Dedicated access privileges
  • ITQ
  • Quotas
  • Sea tenure
  • Sustainable fisheries

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  • Ray Hilborn

  • Julia K. Parrish

  • Kate Litle

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