Why catch-shares and ITQs will not solve overfishing problems

Catch-share no catch-all solution to ocean’s troubles: Law professor Rebecca Bratspies has an excellent, if acronym-heavy essay about how privatizing the seas through the use of “catch-shares,” also known as individualized transferrable quotas (ITQs), is a troubling solution to the grave problem of overfishing — and probably not a solution at all. By creating clear private ownership rights, ITQs seek to address the “tragedy of the commons” in which the incentive is “to catch each fish before someone else does, the so-called ‘fisherman’s dilemma.’” But what they don’t do, she writes, is address the more structural problems that bedevil fisheries management decisions: the political aspect of nominally scientific resource management decisions and overcapacity in the fishing industry. There are also social justice implications that concern Bratspies, , in which a “strata of society with access to capital, loans and equipment benefits richly but the poor become even poorer because they lose access to traditional resources.” (CPRBlog)

Note from the editor: I recently had a long, eye-opening conversation about ITQs with Geoff Shester, the senior science manager of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative. Shester too finds ITQs of grave concern, but says that there are a few places where they have worked — such as a small fishing village in Mexico that was part of his dissertation, where the land-based community actually “owns” the fishery and assigns the shares for all the catches cooperatively, so as to minimize bycatch and maximize sustainability of the entire fishery, the community’s chances of eating locally caught fish in the future, as well as the fishermen’s livelihoods. Alas I have lost my scrawled notes from this conversation and can’t find Geoff’s dissertation online, but I do have this conversation on the list of things to follow up on, um, soon.

2 Responsesto “Why catch-shares and ITQs will not solve overfishing problems”

  1. Sorry about the acronyms, fisheries management is replete with them.  I think Greg Shester is right that ITQs work best is small societies where all the participants in the fishery are bound together by personal relationships.  Few fisheries meet those conditions.  Indeed, one common problem in the developing world is that much of the fishing is done by ships flying flags of convenience, and owned by folks from far away.  These  distant water fishing nations (DWFN–sorry, one more acronym) vessels often have little concern for the long-term health of the local fishery. They overfish, and then move on to the next poorly-managed site and do it again.  The local subsistence fisherfolk are left with a depleted fishery and no recourse.  Most developing states have little or no capacity to police their coasts, and boarding the vessel flagged to another state is always tricky business, even within an EEZ.  

  2. I just read this article:


    which gives some hope of recovery of the oceans. It’s good news.