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1 Living with the oceans. – A report on the state of the world's oceans

Fisheries management

Classic approaches to fisheries management

> For many years, authorities have been attempting to control fishing with a variety of regulatory instruments in order to conserve stocks. These instruments include fishing quotas, limits on the number of fishing days, and restrictions on the engine power of fishing vessels. However, many of these measures fail because the quotas and restrictions introduced are not stringent enough, are not properly monitored, or because fishing practice simply ignores the regulations.

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How can overfishing be avoided?

Overfishing means that the annual catch volumes are ecologically and economically unsustainable. Ultimately, excessively high catches are the result of too much fishing effort. As fish stocks decline, the effort required to catch a given quantity of fish continually increases. Fi­sheries policy or centralized fisheries management has responded to this situation by adopting direct measures that aim to limit catch volumes or indirect measures focussing on fishing effort.

Reducing catches

In order to reduce total catch to a biologically and economically sustainable level, authorities frequently introduce Total Allowable Catches (TACs). Ideally, the TACs should be set at a level that allows the maximum economic yield (MEY) to be achieved in the long term. How­ever, TACs alone are not enough to safeguard economic efficiency, for at the start of every new fishing season with a limited TAC, each fisherman would attempt to secure the largest possible share of the quota for himself by engaging in a very high fishing effort for a short period (also known as the “race to fish”). If the quota is thus exhausted within a relatively short time, fishing capacity then remains unused until the next fishing season. In order to give the individual fishermen a modicum of planning security throughout the entire fishing season, the TACs are therefore allocated to individual vessels, fisher­men or cooperatives.

6.12 > Deep-frozen tuna for sale at a Tokyo fish market. Japan is the fifth-largest fishing nation in the world.
6.12 > Deep-frozen tuna for sale at a Tokyo fish market. Japan is the fifth-largest fishing nation in the world. © Pierre Tremblay/Masterfile

Fisheries policy strategies that grant fishermen the right, in one way or another, to determine the quantity of fish they will harvest over the long term are known as “rights-based management of fisheries”. Individual transferable quotas (ITQs) are the prime example. Here, fisher­men are allocated individual quotas, which they can trade freely with other fishermen. Fishermen who operate relatively uneconomically are likely to sell some of their quotas, while more economically efficient companies can purchase additional ITQs. In the long term, the effect of this is to concentrate the quotas among a small number of fishery enterprises, thereby ensuring that the Total Allowable Catch is landed at lower total cost.

These concentration processes can be observed in practice. In New Zealand, for example, where a system of ITQs has been in place since 1986, the number of ITQ holders was around one-third lower in 2000 than in 1990. Obviously, not all social objectives can be achieved solely by means of the individual transferable quotas, especially if there is a desire to ensure the survival of small, less economically efficient fishery enterprises. As small fishery enterprises can opt to sell their quotas, however, they are clearly in a more favourable position than would be the case without the option of quota trading.

6.13 > Classic approaches to fisheries management either focus directly on restricting catches or attempt to limit fishing effort. However, monitoring these regimes is often fraught with difficulty.
6.13 > Classic approaches to fisheries management either focus directly on restricting catches or attempt to limit fishing effort. However, monitoring these regimes is often fraught with difficulty. © maribus (after Quaas)

Extra Info
A negative example – EU fisheries management

As a rule, quotas are specified in tonnes and are broken down by species. However, the actual catch consists of fish from different age groups and levels of quality, and therefore different values. This often encourages fisher­men to engage in the practice of high grading, i.e. the selective landing of fish so that only the best-quality fish are brought ashore. Lower-quality fish are discarded back into the sea so that the quota is filled with high-grade fish.
This practice reduces fish stocks without benefiting the consumer. In some fisheries, bycatch amounts to 40 per cent or more of the catch. This bycatch is discarded overboard like waste. Despite these difficulties, rights-based management of fisheries has performed well overall. New studies based on large datasets show that this management approach promotes not only economic efficiency but also sustainability of fisheries. For example, the share of depleted stocks in fisheries subject to rights-based management is just 14 per cent – far less than the 28 per cent in fisheries without a similar type of regulation.

As an alternative to tradable quotas, there is also the possibility of regulating overfishing using landing fees. These fees operate in a similar manner to individual tradable quotas. The difference is that the fisherman does not buy additional quotas but pays a fee, based on the amount of fish actually caught, to a designated authority. The lan­ding fee ensures that the true economic price is paid for the fish, thereby removing any incentive for overfishing.

Similar to the data requirements for setting a TAC, the fees can only be set at the optimal level if information is available about the structure and size of fish stocks. Here, the main problem is that fishermen reject the concept of direct payments for, unlike quotas, which are allocated free of charge, these fees reduce their earnings. Landing fees therefore play only a minor role in practical fisheries policy at present. >

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