Classic approaches to fisheries management
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 catchesIn 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.
- 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.
- 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 seaLower-quality fish are discarded back into the seaso 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.
Restricting fishing effortIn addition to the use of quotas, fishing can also be regulated by restricting the fishing effort. For example, fishing capacity can be limited by capping the number of licences available for allocation to fishing vessels or by restricting the engine power or size of vessels. It is also possible to limit the duration of fishing, e.g. by capping the number of days that may be spent at sea.
Effort-based regulation offers fishermen a number of loopholes, however. Fishermen frequently circumvent the restrictions on fishing time by increasing their fishing capacity. They can thus harvest the same quantity of fish in a reduced number of days spent at sea. A well-known example is the Pacific halibut fishery, where at the end of the 1980s, fishing was only permitted for three days a year. In practice, during this very short fishing season, a vast fishing fleet was deployed and caught the same quantity of fish as had previously been harvested in an entire year.
Moreover, an effort-based regime requires constant adaptation to bring it into line with the latest technological developments. Increasingly efficient technology to locate fish shoals, for example, makes it possible to track and harvest a given quantity of fish in ever shorter time periods. Increasingly detailed legal provisions are also required, ultimately leading to overregulation and generating high economic costs. Nonetheless, experts agree that some regulation of fishing technology and practices is essential. For example, fishing methods that inflict particularly severe damage on the marine ecosystem are banned in many regions; these methods include blast fishing, which uses explosives and indiscriminately kills all the fish within a given area.
- 6.15 > Blast fishing – the practice of using explosives to kill fish – is banned in most places around the world as it kills a large number of marine organisms. In areas where there is very little control of fishing practices by the authorities, some fishermen continue to deploy this devastating technique, as seen here in Brazil.
Allocating fishing rightsTerritorial use rights in fisheries (TURF) are an alternative to centralized approaches to fisheries management. Here, individual users or specific user groups, such as cooperatives, are allocated a long-term and exclusive right to fish a geographically limited area of the sea. Catches and fishing effort are decided upon by the individual fishermen or user groups.
This self-organization by the private sector can also help to achieve a substantial reduction in government expenditure on regulation and control. Users also have a vested interest in ensuring that they do not overexploit the stocks, as this is necessary to safeguard their own incomes in the long term. However, a use right for a stock of fish or other living resource in the ocean is exclusive only for non-migratory species such as crustacea and molluscs.
One example of successful management by means of territorial use rights is the artisanal coastal fishery in Chile, which mainly harvests bottom-living species, particularly sea urchins and oysters. Fishermen here have shown that they have a vested interest in pursuing sustainable fishing once they have the prospect of obtaining secure revenues from these fishing practices over the long term.