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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- New research published this week in the journal Science provides a clear road map for federal and regional fisheries managers to reverse years of declining fish stocks by implementing catch shares, according to a leading national environmental group.
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) praised the new study, Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?, authored by scientists from the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Hawaii.
"This study shows that the next President can fix the overfishing problem by implementing catch shares," said David Festa, vice president and director of the oceans program at EDF. "We can turn a dire situation into an enormous opportunity to promote better food security, create jobs and revive ecosystems."
Catch share programs replace complex rules dictating how fishing will be practiced, with a method to hold fishermen directly accountable for meeting a vital conservation target: scientifically determined catch limits. Fishermen, individually or in cooperatives, are granted a percentage share of the total allowable catch. They can also be granted exclusive access to particular fishing zones. (This system is commonly referred to as territorial use rights for fishing.) As long as fishermen do not exceed their share, they have greater flexibility to fish when weather and market conditions are best. Their shares grow in value as the overall fishery improves, providing them a greater financial stake in sound resource management.
"The trend around the world has been to fish the oceans until the fish are gone," continued Festa. "The scientific data presented today shows we can turn this pattern on its head. Anyone who cares about saving fisheries and fishing jobs will find this study highly motivating."
EDF scientists, economists and fishery experts are deployed in over a dozen of the most iconic fisheries around the country. EDF has projects with five universities and EDF staff members have published articles and reports on catch share design and implementation. EDF helps managers and fishermen design catch share systems that save fisheries and meet the needs of their communities.
Currently there are multiple proposals to implement catch share systems around the country for both federal and state fisheries, including Pacific groundfish and grouper in the Gulf of Mexico.
The most recent success was EDF's work with fishermen and managers to design a catch share system for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, which went into effect in January of 2007. With the new management effort, the 2007 commercial snapper season was open year-round for the first time since 1990. Fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico now earn 25 percent more for their fish and wasteful bycatch has dropped at least 70 percent.
A comprehensive EDF report released last year illustrated that catch share systems dramatically increase safety for fishermen, increase revenues per boat and significantly improve the results of conservation efforts such as bycatch reduction.
Global fisheries peaked in 1988 and have been steadily declining ever since. An estimated one billion people worldwide rely on the ocean for at least part of their essential food needs. Ocean fishing and its related industries also employ 200 million people.