Catch Shares: What Are They and Will They Work?

Written by on April 9, 2013 in Policy & Ocean Law

Catch shares” are a type of fisheries management that gives a certain portion of a fish stock or fishing area to individual fishermen, commercial fishermen, communities and fishing associations. The Total Allowable Catch (TAC), the maximum amount of fish that can be caught, is divided among those involved with the fishery.

Once the catch shares are decided, the fishermen can fish whenever they want, however they want, as long as they don’t exceed their share. In many cases, they can also buy and sell shares to other participants.

Feelings about the effectiveness and fairness of catch shares vary and the debate began again last month after the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) released a new report and short animated video about catch shares. Here’s a summary of what the CIR and other environmental and research groups are saying about catch shares:

The Pros:

  • Many feel that if a company owns a percentage of a fish stock, they will take better care of it.
  • Having too many boats going after too many fish is environmentally and economically wasteful; catch shares put an end to that problem.
  • Catch shares eliminate the “fishing derby” where fishermen try to catch as many fish as possible in the shortest amount of time, which often results in overfishing, lots of bycatch, and can even put the fishing crew in danger because in the rush to get fish, many boats go out in rough weather.
  • Populations of St. Matthew Island blue king crab, snow crab, Pacific coast widow rockfish, Gulf of Mexico red snapper and Atlantic windowpane flounder have all rebounded after catch shares were implemented

The Cons:

  • Many feel that catch shares protect big corporate fleets and aren’t fair to small-scale fishermen, saying that it shuts them out.
  • Research has shown that thousands of jobs are lost in some areas where catch shares are implemented.
  • The surf clam fishing fleet in the mid-Atlantic has declined by more than 60 percent since catch shares were implemented over 20 years ago.
  • It’s hard to prove that catch shares are the reason why some fish populations are rebounding. Many feel that catch limits, but not specifically catch shares, are responsible for the reappearance of overfished species.
  • It’s difficult to decide how many shares to give to each fishermen or company. In some places, shares are based on past catch, but that’s not a fair system for newer participants.

This is an issue that will continue to be debated so in the meantime, check out CIR’s video and let us know what you think about catch shares.

To learn more:

The West Coast groundfish fishery, where this 75-foot trawler fishes, is managed using catch shares.

The West Coast groundfish fishery, where this 75-foot trawler fishes, is managed using catch shares. Photo credit: Ralph Brown, NOAA.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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