Using “fishing rights” to have our fish and eat them, too

Written by on April 25, 2016 in Fish, Policy & Ocean Law

A collaborative study published last month shows that a different approach to fishery management could double global fish populations by 2050 and push most fisheries to “healthy levels” in just a decade.

Fishing boat. Photo credit: NOAA.

Fishing boat. Photo credit: NOAA.

“This research shows that we really can have our fish and eat them, too,” lead author Christopher Costello, from University of California Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, explained in a news release. “We no longer need to see ocean fisheries as a series of trade-offs. In fact, we show that we can have more fish in the water, more food on the plate and more prosperous fishing communities — and it can happen relatively quickly.”

Improved fishery management approaches would boost fish populations and result in increased harvests that could feed 500 million more people and increase profits by 204%, compared to a business-as-usual approach.

These improved fishery management approaches include ones based on fishing rights. When using fishing rights, fishermen are given the rights to a portion of the catch or fishing area, provided they follow strict, science-based catch limits. It works, in theory, because it provides fishermen with a sense of ownership over their catch.

“We now have a clear roadmap for how to recover fisheries: Give fishermen secure fishing rights so they can control and protect their future,” said co-author Amanda Leland from the Environmental Defense Fund. “Countries from the U.S. to Belize to Namibia are leading a turnaround by implementing secure fishing rights and realizing benefits for people and the oceans.”

The researchers analyzed 4,713 fisheries totalling 78% of the global catch and found that using these methods:

  • 75% of exploited fisheries would reach population goals within a decade
  • 98% would reach population goals by 2050

“We’ve uncovered a really important insight: There is urgency and a tremendous upside in reforming thousands of small-scale, community fisheries around the world,” said co-author Ray Hilborn from the University of Washington. “The research adds to the body of work showing that most of the world’s large fisheries are doing relatively well, but it emphasizes the critical need to rebuild local fisheries, most of which are in the developing world where millions depend on fisheries for food and their livelihoods.”

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Copyright © 2016 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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