A global survey found that fisheries managed using individual transferable quotas (ITQs) were half as likely to collapse as others. Long-term quotas give fishermen a stake in conserving fish stocks.
The study was published in the journal Science just a day after the European Commission announced a major review of EU fisheries policy.
Individual transferable quotas (ITQs)
The principle of ITQs is straightforward. A safe level of catch is set for a given species or group of species in a prescribed area, and that catch is shared out between individual boats or fleets.
Professor Costello’s team analysed a global database of 11,135 fisheries, and identified 121 that were managed using ITQs or a close variant. Their main conclusion is that using ITQs halves the probability that the fishery will collapse.
There is little doubt that many fisheries urgently need a change of management. UN figures show that nearly one third are exploited to the point where yields are less than 10% of their original levels.
So far, the world leaders in adopting ITQs as a method of halting the slide have been Iceland, New Zealand and Australia, although the US is quickly catching up.
EU policy review
With the management of European fisheries now up for review, will it too adopt the ITQ approach to recovery? The Netherlands and Denmark are two countries already using ITQs; most do not.
“Many member states are discussing the issue,” said Alberto Spagnolli, head of the economic analysis unit within the European Commission’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Directorate.
“What we did [with our discussion paper] in 2007 was to set the ball rolling for a debate with Europe that is broader than just ITQs, including access rights in general, days at sea, collective quotas that could be more or less transferable. “But we will put on the table the possible introduction of ITQs.”
A spokeswoman for the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) declined to comment directly on ITQs, but – perhaps in a hint that they are being considered – said the UK was pushing for a more sustainable European fisheries framework with “an increased emphasis on long-term management planning”.
One spectacular success, according to Steve Gaines of UCSB, is the Alaskan halibut fishery. By 1995, he said, it was so depleted that the fishing season was just three days long.
Now, after adopting transferable quotas, it lasts for eight months. Fewer fish are caught; but fishermen strive to land only big, mature ones and bring them in in top condition so they fetch more at market.
“Halibut fishermen were barely squeaking by – but now the fishery is insanely profitable,” said Dr Gaines.