Assessing catch shares’ effects evidence from Federal United States
and associated British Columbian fisheries$
Dietmar Grimma,1, Ivan Barkhorna, David Festab, Kate Bonzonb,2, Judd Boomhowerb,3,
Valerie Hovlanda, Jason Blaua,n
aRedstone Strategy Group, LLC, 777 29th Street, Suite 500, Boulder, CO 80303, USA
bEnvironmental Defense Fund, 123 Mission Street, 28th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA
a r t i c l e i n f o
Received 11 August 2011
Received in revised form
20 October 2011
Accepted 21 October 2011
Available online 24 November 2011
a b s t r a c t
What are the effects of transitioning traditionally managed fisheries to incentive-based catch shares
fisheries? In a study of all major United States federal catch share fisheries and associated shared stock
fisheries in British Columbia, catch shares result in environmental improvements, economic improve-
ments, and a mixture of changes in social performance, relative to the race for fish under traditional
management. Environmentally, compliance with total allowable catch increases and discards decrease.
Economically, vessel yields rise, total revenues grow, and long-term stock increases are encouraged.
Socially, safety increases, some port areas modestly consolidate, needed processing capacity often
reduces, and labor markets shift from part time jobs to full time jobs with similar total employment.
Newer catch shares address many social concerns through careful design.
& 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Catch shares are an important approach for fishery managers as
they seek to achieve environmental, economic, and social objectives
within fisheries. Catch shares, as defined by the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are:
[Any of] several fishery management strategies that allocate a
specific portion of the total allowable fishery catch to individuals,
cooperatives, communities, or other entities. Each recipient of a
catch share is directly accountable to stop fishing when its
exclusive allocation is reached .
This paper focuses on the environmental, economic, and social
performance in the 15 major catch share fisheries of the United
States (US) and British Columbia (BC). These fisheries include the
12 major US federal catch shares and three associated shared
stock catch share fisheries in BC. These fisheries are diverse in
geography, gear type, value, and number of species managed, and
encompass the wide variety of US fisheries (Fig. 1) .
In total, these fisheries accounted for over $890 M in ex-vessel
value in 2009, although there was great variability in fishery
revenues . Longline and bottom trawl are the most common
gear types, although mid-water trawl, hook and line, and trap
fisheries are also included. 60% of the fisheries are single species,
while the remaining 40% manage multiple species.
The performance of 15 US and BC fisheries is analyzed under
traditional management regimes and catch share management.
The 15 fisheries, along with the year of catch shares implementa-
tion, are: mid-Atlantic surf clam/ocean quahog (SCOQ, 1990),
British Columbia sablefish (1990), British Columbia halibut
(1991), Alaska halibut (1995), Alaska sablefish (1995), Pacific
whiting (1997), British Columbia groundfish trawl (1997), Alaska
pollock (1999), Bering Sea and Aleutian Island King and Tanner
crab (Alaska crab, 2005), Gulf of Alaska rockfish (2007), Gulf of
Mexico red snapper (2007), Atlantic sea scallop (2010), Gulf of
Mexico grouper and tilefish (2010), mid-Atlantic tilefish (2010),
Northeast multispecies groundfish (2010). The three BC fisheries
are included in the analysis due to their interdependency and
co-management with the Alaskan and Pacific coast catch share
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/marpol
0308-597X/$-see front matter & 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
$Funding: The authors gratefully acknowledge the Gordon and Betty Moore
Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation for their financial support. The
funders had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data, nor in the
preparation of this paper.
nCorresponding author. Tel.: þ1 303 606 7109; fax: þ1 303 606 7120.
E-mail addresses: DGrimm@tu.org (D. Grimm), email@example.com (K. Bonzon),
firstname.lastname@example.org (J. Boomhower),
email@example.com (J. Blau).
1Present address: Trout Unlimited.
2Tel.: þ1 415 293 6071; fax: þ1 415 293 6051.
3Present address: Energy and Resources Group, University of California,
Berkeley, 310 Barrows Hall, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
Marine Policy 36 (2012) 644–657
fisheries in the US. One additional catch shares program, the
South Atlantic wreckfish fishery, is excluded from this study due
to the low commercial activity, and therefore low data availability
(see Appendix A). All results discussed in Section 4 refer to this set
of studied fisheries, or a subset thereof depending on data
availability. Table 1 contains a detailed table of data availability
and metrics used in this study.
Environmental, economic, and social data are collected from
up to ten years before catch shares implementation up to the
tenth year of full catch shares implementation for each fishery,
where available. For each fishery, year 0, the baseline year, is the
year immediately prior to full catch shares implementation. In
some instances, year 0 is therefore a transition year where catch
shares are implemented near the end of the fishing season.
Year 1 is the first full year of catch shares implementation. Data
collection utilized public data available through government
sources as well as private industry data sources where necessary.
Post-transition data, or indices dependent on post-transition data,
for fisheries that transition to catch shares since 2007 are not
used in summary charts due to those fisheries’ limited experience
with catch shares management.
Initial data collection took place in 2006 for nine fisheries that
transitioned before 2007. In addition, interviews were conducted
with 41 stakeholders, including fishermen, processors, conserva-
tionists, government personnel, and industry representatives.
These preliminary findings were compiled in a previous, unpub-
lished draft of this paper in 2007 pending additional data collec-
tion. Since 2007, the US’s experience with catch shares has grown
considerably. With six new fisheries implementing catch shares
management and further years of experience in the nine previous
fisheries, there is now sufficient data to warrant an update and
publication of the previous draft.
3.1. The shift from unmanaged fishing to traditional management
Prior to 1976, the United States left fisheries largely unma-
naged. Most fisheries were open-access, and foreign and domestic
fishermen4were allowed free rein to catch as many fish as they
wished. To maintain a competitive share in the fishery, US public
policy focused on expansion and exploitation, attempting to
increase domestic capacity in the face of growing international
encroachment . With incentives to grow the fleet and lack of
incentives to sustain and build the resource, vessels steadily
increased while landings did not change considerably (Fig. 2) .
The US fleet more than tripled in capacity from under 5000
vessels in 1935 to 17,000 vessels in 1975. However, domestic
landings remained relatively consistent in the same period ran-
ging from 2.9 to 3.8 billion pounds. Thus, the average vessel in
1975 caught only 34% as much biomass as it did in 1935, despite
tremendous increases in fishing technologies.
Fish stocks began collapsing in the unmanaged period for
reasons common to rival, non-excludable goods. A ‘‘free-for-all’’
system ensured that rational individual actions undermined
long-term resource sustainability. Partially in order to end this
Fig. 1. 15 US and BC fisheries are analyzed. Diverse geographies and diverse types.
FisheryCapitalizationSeason DiscardsTAC exceeds Boat yieldRevenueSafety Employ. stability
BC sablefish (1990)
BC halibut (1991)
AK halibut (1995)
AK sablefish (1995)
BC GFT (1997)
Pacific whiting (1997)
AK pollock (1999)
AK king crab (2005)
Gulf red snapper (2007)
AK rockfish coop (2007)
NE multispecies (2010)
Atlantic scallop (2010)
Gulf reef fish (2010)
MA tilefish (2010)
4The term ‘‘fishermen’’ is used throughout to refer to all who engage in
commercial fishing activities, regardless of gender.
D. Grimm et al. / Marine Policy 36 (2012) 644–657
‘‘free-for-all’’ system, domesticate US fisheries, prevent overfish-
ing, and rebuild stocks, Congress passed the first version of what
is now the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Manage-
ment Act (MSA) in 1976 (later amended in 1996 and 2006). The
MSA was a turning point in fisheries management by seeking to
solve fishery problems through national action . It established
the federally-managed 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic
Zone (EEZ), regionalized federal fishery management through
eight fishery management councils, and created ten national
standards for fishery management plans . Despite these novel
management attempts, fleet capacity remained too high for the
available resource (Fig. 2), and rational individual actions con-
tinued to undermine stock rebuilding .
By domesticating US fisheries, the MSA made the highly produc-
tive Alaska pollock fishery exclusive to US fleets. Previous to 1977,
pollock was not included in landings data as the fishery only had a
minor domestic component, while post 1977 it dominates domestic
US landings and is shown separately in Fig. 2 . Empirically, the
rise in pollock landings does not explain the continued rise in the
total number of US vessels, as the Alaska pollock fishery only
includes 100–200 vessels.
In the post-MSA 1970s and 1980s, the ‘‘traditional manage-
ment’’ approach to fisheries was implemented. Traditional man-
agement fisheries are non-catch share fisheries that use any or all
of the following management tools: limited entry, effort control,
trip limits, and total catch limits . As of 2010, traditional
management still covers 70% of federal fisheries (50% by value) .
However, this style of management contains inherent imbalances.
In theory, it reins in overfishing through input and output controls
that limit how a fisherman can fish and how much a fisherman can
produce. In practice, fisherman innovation leads to increased
fishing capacity and effort, which then leads to progressively more
Draconian command-and-control measures . Thus, by 1990,
non-pollock landings were still only 40% higher than in 1935
despite a 460% increase in vessels resulting in the average vessel
catching even less than it did in 1975. This process locks fishermen
into a cycle of increasing effort and control called the ‘‘race for
fish.’’ In a race for fish, fisheries are closed either for the remainder
of the season or until the next pre-determined opening as soon as
the TAC is reached. Thus, an individual fisherman must catch the
fish quickly; otherwise, other fishermen will catch the limited
supply of fish. This situation has negative environmental, eco-
nomic, and social repercussions.
Traditional management also includes further responses to the
problems of overfishing. Managers turn to a suite of tools to
prevent resource depletion, such as monitoring to enforce TACs,
days-at-sea (DAS), and trip limits. Managers also implement
closures that protect the health of juveniles, ecosystems, and
sensitive habitats where necessary. Finally, managers institute
bycatch measures that reduce the environmental footprint of
fishing and improve the food web. While these measures may be
helpful, they do not address the underlying poor incentives of
traditional fishery management.
3.2. Catch shares align incentives for long-term management
The large failures with traditional open-access and limited-
access management approaches in the studied fisheries generally
led to catch shares implementation. Catch shares remedy the
shortcomings of traditional management by directly addressing
the common property problem of rival, non-excludable fish
stocks. As each fisherman’s stake in the fishery is secure, there
is no incentive to race for fish. Similarly, since the value of a
fisherman’s quota is directly dependent on the long-term stock
level, there is an incentive to support long-term management for
high biomass levels. By changing fishery management institutions
to properly align incentives, catch shares can end the race for fish,
helping to avoid fisheries’ collapse .
Further, catch shares management more frequently uses
management tools that help ensure sustainable fishing without
causing a race for fish. Specifically, monitoring is more common
and rigorous in catch share fisheries . Total catch limits are
used in all catch share fisheries, whereas traditionally-managed
fisheries did not need to set catch limits (now referred to as
annual catch limits, ACLs) until 2011 . Spawning closures and
bycatch regulations can be established in cooperation with fish-
ermen who recognize the importance of long-term management.
Two New Zealand fisheries with multiple decades of catch
shares experience provide useful examples of the long-term
outcomes of catch shares management. The rock lobster and
orange roughy fisheries show how catch shares enable fishermen
and managers to invest in longer-term ecosystem health and
catch levels. In both fisheries, lower TACs were set by managers
and met by fishermen through the mutual incentive to reduce
catch in the near term to increase long-term biomass. In the rock
lobster fishery, catch was reduced to 50% of historic levels, which
was also 15% lower than the initial catch share TAC. Due to the
rock lobster’s high resilience, these reduced catch levels resulted
in biomass doubling within ten years, at which point managers
raised the TAC (Fig. 3) [11–13]. The orange roughy catch shares
fishery demonstrates a similar outcome. Despite initial incom-
plete science that set the TAC too high and the allocation of shares
as a fixed tonnage (making TAC reductions difficult), catch shares
management has lifted the stock to over 60% higher than the
historic lows (Fig. 3) [14–16]. In both fisheries, catch shares
provided the incentives for managers and fishermen to choose
Fig. 2. Vessels increased, but landings stayed flat. Total US commercial domestic vessels (thousands) and landings (billions of pounds).
D. Grimm et al. / Marine Policy 36 (2012) 644–657
optimal inter-temporal tradeoffs, whereas traditional manage-
ment made such long-term investment much more difficult.
4. Calculations and results
Consistent with theory, traditional management and the race
for fish have poor environmental, economic, and social results.
Catch shares lead to clear gains in environmental performance,
major economic improvements, and a mixture of changes in
4.1. Traditional management leads to a race for fish and many
Traditional management leads to a race for fish and increas-
ingly shorter fishing seasons with negative environmental, eco-
nomic, and social effects (Fig. 4). In the fisheries studied, season
length decreases in the years before catch share implementation
from an already low average of 84 day to only 63 day per year
(Fig. 4) [17–33]. Several fisheries, such as the Alaska halibut and
crab fisheries, eventually were only open for as little as three days
of non-stop fishing under traditional management [24,26]. Even
where trip limits were set to moderate fishing impact, similar
race for fish conditions prevailed. The Gulf of Mexico red snapper
fishery saw ‘‘mini-derbies’’ spread throughout the year , and
the New England multispecies groundfish fishery saw increased
discards, underreported catch, and high biomass uncertainty .
Overall, trip limits were found to decrease vessel efficiency,
increase high-grading, and increase discards . These race for
fish conditions under traditional management led to the problems
described in the remainder of this section.
4.1.1. The environment suffers
The time pressures and poor conservation incentives of the
‘‘race for fish’’ negatively affect the environment. Efforts to catch
as many fish as possible in as short a period as possible led to
unselective fishing practices and fleet overcapacity. Discards
increased by 65% in the five years prior to catch share imple-
mentation [3,7,36–56]. In addition, TACs were significantly
exceeded (defined as exceeded by greater than 2%) 54% of the
time, with the fleet landing 15% more than the TAC on average
when the TAC is exceeded [3,7,17,19,27,29,30,41,42,57–75]. Thus,
traditional approaches have difficulty sustainably harvesting fish
stocks and create poor conservation incentives for fishermen,
leading to high discards.
Fig. 3. Stocks recover as managers adjust TACs. TAC and biomass relative to the first year of catch share introduction.
Fig. 4. Traditional management created a race for fish, leading to environmental, economic, and social problems.
D. Grimm et al. / Marine Policy 36 (2012) 644–657
4.1.2. Economic harms result
The short seasons caused by the race for fish reduce fishery
profitability. Per-vessel yields declined slightly by 6%, as did per-
vessel revenues [3,17,19,29,41,48,52,53,67,68,74–76]. There are
numerous reasons for the decline in revenues beyond decreasing
stocks. Ex-vessel prices decreased as supply ‘gluts’ placed too
much product on the market in a short period of time [personal
communication].5Furthermore, time pressure led to poor hand-
ling, declining product quality, and more frozen fish [personal
communication]. In addition, fishermen’s financial conditions
declined as they redesigned their vessels to meet increasingly
limited fishing constraints without landing additional fish [per-
4.1.3. Social problems result
Social problems such as declining safety and unstable employ-
ment also accompanied traditional management’s negative eco-
nomic and environmental impacts. A safety index based on a
combination of injuries, search and rescue missions, vessels lost,
and lives lost (depending on data availability for each fishery)
demonstrates that fisheries under traditional management were,
on average, only 26% to 38% as safe as the same fisheries under
catch shares [77–79]. For example, search and rescue missions in
Alaska halibut and sablefish fisheries rose from 25 to 33 per year
in the years before catch shares . At the same time, employ-
ment became unstable in many fisheries as seasons lasted only a
few days or weeks. Opportunities for full-time employment
dropped from 34% to only 21% in the studied fisheries in the five
years before catch shares implementation [17–33,79,80]. Job
quality further declined as limited time at sea meant that fisher-
men were more willing to risk the safety of their crews by fishing
in adverse weather and water conditions . Employment
stability also decreases when traditional management leads to
fishery closures. In 2009, 17 of the 42 federal fishery management
plans implemented early in-season closures or continued indefi-
nite closures of specific species due to past overfishing, or closed
specific areas .
4.2. Catch shares end the race for fish
Catch shares management ends the race for fish by creating
incentives for economic efficiency and long-term stewardship.
The fleets studied rationalized, on average dropping from 195%
of the efficient level to the post-catch shares efficient level
shares end the race for fish and remove the need for most input
controls, and the available days to fish increased on average from
63 to 245 day [17–33]. Fleets rationalize under catch shares
because secure shares in the fishery with individual accountabil-
ity improve TAC compliance and allow fishermen to match their
capitalization to their share of the catch. Further, when shares are
tradable, some of the least efficient fishermen exit by selling their
quota, reducing fleet capacity to align better with TACs. Seasons
expand because, with a secure share, fishermen slow the pace of
fishing by fishing when it is economically beneficial. They no
longer need to worry about another fisherman catching all of the
TAC. In addition, these valuable shares transformed the mindset
of some fishermen, who developed a more concrete financial
stake in the outcome of their fishing practices [personal commu-
nication]. This potent combination of economic incentive and a
sense of environmental stewardship leads to improved fishery
sustainability (Fig. 5).
4.3. Catch shares improve environmental management and
Catch shares improve environmental outcomes primarily by
reducing fishing impact on non-target species and consistently
maintaining catch levels at or below set TACs, consistent with
previous research that shows catch shares reduce variability in
key environmental indicators .
4.3.1. Discards decrease
Under catch shares, the studied fisheries’ discards-to-retained-
catch average drops 31% over five years and 66% over ten years
(Fig. 6). Nearly all of the fisheries had lower discard rates than
under traditional management. Discards in the British Columbia
halibut fishery decrease by over 90% . Discards in the Alaska
pollock , Alaska sablefish [44–47], and Alaska halibut 
fisheries also drop by 50–65% by the tenth year of catch shares.
The SCOQ fishery, with an inherently low discard ratio due to the
nature of the fishery, experienced little change under catch shares
[personal communication]. Monitoring and enforcement made
possible under catch shares reduces fishermen’s ability to high-
grade and discard, while the elimination of the derby leads to
reduced gear waste and ghost fishing.
While the data show an increase in discards in the first full
year of catch shares implementation, this is largely due to
idiosyncratic and transitional factors. The fishery with the largest
increase in discards is the Alaska pollock fishery, where the
discard rate nearly doubles to 3% during the first year of catch
shares. However, this is due to abnormally low discards in the
baseline year, when age class dynamics produced few fish below
marketable size . The ‘‘high’’ first year discards are still well
below the pre-catch shares average of 8%. The Alaska sablefish
fishery, where discards increased almost 30% in the first year
of catch shares, similarly saw unusually low discards in the
Comparing practices of fisheries that have both catch shares
and traditionally managed sectors reveals similar results. Catch
shares sectors have lower discard rates relative to traditional
management sectors. In the Alaska groundfish fishery for exam-
ple, the community development quota fishery managed with
catch shares has a discard rate 40% lower than the traditionally
managed sector . As discussed in Section 4.6, the Pacific
whiting catch share catcher–processor sector has a discard rate
over 30% less than the traditionally managed mothership sector
(0.8% versus 1.2%). In addition, the Pacific whiting catcher–
processor cooperative established an explicit goal of reducing
discards and bycatch .
Some fisheries also experience improvements in non-commer-
cial and prohibited bycatch. For example, the Alaska sablefish
fishery reduced crab and salmon discards under catch shares by
nearly 90% and overall non-commercial bycatch by nearly 50%.
Similarly, the Alaska pollock fishery decreased crab and salmon
discards by 50% and overall non-commercial bycatch by 25%
4.3.2. Total allowable catch limits are not exceeded
In addition, catch shares improve environmental management
by reducing the size and frequency of significant TAC overages
(defined as greater than 2%) (Fig. 7). Under traditional manage-
ment, 44% of TACs are exceeded, and when they are exceeded, by
an average of over 15%. Under catch shares, TAC overages are
nearly eliminated. Of the 86 TACs set in catch share fisheries since
implementation, only five (6%) have been exceeded, and by an
average of only 7% [3,7,17,19,27,29,30,41,42,57–75]. The BC
halibut, Alaska pollock, and Alaska halibut fisheries saw overages
5See list of personal communications in the ‘‘personal communications’’
section. Individual responses are maintained confidential.
D. Grimm et al. / Marine Policy 36 (2012) 644–657