The science of sustainable seafood, explained

Catch Shares and Other Systems in the EU

What Makes a Successful System of Fishing Opportunities?

Catch Shares and Other Systems in the EU

By Griffin Carpenter

The systems for allocating fishing opportunities can take diverse forms, and as the CfoodUW series of blogs on catch shares revealed, these systems can elicit strong and at times conflicting views. How then do we approach this tricky subject and move the debate forward?

In my latest report for the New Economics Foundation, I approach the issue of fishing opportunities by taking a step back and first addressing the question: ‘what are we trying to achieve?’ It’s a basic question, but one that is often omitted. Whether the system in question uses ITQs, days-at-sea, pooled quota, or any number of alternatives, determining whether the system is ‘successful’ depends on how ‘success’ is defined. Ultimately this is a political question, requiring an explicit decision. Arne Eide, in his book chapter Economic Principles: An Economic Perspective on Fishing, expresses this point well:

Fisheries management needs to be based on expressed political objectives, preferably with clear priorities. Bioeconomic theory is a useful tool for the analyses of the biological and economic effects of different exploitation levels and of the possible management means needed to obtain these effects. But there is, in principle, no built in normative theory which makes it possible to omit the basic political decision on how to utilise the natural value of a fish resource.

I believe this politically-defined and objective-led method is the right way to approach the issue. Some of these objectives may be linked to a specific fishery or context, but there are also objectives that will apply across systems as they are inherent in fisheries management.

In my framework, there are 12 of these ‘foundational objectives’, supplemented by any context-specific objectives. Though subject to debate, these objectives provide a useful framework to focus discussion. I established these objectives by thinking about three broad categories of success: good for fishers, good for society, and using good processes.

For the system to work for fishers, fishing opportunities should be: secure, flexible, accessible, viable, equitable and fair. Fishers must be able to access the opportunities they need today, adapt to changing circumstances, and to plan for the future – and the system must remain workable. If the system does not work for fishers, then there is no fishery to manage.

Other frameworks have included ‘transferable’ and/or ‘exclusive’ as objectives, but I think these are better defined as methods in pursuit of more general objectives (flexible and secure, respectively). It is important to not be overly prescriptive.

For the system to deliver for society, fishing opportunities should be: publicly owned, meet government objectives (however defined), be a limited public expense, and capture resource rent. If the system is not delivering for the public whilst costing money to run, then there is little reason to have a fishery at all.

For the system to have good process, decision-making around fishing opportunities should be: transparent and accountable, objective, and made at the right governance level with representative bodies. More than just outcomes matter, and it is the process of decision-making itself that is often the subject of the most heated criticism.

This framework of objectives can be applied to many current debates in fisheries management, for example the issues of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) and other types of catch share systems (‘rights-based management’ in the European context). These systems have advantages and disadvantages and their appropriateness for a fishery depends on what the defined objectives are.

On ITQs, several EU Member States have stated national objectives of protecting employment in fishing communities, so the effect of industry consolidation in ITQ systems would make it an inappropriate system. The use of differentiated ITQ systems and regulations on transfers have a mixed record of effectiveness, but they are certainly part of the conversation.

Catch shares in all their forms often come into conflict with the objective of public ownership. There are examples of best practice however, such as a clear period of validity for fishing rights, as used in some countries.

In the report, this framework of 12 objectives is applied in detail to 12 EU Member States: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. The objectives are assessed through a series of quantitative and qualitative indicators, supported by expert interviews. The end result is a scorecard of performance for each Member State across the different objectives.

There is a wide spectrum of performance across the Member States analysed, each system with some positive signs of performance, but all facing serious challenges. In all Member States, fisheries management is shown to be costly to administer and generates little public revenue. Obtaining access to the fishing industry for new entrants is difficult, and many systems of fishing opportunities have low levels of transparency.

Fortunately, there are clear opportunities for improvement and best practices to address some of these problems. In Denmark, a government-controlled quota reserve is used to loan quota to new fishers and allocate a portion of quota based on social and environmental considerations. In France, a quota reserve is populated by recovering a portion of quota when vessels are exchanged. In Denmark and the UK, information on quota ownership is available in a public register, and in Belgium fishers are directly informed about the outcomes of its allocation decisions.

There are also some bold policy ideas, untested in EU Member States, which we should now look to. A tax on landed value would generate revenues to help cover management costs and capture some of the above-normal profits generated by limits on fishing licences and largely free access to a public resource. A policy that could improve flexibility in quota systems is an online peer-to-peer exchange where fishers can swap fishing quotas for different species with each other to better align with the species they catch.

No doubt fisheries will continue to face questions over access. I hope this report generates debate around system performance and provides a framework to help move the conversation forward.

Griffin Carpenter is an Economic Modeller at the New Economics Foundation. A full list of his publications can be found here. You can follow him on twitter here.

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