How commercial fisheries are managed

Quickly comparing and understanding different fishery management approaches (and their outcomes) is a useful and important skill for policy makers. Now, a group of students (and one professor) at the University of Washington have made it much easier. Last month they published How commercial fisheries are managed, a paper that graphically represents every kind of fishery management scheme for easy comparison, while also using real-world case studies to explain each one.

Anderson et al. 2018 and its discussion will be highly useful for fishery managers and policy makers and would also be a good addition to any kind of discussion on natural resource management.

Three paths in fishery management

Generally speaking, there are 3 ways to regulate fisheries:

  1. Limiting catch
  2. Limiting fishing effort
  3. Limiting spatial access (marine protected area)

Anderson et al. 2018 traces each path’s evolution in the figure below.

Venn diagram representing the relationships among common approaches to fishery management, with regions of greater overlap indicating additional restrictions. Beginning from unregulated open access, the diagram represents three pathways: 1) limiting catch (travels down the left of the diagram), beginning with limited access and adding restrictions on total allowable catch, allocating harvest rights through catch shares, individual allocation through individual fishing quota (IFQ) and individual transferable quota (ITQ); 2) limiting effort (travels down the right of the diagram) through establishing non‐binding harvest guidelines, imposing input restrictions and then transferable input rights; and 3) controlling spatial access (travels right to left across the bottom) by establishing regulated‐take or closed no‐take areas, with the range of effort or catch controls applying within regions where fishing is permitted. From Anderson et al. 2018.

The paper also commented on triple bottom line outcomes for each management approach.

Summary of behavioral changes observed under each approach to effort management, with associated economic, ecological and community outcomes. Background shading indicates generally negative (red), mixed (yellow) or positive (green) outcomes; gradients reflect outcomes depend on other features of management. From Anderson et al. 2018

Positive social, ecological, and economic outcomes are the major goals of fishery management. When we write or tweet about “improving fishery management” we mean improving one or more of these outcomes until all three are satisfactory.

Is there a best way to manage fisheries?

This is a tricky question for a variety of reasons. First, everything in management comes down to the capacity of the regulating body—rules are followed as well as they are enforced. Some governing bodies only have the capacity to enforce harvest guidelines. Some can organize and operate a full catch share system. Mixing and matching regulations to maximize capacity is the way to go. Improving management often means improving capacity to manage.

Second, there is widespread philosophical disagreement about approaching fishery management. Policy makers with a capitalist bent tend to prefer economic outcomes. Others believe ecological outcomes should weigh higher than social outcomes (or vice versa). There are many ways to value a natural resource. However you feel about fishery management, Anderson et al. 2018 will better inform your opinion.

Max Mossler

Max Mossler

Max is the managing editor at Sustainable Fisheries UW. He thinks a lot about how environmental perception influences environmental policies.

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