Catch Shares = No Shares for the Fisher, an interview with Daniel Pauly

In this video, Dr. Daniel Pauly, a leading fisheries scientist, discusses the problems with catch shares.

I was inspired to post the interview with Dr. Pauly after receiving a petition from the Environmental Defense Fund asking me to push my congresspeople to support catch shares. Had I not had this discussion with Dr. Pauly, I would not have realized how controversial they are. To find out more, I called Florida fisher and conservationist Don DeMaria to get his thoughts. “Catch shares”, he told me, “reward the biggest environmental violators at the expense of small, local fishers and their communities.”

Don also pointed me to some interesting articles on the history of catch share policy. Here is a link to one: (Read down for the Environmental Defense Fund/Walmart connection. Just sayin’.)

There are many favorable assessments of catch shares out there, which is not surprising because the EDF has put enormous resources behind them. If you go to their website, and search “catch shares”, you’ll find a lot of information. For an alternate assessment, go to Food and Water Watch.

One thing’s for sure, if we destroy the artisinal fishing culture in coastal communities, it won’t come back. And that will be a blow to fish as well as people. Another quote from Dr. Pauly: “In the future, we will have small scale sustainable fisheries or no fisheries at all.”

Before catch shares are instituted further, there needs to be a lot of discussion about how to make sure our oceans don’t become another corporate commodity.

13 thoughts on “Catch Shares = No Shares for the Fisher, an interview with Daniel Pauly

  1. Take another look at catch shares and don’t compare them to utopia. Compare them to current fishery management which has led to depleted fish stocks, consolidation and droves of fishermen going out of business. The two newspapers you link to are the most biased out there BTW.

    One other point – catch shares aren’t one-size-fits-all. They can be customized, designed to deliver what communities want – small boats, ports, local fishermen, local processors, less bycatch, etc. There are many good reasons EDF supports catch shares. Read about them here:

  2. Thanks for your comment. I had hoped to get some discussion going — I will forward your post to Don De Maria. His experiences in Florida as a small fisher matched Daniel Pauly’s description of the results of catch shares exactly. I also spoke to a person at a major foundation who tells me that their organization is backing away from EDF because of what they consider to be a heavy handed push toward catch shares.

    On the other hand, I do know Caribbean fishers who are very interested in catch shares as a solution in their countries.

  3. Paulys’ risk analysis is correct – but it is a risk element not an inherent feature of catch-shares. ITQ’s work well in Denmark. The ITQ principle is superior, but the design and implmentation is crucial. In DK overcapacity disappeared, profits and investments increased, and the small scale fleet increased their share.

    • Dr. Pauly would disagree with you, I believe. His point is that catch shares in effect privatize the ocean, which he believes should be a resource held in common — that by making fishing rights sellable or transferable, they inevitably lead to disenfranchisement of the smaller fishers as corporate interests buy in. Also, my understanding is that the larger ‘share’ goes to fishers with larger catch — often fishers using less sustainable techniques.

      You may be right that these pitfalls can be averted, I don’t claim to be an expert on the technical aspects of fisheries management, far from it, I am passing along information that I documented in the process of filming these interviews in the hopes of stimulating discussion and awareness of the issues.

  4. Pingback: Daniel Pauly Talks Catch Shares | Sea Around Us

  5. Corinmc, on that Pauly may have his view. I would not put it in his mouth, only observe that Pauly such views are a political nature and should not be acredited to his accomplishments as a biologist. Also notice that I did not express preferences, alone my view on how catch-shares ca work.

    • Hi Mogens,

      Pauly’s political views are informed by his work as a biologist and I believe should carry some weight as such.

      What I find disturbing about the push for catch shares, in the U.S. at least, is exactly how political the issue has become. EDF has thrown a lot of money — corporate money — at pushing catch shares through: “The Big Bet”. Well big bets can go awfully wrong, especially if they’re pushed through too quickly by people with an agenda. The folks from environmental organizations I talk to all know exactly where the money behind this is coming from and what the politics are behind it (check some of the links to newspaper articles if you are interested) — and they are afraid to go on record because of potential retaliation from EDF .(Who will probably find this comment with the people they’re paying to comb the internet for contrary views). I myself am loathe to jump into this, but the more I look the more disturbing and big brotherish it appears.

      Best, Corinne

  6. Catch shares for sure are not perfect, but compare them to the current system. The philosophy that we all own fisheries is fine in theory, but in practice this means that we, as taxpayers, subsidize fishers to catch the fish (we subsidize fuel, boats, research, management, enforcement). We certainly don’t make any money from fisheries right now, which are closed to a select group that own expensive fishing permits. Under catch shares in most countries fishers pay for government services, and their extra profits are taxed, benefiting taxpayers. Certainly fishers should pay for the privilege to fish, just as miners and loggers do, but they can’t pay if they are not making a reasonable profit.

    Check out Costello et al. 2008 Can catch shares prevent fisheries collapse? Science 321:1678-1681. This shows that catch shares reduce the chance that fisheries will collapse.

    The summary of fisheries management is this: capping catches protects the fish from being overexploited, going to catch shares ensures profitability, and now we are finally trying to address the social problems that result when catch shares are implemented. Nobody really wants to go back to the “good old days” of the Alaska halibut fishery when thousands of boats madly tried to catch as much as they could in one 24 hour opening.

  7. I was disturbed by some of the quotes attributed to Dr. Pauly in the Nat. Geo. article, thinking that he was encouraging catch shares. I’ve lived through them, seen our small community driven asunder, divided neatly into haves and have nots by the IFQ system instituted in Alaska in the early 90s. Those who were granted large blocks think the system is grand, and they are the voices that are left. Other people drifted away, or live below the poverty line. Don’t privatize another resource! Good fisheries data and good management based on fisheries science allows for healthy sustainable fisheries like the Alaskan salmon fisheries. In our neck of the woods, halibut stocks were doing well prior to IFQs and have been on a long downward slide for years. IFQs (that would be individual fishing quotas to those lucky enough to not have experienced them.) And if there truly is a need to shrink the fishery, consider catch shares that are leased but owned by the government and return to the government. Don’t create more imaginary wealth and shall we talk about who has the economic capital to buy these catch shares people are itching to institute? Now ocean acidification may throw us all some new curve balls, but that is a different story.

  8. I lived through IFQ implementation in the 90’s and watched it divide our community into haves and have-nots, but the voices touting the values of catch shares are those who got large quotas. The others drifted away or live below the poverty level and don’t have much to say. There are other ways to address the health of the resource. Good fishery science and good management based on accurate data can provide healthy fisheries, the Alaskan salmon fisheries being a prime example. If a fishery really needs to shrink, consider catch shares that are leased from the government and return to the government. Give me one good reason to reward fisherman with exclusivity because they were out making a living, and I’m not just sour graping, we made a substantial chunk of change, but it’s wrong. Don’t privatize another resource! Think about who stands to gain from that privatization and later, who can afford to buy those catch shares? The Alaskan halibut stocks were reasonably good when IFQs were implemented and have been on a precipitous downward slide in recent years. Having fewer fishermen out there fishing has not had the repairative effect that would have been expected.

  9. One should not argue against the fact that catch shares may result in unwanted effects and that cases can be made where this has happened. On the other hand one should not argue against Costellos analysis showing that catch shares statistically performs better than other managements. In Denmark this knowledge was irrelevant. We set the objectives, evaluated the instrumental characteristics of catch shares, designed the management relevant to us, assessed the residual risk element and executed the decision of catch shares (ITQ’s).
    My point is that catch shares can deliver and they can fail. The decision to move to catch shares depends on the complexity of the fishery, the societal considerations and the requirement you have for the performance of a management system; and it depends on your ability to design management. Whether this should result in a decision to move to catch shares depends on the “success” of existing management and the risk assessment of moving to catch shares.
    Danish fishermen were very skeptical – after 3 years of catch shares they now ask why this was not implemented much earlier (quote: Nordic Council report) In DK overcapacity disappeared, profits and investments increased, and the small scale fleet increased their share. Also the Danish system includes some elements of reversibility. Rights are considered public and can be withdrawn with 8 years notice, and the initial share set aside for the FishFund can be used for redistribution of rights. It currently issues shares for young fishermen.
    A good way forward – I believe, is a systematic approach. With the EDF catch share manual now on the street the relevant issues can be considered one by one.

    Regarding the policy issue, which I sense carry some weight in this discussion, I have to admit that my primary consideration is to have a management that reduce stress on our globe and optimize the result of removals we have to make from it.

  10. Catch Shares are the most destructive agenda item ever conceived to eliminate fishermen. They are designed to eradicate fishermen, not to defend, or support them. They are being pushed by a “supposed” environmental group that knows the destructive nature of catch shares, and they are being pushed because they are a management tool for men, and not resource. Why did EDF have a summit to promote capital investors to invest in catch shares. Why did the World Court declare catch shares illegal. Why does the passage of catch shares immediately decrease participants by 30%, with a coresponding decrease in the earnings? Why do participants own less than 50% of the shares after 5 yeras. Why are catch share communities characterized by idle boats, and unemployed people? Catch shares are not the answer, and an organization that has shown a bent toward eradicating fishermen have no place in fishery management.

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