Letters

Diverse Fisheries Require Diverse Solutions

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Science  16 Jan 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5912, pp. 338-339
DOI: 10.1126/science.323.5912.338

We applaud C. Postello et al.'s Report “Can catch shares prevent fisheries collapse?” (19 September 2008, p. 1678) for empirically evaluating one solution to fisheries collapses—individual transferable quotas (ITQs)—but worry about promoting a single, prescriptive solution for diverse global fisheries based on the overly simplistic premise of “getting incentives right” (13). Examples of ITQs considered by Costello et al. come from developed countries with strong governance and temperate or subtropical ecosystems with low relative diversity; these conditions favor single-species fisheries. Hence, the results do not represent catch shares generally and cannot be extrapolated globally to model the recovery of the world's predominantly small-scale and data-poor fisheries.

ITQs raise social issues that should not be ignored, such as the effects of consolidation, lost livelihoods, restricted resource access, allocation by historical privilege, and reduced local investment (4). These undermine the local stewardship and “individual incentives” necessary for successful implementation of ITQs (3). Without solutions to issues of equity, population growth coupled with increases in ITQ-managed fisheries could lead fishers displaced from formerly open-access areas to pursue illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing or to fish other species within ITQ zones.

To stem collapse and begin recovery, the world's fisheries need diverse and practical management measures, including ITQs as well as marine protected areas, traditional user rights, and minimum/maximum size limits, among others (5, 6).

  • * Present address: Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies James Cook University Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia

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Response

Our Report (By J.L., C.C., and S.D.G.) should not be read as a blinkered push for individual transferable quotas (ITQs). We agree that ITQs are not a panacea; we simply used them as a convenient subset of rights-based management to test whether Worm et al.'s prediction (1) of 100% collapse holds true for rights-based fisheries. The data used by Worm et al. are aggregated over large spatial areas, and ITQ fisheries are the only rights-based fisheries that are implemented on a similar scale.

We showed in our Report that, on average, ITQ-managed fisheries are significantly less prone to collapse than are non-ITQ fisheries. However, simply switching to ITQs does not guarantee ecological and social benefits: Total allowable catches (TACs) must still be set appropriately, and design must account for social objectives. Fisheries are complex interactions between ecosystems and human societies where market incentives can fail for a variety of reasons. For example, when enforcement is inadequate, species with little economic value may still be discarded. Quota holders may support the depletion rather than the sustainable harvest of species with exceptionally low productivity. Separation between those who harvest the fish and those who set the quota can compromise the incentives for sustainable harvesting. Component populations may be depleted if the geographic scale of management exceeds the geographic scale of these populations.

Smith et al. raise a range of valid concerns about the ecological impacts of ITQs (such as bycatch and high-grading). However, ITQs can result in quota holders encouraging more restrictive TACs, reducing levels of bycatch, and supporting conservation measures such as marine protected areas (24). Branch et al. (5) found no evidence that ITQs cause an increase in high-grading. In Canada, multispecies ITQs were observed to be no more expensive to enforce than existing regulations (6). Learning from this rich range of experience is fundamental to improving fisheries management generally and to applying rights-based mechanisms in particular.

Similarly, Ban et al. raise justifiable concerns about the socioeconomic impacts of ITQ implementation. Potential for consolidation and lost livelihoods should be part of any discussion on implementing rights-based management and balanced against expected societal gains from enhanced management. As noted by our Report, there are many rights-based alternatives to ITQs.

Despite these caveats, we strongly disagree that “getting incentives right” is an overly simplistic premise. Our Report tested and validated Hilborn et al.'s (7) hypothesis that sustainable fishing will occur when institutional incentives encourage participants to behave in ways that society considers beneficial. Other premises (such as Ban et al.'s argument that equity is essential for sustainability) should also be tested with the same degree of rigor.

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