What is a catch share?

Similar to dividing a pie, a catch share program allocates a secure area or privilege to harvest a share of a fishery's total catch to an individual or group. Programs establish appropriate controls on fishing mortality and hold participants accountable to their limits.

Catch shares can be administered as quota-based or area-based programs. Under quota-based catch shares, managers establish a fishery-wide catch limit and assign portions of the allowed catch, or shares, to participants. Area-based catch shares, often called Territorial Use Rights for Fishing (TURFs) allocate secure and exclusive privileges to fish in a specified area. TURFs are assigned to groups or, in rare cases, to individuals. TURF participants, in turn, are required to comply with appropriate controls on fishing mortality and maintain a healthy ecosystem. 

Comparing conventional management to catch shares

Most commercial fisheries start as open access—anyone who puts in the effort can fish. As competition increases and the race to fish intensifies, managers often limit access by licensing participants. When this approach fails to control fishing effort and catches, managers pile on more and more effort-based regulations (i.e., trip limits, gear restrictions, etc). In most cases, these regulations are unsuccessful in maintaining stable fish populations and creating safe and profitable fisheries. They also tend to frustrate fishermen, making it more difficult for them to run efficient fishing businesses.

Conventional Management Infographic

Over the past four decades, many fisheries worldwide have implemented catch share programs as an alternative. With a clearly defined fishing privilege, there is no pressure or race to fish. Fishermen have more flexibility to operate more efficient and profitable businesses, making fishing trips when the weather is fair and market conditions are opportune. They also have more time to fish selectively, dramatically reducing the amount of bycatch and discarded fish as well as the impacts on ocean ecosystems.  In essence, the ability of catch shares to align fishermen’s economic incentives with the health of fish stocks distinguishes them from conventional management approaches. 

Catch share programs are flexible in design capabilities

Catch shares are helping ailing fisheries become productive and prosperous again. These innovative management tools have been used in a variety of fisheries all over the world and they can be flexibly designed to meet the particular biological, economic and social needs of different fisheries.

  • Catch share programs can be implemented in single-species or multi-species fisheries.

  • Allocations can be quota-based or area-based.

  • The secure, exclusive privilege to fish can be allocated to individuals or groups, such as communities or fishing associations.

  • Shares can be permanently or temporarily transferable, or non-transferable.

Types of catch share programs

While researching effective fisheries management systems around the world, we found six commonly occurring types of catch share programs (See our Individually-Allocated, TURF and Cooperative pages for detailed definitions of the basic program types).

Individual Quota (IQ) Individual Quota-based
Individual Transferable Quota Individual Quota-based
Individual Vessel Quota (IVQ) Vessel Quota-based
Cooperative1 Group Quota-based or Area-based
Community Fishing Quota (CFQ) Community Quota-based
Territorial Use Rights for Fishing (TURF) Individual, Group or Community Area-based2

1. The term “cooperative” has many meanings and generally refers to any group that collectively works together. Throughout the Design Manual,“Cooperative”is capitalized when referring to a group that has been allocated a secure share of the catch limit, i.e., when it is a type of catch share. When not capitalized,“cooperative”refers to an organized group that has not been allocated secure shares, but may coordinate other activities, such as marketing.

2. Some TURFs are also allocated a secure share of the total catch, in which case they are are-based and quota-based.

The key attributes of a catch share

There are seven key attributes of catch share programs. Although not each characteristic is required for a program to be successful, the more completely a catch share incorporates these traits, the more likely it will be to sustain a biologically healthy and economically profitable fishery.

Interested in implementing a catch share program? Learn how you can use our catch share design manuals to create a program tailored to your fishery's needs.