SAFA News   |    The South Atlantic Fishermen's Association

Catch shares angling gets Uncle Sam off the hook

May 12, 2011


By Andrew Langer

May 11, 2011

You might think that fisheries management and the federal budget aren't related. However, now that many in Washington have begun to recognize the serious deficit challenge, perhaps more people will be open to bringing down the deficit with innovative policies. While there has been lengthy public discussion about our nation's budgetary crisis, there hasn't been much discussion about the challenge of "overfishing." It is true that the problem has become more manifest in recent decades as technological advances have made both finding and catching fish more efficient by orders of magnitude.

The core problem is one that has long plagued mankind overall: How do you prevent commonly-held resources from being destroyed? Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the United States Forest Service, called this "the tragedy of the commons." It can be seen in just about every area of public resource management - from air pollution to litter in highway medians. There are a number of ways to deal with this and in the past, the feds have frequently made the costly mistake of choosing the heavy hand of regulation.

Now a number of free-market policy analysts are recognizing that one of the best ways to deal with commons depletion is by applying some measure of property rights to those resources.

For fishing, one such possibility comes in the form of the "catch shares," a program implemented by the Bush administration via Limited Access Privilege Programs in the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic and New England Regional Fishery Management Councils, known in the industry as "LAPPs."

These programs dedicate a secure share of fish to individual anglers, communities or fishery associations, which allows each participant in a regional fishery to know ahead of time how many fish they can pull out of the ocean in a given season. Because they have foreknowledge of their percentage of the "total allowable catch," they can monetize its value, a valuable piece of information in what is a multibillion-dollar industry that relies on the ability to harvest what may seem to be - but is, in fact, not - a limitless resource.

By assigning "shares" to fishermen, each angler gains a stake in ensuring that the fishery is maintained at a certain pre-determined level for sustainability. This, in turn, ensures that the fishery remains viable for successive fishing seasons. Much in the same way that each individual farmer works to maintain his farm to ensure that the ground can produce crops year after year; catch shares instill in each fisherman a sense of dedication to his home fishery.


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