A New Approach to Managing Fisheries

ROBERT REPETTO

A New Approach to Managing Fisheries

A rights-based system could help rebuild industry profits as well as fishing stocks.

Most commercial fisheries in the United States suffer from overfishing or inefficient harvesting or both. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars in potential income is lost to the fishing industry, fishing communities, and the general economy. Excessive fishing effort has also resulted in higher rates of unintentional bycatch mortality of nontargeted fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, and in more ecological damage than necessary to benthic organisms from trawls, dredges, and other fishing gear.

These documented losses underscore the nation’s failure to manage its fisheries efficiently or sustainably. The problems have been addressed through a wide variety of regulatory controls over entry, effort, gear, fishing seasons and locations, size, and catch. Yet the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 emphasized the continuing need to stop overfishing and to rebuild stocks. In the management councils of specific fisheries, there is sometimes bitter debate about the best way to achieve this turnaround.