Catch Shares as a Method to End Overfishing

Catch Shares as a Method to End Overfishing

The Obama Administration has placed significant priority on the use of catch shares as a tool for ending overfishing in commercial fisheries. Catch share programs set a biologically based annual catch limit for each fish stock and allocate a specific portion of that catch limit to entities such as commercial fishermen and cooperatives or communities. When designed correctly, catch share programs help eliminate the commercial race to fish, reduce overcapacity and by-catch and improve economic efficiency.

On November 4, 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its final Catch Share Policy. After months of intense debate, the policy provides recreational anglers with two key elements: a framework to redistribute the benefits of harvesting the nation’s marine resources; and a commitment that catch shares have no place as a management tool for private recreational anglers. Coordinated input from the angling community significantly altered aspects of the draft policy – particularly the process of allocating fisheries between sectors. The system of assigning fixed percentages of various fisheries to commercial interests remains a controversial management tool to recreational anglers.

ASA’s Position

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) has serious concerns about catch share systems. In mixed stock fisheries where there is a large and growing recreational sector, exclusive fishing rights proposals maximize benefits to the commercial fishing industry while ignoring the participation and economic contribution of recreational fishing, which totals $80 billion and supports over half a million jobs – an economic impact equal to or greater than that of commercial fishing.

Allocations throughout the country are decades old, and do not always accurately reflect present day needs and contribution of the sectors. In addition, when shares are provided to commercial entities free of charge, the federal government is giving away public resources for private financial gain.

ASA supports the following principles related to a national catch share system :

  • There should be a thorough analysis of the impacts on all the sectors in the fishery, especially the impacts on recreational fishing, prior to the initiation of a catch share system.
  • Procedures must be established for the regional councils to review the current allocations. In a mixed-use fishery, the councils should be required to examine the existing allocation to determine if it is consistent with the best use of the resources for the nation as a whole. If the allocation is deemed to not be in the best interest of the nation as a whole in terms of economic contribution of the sectors, a reallocation should be conducted by the regional council.
  • All quota share systems should be based only on the percentage of the commercial catch.
  • It should not be the policy of the federal government to “give away” access and public resources for commercial profit.

To learn more about ASA’s position, view the fact sheet Simple Facts about Catch Shares.


Catch shares designed for federal fisheries are authorized by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The MSA is the principal law for managing federal marine fisheries in the United States, and requires fishery managers to end overfishing and rebuild all overfished stocks. Catch share programs have been used in the U.S. since 1990 and now include 15 different fisheries from Alaska to Florida managed by six different U.S. Fishery Management Councils.

On December 10, 2009, the NOAA released a draft national policy that promotes the use of catch shares for federal fisheries. Input from the recreational sector was reflected in the final policy, which was released almost a year later. As previously implemented, catch share systems in mixed commercial and recreational fisheries bestowed a percentage of a public fishery resource to a select group of private commercial entities based solely on their catch history, effectively locking in the allocation of that fishery forever while ignoring the growing participation and beneficial economic impacts of recreational fishing. The final policy requires that the Fishery Management Councils address the allocation prior to the implementation of any catch share system using conservation, economic and social criteria. The policy also requires that every mixed-use fishery allocation be reviewed periodically using the same criteria. To view NOAA’s final catch share policy click here or visit