Good and ugly multispecies fisheries: ITQs in British Columbia versus retention limits on the U.S. West Coast

Trevor Branch,
UW School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences
November 3, 2004

Can we devise a set of regulations for multispecies fisheries so that productive species are not undercaught (resulting in economic loss) while preventing overfishing of unproductive species? The groundfish fisheries of British Columbia and the U.S. West Coast offer some insights. They were managed by individual trip limits (with all their associated problems) until 1996, but thereafter diverged. The B.C. fishery implemented a 100% on-board observer system, permitting individual accountability of catch and discard mortality, followed in 1997 by the introduction of Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs). The West Coast fishery, forbidden to consider ITQs by the Sustainable Fisheries Act, continued on the path of increasingly restrictive retention limits, and ever-increasing regulatory-induced discarding, as additional species were declared overfished. By almost any measure, the B.C. fishery is now in a better state of health: ITQs have resulted in greater flexibility, increased profitability, reduced overcapitalization, compliance with TACs, and the reduction of marketable discards to near zero. The reduction in discards alone provides additional income sufficient to cover the costs of observer coverage. A model of fishermen’s location choice highlights the benefits of accounting for catches and discards under 100% observer coverage and the benefits of increased flexibility under ITQs.

Posted in Fisheries Think Tank.

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