Fishing rights or ﬁshing wrongs?
Ray Hilborn, Julia K. Parrish* & Kate Litle
School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences University of Washington Seattle, Box 355020 Seattle, 98195-5020,
WA, USA; *Author for Correspondence (Phone: +1-206-221-5787; Fax: +1-206-221-6939; E-mail: jparrish
Accepted 7 November 2005
Key words: auctions, co-ops, dedicated access privileges, ITQ, sea tenure, sustainable ﬁsheries, Quotas
Increasing attention is being paid to overﬁshing and the biological, economic, and social implications of
persistent mismanagement of aquatic natural resources. In this chorus of concern, little attention is focused
on sustainable ﬁsheries, and the lessons to be learned from management systems that produce these suc-
cesses. Although there is no one prescription for sustainability, a range of quota-based management tools
have been used to eliminate the race for ﬁsh, increasing the incentives for long-term investment and eﬃ-
ciency. Variously referred to as ﬁshing rights, tenure rights, or dedicated access privileges, quota-based
ﬁsheries confer a percentage (or quota) of the total allowable catch to named entities over some predeter-
mined period, from short-term auction systems to intergenerational customary sea tenure. Whether a rights-
based system stems from a traditional ﬁshing rights system or has been recently introduced into modern
commercial ﬁsheries, achieving sustainability in the ﬁshery is dependent on incentivizing the collective – from
local communities to national ﬂeets – to actively participate in self-regulation of the resource. Thus criticism
of the approach often stems from the observation of the potential for cheating at the individual level (e.g.,
high grading, excessive discards), and the necessary exclusivity that accompanies any transition in man-
agement from open access to club membership. It is also worth noting that the resource in question – the ﬁsh
– remain a public good, and as such, the public should be compensated – or at least not taxed – for their use.
Thus the cost of ﬁshery management, and the windfall proﬁts of ﬁshery conversion, should be shared.
Rights-based management is not a silver bullet, and is probably not appropriate for all ﬁsheries; however, the
successes of the longline ﬁsheries for Paciﬁc halibut and sableﬁsh in Alaska, the artisanal ﬁsheries for loco in
Chile and for spiny lobster in Mexico, and the Australian ﬁsheries for Northern prawns and rock lobster, all
clearly indicate that ﬁshing rights should have a central place in the ﬁsheries management toolbox.
The ﬁsheries of the world should be a great source
of food, cultural value, and economic wealth to the
nations of the world. Indeed, ﬁsheries do provide
the mainstay of the economies of several countries.
Iceland, a country of 300,000 people with no
signiﬁcant natural resources except for ﬁsh, has
one of the highest standards of living in the world,
with ﬁsh and ﬁsh products constituting 75% of the
country’s export earnings (NRC, 1999a). In the
Falkland Islands, revenues from ﬁshing provide
over $100,000 U.S. per capita (Barton, 2002). In
Namibia, ﬁsheries revenues provided 8.8% of the
Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries (2005) 15:191–199 Ó Springer 2006