Individual fishing quota
Individual fishing quotas (IFQs) also known as "individual transferable quotas" are one kind of catch share
Catch share
Catch share is a term used for fishery management systems that dedicate a secure privilege to harvest a specific area or percentage of a fishery’s total allowable catch to individuals, communities or associations...

, a means by which many governments regulate fishing. The regulator sets a species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

-specific total allowable catch (TAC), typically by weight and for a given time period. A dedicated portion of the TAC, called quota shares, is allocated to individuals. Quotas can typically be bought, sold and leased, a feature called transferability. As of 2008, 148 major fisheries (generally, a single species in a single fishing ground) around the world had adopted some variant of this approach, along with approximately 100 smaller fisheries in individual countries. Approximately 10% of the marine harvest was managed by ITQs as of 2008. The first countries to adopt individual fishing quotas were the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

 and Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 in the late 1970s, and the most recent is the United States Scallop General Category IFQ Program in 2010. The first country to adopt individual transferable quotas as a national policy was New Zealand in 1986.

Command and control approaches

Historically, inshore and deep water fisheries were in common
Common land
Common land is land owned collectively or by one person, but over which other people have certain traditional rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect firewood, or to cut turf for fuel...

 ownership, essentially a free-for-all, where no one had a property right to the fish (i.e., owned them) until after they had been caught. Each boat faced the zero-sum game imperative of catching as many fish as possible, knowing that any fish they did not catch would likely be taken by another boat.

Initial domestic responses to this classic example of the tragedy of the commons
Tragedy of the commons
The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this...

 were command and control approaches, each of which had serious unintended consequences, while generally failing to achieve their primary goals of preserving fisheries.

Commercial fishing evolved from subsistence fishing with no restrictions that would limit or direct the catch. The implicit assumption was that the ocean's bounty was so vast that restrictions were unnecessary. In the twentieth century, fisheries such as Atlantic cod and California sardines collapsed, and nations began to limit access to their fishing grounds by boats from other countries, while in parallel, international organizations began to certify that specific species were "threatened", "endangered", etc.

One early management technique was to define a "season" during which fishing was allowed. The length of the season attempted to reflect the current abundance of the fishery, with bigger populations supporting longer seasons. This turned fishing into a race, driving the industry to bigger, faster boats with better fish finders, which in turned caused regulators to repetitively shorten seasons in a failing effort to limit catches, sometimes to only a few days per year. Landing all boats over an ever-shorter interval also led to glut/shortage market cycles with prices crashing when the boats came in. A secondary consequence was that boats had to go out when the fishery was "open" regardless of weather or other safety concerns.

Restrictions such as limiting the number of boats (or licenses) through a limited access pimp led to a race to build the biggest possible boat. Limiting technology set off an unproductive cat and mouse game of inventing technology to accelerate the catch that was in turn quickly outlawed.

A second technique was daily catch limits. This eliminated the arms race, but did not protect the fish, because the number of licenses was unlimited.

An underlying problem with all of these techniques was that because fishers had no long-term stake in the fishery, their incentives were to maximize the harvest each year hoping that any problems would fall to their successors.

A move to privatization and market based mechanisms

The implementation of ITQs or IFQs works in tandem with the privatization
Privatization is the incidence or process of transferring ownership of a business, enterprise, agency or public service from the public sector to the private sector or to private non-profit organizations...

 of common assets. This regulatory measure seeks to economically rationalise access to a common-pool resource
Common-pool resource
In economics, a common-pool resource , also called a common property resource, is a type of good consisting of a natural or human-made resource system , whose size or characteristics makes it costly, but not impossible, to exclude potential beneficiaries from obtaining benefits from its use...

 so that its future availability is not compromised by current practices of exploitation .This type of management is based in the doctrine of natural resource economics
Natural resource economics
Image:Sustainable development.svg|right|The three pillars of sustainability. Click on image areas for more information.|thumbpoly 138 194 148 219 164 240 182 257 219 277 263 291 261 311 264 331 272 351 283 366 300 383 316 394 287 408 261 417 224 424 182 426 154 423 119 415 87 403 58 385 40 368 24...

. Notably the use of ITQs in environmental policy has been informed by the work of economists such as Jens Warming , H. Scott Gordon and Anthony Scott . It is theorised that the primary driver of over-fishing is the rule of capture externality. This is the idea that the fisher does not have a property right to the resource until point of capture incentivising competitive behavior and overcapitalisation
Overcapitalisation refers to an economic phenomenon whereby the valuation/ price of an asset is superior to its ‘real’ value – however difficult to define - therefore putting a strain on attempts to obtain a reasonable return on investment. This is especially the case when capital goods are at...

 in the industry. It is theorized that without a long-term right to fish stocks, there is no incentive to conserve fish stocks for the future.

The use of ITQs in resource management dates back to the 1960s and was first seen in ‘pollution quotas’
Emissions trading
Emissions trading is a market-based approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants....

, which are now widely used to manage carbon emissions from power utilities .For both air and marine resources ITQs use a ‘cap-and-trade’ approach by setting typically annual limits on resource exploitation (TAC in fisheries) and then allowing trade of quotas between industry users.

The use of IFQs has often been related to broader processes within neoliberalism
Neoliberalism is a market-driven approach to economic and social policy based on neoclassical theories of economics that emphasizes the efficiency of private enterprise, liberalized trade and relatively open markets, and therefore seeks to maximize the role of the private sector in determining the...

 that tend to utilise markets as a regulatory tool . The rationale behind such neoliberal mechanisms situates itself in the belief that market mechanisms harness profit motive to more innovative and efficient environmental solutions than those devised and executed by states . Using market-based instruments
Market-based instruments
Market-based instruments are policy instruments that use price or other economic variables to provide incentives for polluters to reduce harmful emissions...

 allows for greater flexibility than command and control measures, prescribing goals for industry without dictating measures for meeting those goals. Whilst such neoliberal regulation has often been posited as a move away from state governance , in the case of privatization
Privatization is the incidence or process of transferring ownership of a business, enterprise, agency or public service from the public sector to the private sector or to private non-profit organizations...

 the state is integral in the process of creating and maintaining property rights.

Whilst the use of IFQs has in many cases enabled a rebuild in fish stocks there are often initial short-term costs to the industry. Implementing IFQs to an overexploited fishery involves reducing fishing capacity meaning the likelihood of employment in the industry will be compromised. Recovery of fish stocks may take years or decades (depending on species reproduction rate) in which time TAC may be dramatically reduced.

The use of neoliberal privatizing regimes has also often raised contradictions with the rights of indigenous communities. For example the exclusion of the Maori in the initial allocation of fishing quota in New Zealand's quota management system
Quota Management System
The Quota Management System is a type of individual fishing quota that is used in New Zealand to manage fish stocks.It is the first ever property-based fisheries management system to be implemented.-External links:* – The Quota Management System...

 lead to a lengthy legal battle delaying development in national fisheries policy and resulting in a large settlement from the crown. There have also been similar legal battles regarding the allocation of fishing rights with the Mi'kmaq
The Míkmaq are a First Nations people, indigenous to the northeastern region of New England, Canada's Atlantic Provinces, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec. The nation has a population of about 40,000 , of whom nearly 9,100 speak the Míkmaq language...

 in Canada and the Saami
Saami or SAAMI can stand for:*Sami people*Sami languages*Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute...

 in North Norway. Aboriginal fishing rights are said to pose a challenge to the authoritative claims of the state as the final arbitors in respect of access and participation in rights-based regimes .

Catch shares

The term catch share has been used more recently to describe the range of programs similar to ITQs. Catch shares expanded the concept of daily catch limits to yearlong limits, allowed different fishers to have different limits based on various factors, and also limited the total catch. Under catch share approaches, threatened fisheries became sustainable by keeping the totals low enough and enforcing the limits.

Catch shares eliminate the "race to the fish" problem, because fishers are no longer restricted to short fishing seasons and can schedule their voyages as they choose. Boom/bust market cycles disappear, because fishing can continue throughout a typically many-month season. Safety problems are reduced because there's no need to fish in hazardous conditions just because the fishery happens to be open. The technology arms race switches from catch maximization to a healthier focus on productivity, Capital costs are potentially lower because ever-bigger boats are not required to handle even a sizeable quota.

A crucial element of catch share systems is how to distribute/allocate the shares and what rights come with them. The initial allocation can be granted or auction
An auction is a process of buying and selling goods or services by offering them up for bid, taking bids, and then selling the item to the highest bidder...

ed. Shares can be held permanently ("owned") or for a fixed period such as one year ("rented"). They can be salable and/or leasable or not, with or without limits. Each variation has advantages and disadvantages, which may vary given the culture of a given fishing community.

Initial Distribution

ITQs are typically initially allocated as grants according to the recent catch history of the fishery. Those with bigger catches generally get bigger quotas. This is less disruptive to the fishing community which can continue to do what it has been doing, albeit at a scale compatible with the TAC, without the significant expense of buying their quotas. The primary drawback is that fishers receive a valuable right at no cost Grants are somewhat analogous to "homesteading
Broadly defined, homesteading is a lifestyle of simple self-sufficiency.-Current practice:The term may apply to anyone who follows the back-to-the-land movement by adopting a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle. While land is no longer freely available in most areas of the world, homesteading...

", in which settlers who developed farms in the American wilderness eventually received title without payment to what had been public land. In some cases, less than 100% of the TAC becomes ITQs, with the remainder allocated to other management strategies.

The grant approach is inherently political, with attendant benefits and costs. For example, related industries such as fish processing
Fish processing
The term fish processing refers to the processes associated with fish and fish products between the time fish are caught or harvested, and the time the final product is delivered to the customer...

 and other non-participants may seek quota grants. The offshore pollock
Pollock is the common name used for either of the two species of marine fish in the Pollachius genus. Both P. pollachius and P. virens are commonly referred to as pollock. Other names for P...

 cooperative in the Pacific Northwest allocated initial quotas by mutual agreement and allows quota holders to sell their quotas only to the cooperative members.

Quota auctions recompense the public for access to fisheries. They are somewhat analogous to the spectrum
Radio spectrum
Radio spectrum refers to the part of the electromagnetic spectrum corresponding to radio frequencies – that is, frequencies lower than around 300 GHz ....

 auctions that the U.S. held to allocate highly valuable radio spectrum. These auctions raised 10s of billions of dollars for the public. Note however that the television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 industry did not have to pay for the necessary spectrum to switch from analog
Analog television
Analog television is the analog transmission that involves the broadcasting of encoded analog audio and analog video signal: one in which the message conveyed by the broadcast signal is a function of deliberate variations in the amplitude and/or frequency of the signal...

 to digital broadcasting
Digital broadcasting
Digital broadcasting is the practice of using digital data rather than analogue waveforms to carry broadcasts over television channels or assigned radio frequency bands...

, which is more like quota grants for incumbent fishers.


ITQs can be resold to those who want to increase their presence in the fishery. Alternatively, quotas can be non-tradeable, meaning that if a fisher leaves the industry, the quota reverts to the government to retire or to grant/auction to another party. Given that many fisheries now have too many boats and fishers, allowing those whose quota grants are too small the ability to sell them encourages them to leave the industry, helping eliminate the overcapacity.

Once distributed, quotas can be regranted/reauctioned periodically or held in perpetuity. Limiting the time period lowers the quota's value and its initial auction price/cost, but subsequent auctions create recurring revenues. "The difference is comparable to renting an apartment versus the house you own...If you own something, you take care of it—you protect your investment or else it loses value. But there's no incentive for stewardship when you don't own the rights to it", according to Chris Costello, lead author of a major study of ITQs. At the same time, "privatizing" such a public resource reduces the remaining amount of public resources and can be thought of as "giving away our future". In the industry, rented quotas are often referred to as "dedicated access privileges" (DAP).

Another issue with tradability is that large enterprises may buy all the quotas, ending what may be a centuries-long tradition of small-scale operations. This may benefit the sellers (and the buyers and those who buy the fish) but can potentially cause large changes in the culture of fishing communities.

Some fisheries require quota holders to be participating fishermen to prevent absentee ownership and limit the quota that a captain can accumulate. In the Alaska halibut
Halibut is a flatfish, genus Hippoglossus, from the family of the right-eye flounders . Other flatfish are also called halibut. The name is derived from haly and butt , for its popularity on Catholic holy days...

 and black cod
Black cod
The black cod or smallscaled cod, Notothenia microlepidota, is a marine cod icefish in the genus Notothenia with distribution ranging from southern New Zealand to sub-Antarctic seas, although they have also been fished off the Great Australian Bight, Chile, and round the Falkland Islands, on rocky...

 fisheries, only active fishers can buy quota, and new entrants may not sublease their quota. Requiring market entrants to purchase quota acts as a barrier to entry. Since IFQ's began in 1995, the commercial longline fleet has never exceeded these fisheries' TACs. Other benefits to these fisheries include improved safety and product quality, a more professional fleet, minimal gear loss or 'ghost fishing'.

Other characteristics

ITQs may have the effect of changing the criteria that fishers apply to their catch. Highgrading involves catching more fish than the quota allows and dumping specimens that are less valuable because of size, age or other criteria. Many of the discarded fish are already dead or quickly die, increasing fishing's impact on stocks.

Catch shares can be tailored to the ecological, economic, and social characteristics of a fishery. For example, by including limits on bycatch, catch shares encourage development of more selective, less damaging fishing gear.


In 2008 a large scale study concluded that ITQs can help to prevent collapses and restore declining fisheries. While nearly a third of open-access fisheries have collapsed, catch share fisheries are only half as likely to fail.

This new study expanded a global database of more than 11,000 fisheries from the Sea Around Us Project
Sea Around Us Project
The Sea Around Us Project is an international research group based at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre that is devoted to studying the impacts of fisheries on the world's marine ecosystems...

 that spans the years 1950-2003. A 2006 study by Boris Worm
Boris Worm
Dr. Boris Worm is a Marine Research Ecologist and Associate Professor at Dalhousie University, Canada. He has made leading scientific contributions to the fields of marine ecology and fisheries conservation. Worm was a postdoctoral fellow under the late Ransom Myers and now leads his own lab at...

 of Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University is a public research university located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The university comprises eleven faculties including Schulich School of Law and Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine. It also includes the faculties of architecture, planning and engineering located at...

, Halifax, Nova Scotia and colleagues using the original dataset projected widespread global fishery collapse by 2048, assuming that traditional management techniques would continue to predominate. Worm commented, "This study gives us a solution to work with in fighting the global fishery crisis." The study acknowledges complicating factors such as that the same readiness to change that triggers a change to ITQs may also lead to other beneficial changes, such as bycatch limits.

In 1995, the Alaskan halibut
Halibut is a flatfish, genus Hippoglossus, from the family of the right-eye flounders . Other flatfish are also called halibut. The name is derived from haly and butt , for its popularity on Catholic holy days...

 fishery converted to ITQs, after regulators cut the season from about four months down to two or three days. Until the change, the catch was frozen at sea, because the market could not absorb so much fresh product at once. Today, the season lasts nearly eight months and boats deliver fresh, undamaged fish at a steadier pace and sell it at a significantly higher and profitable price.

Not all fisheries have thrived under ITQs, in some cases experiencing reduced or static biomass levels, because of factors such as:
  • TACs may be set at too high a level
  • Migratory species may be overfished in parts of their habitat not covered by the TAC
  • Habitats may incur damage
  • Enforcement may be lax

In the United States

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act defines individual transferable quotas (ITQs) as permits to harvest specific quantities of fish of a particular species. Fisheries scientists
Fisheries science
Fisheries science is the academic discipline of managing and understanding fisheries. It is a multidisciplinary science, which draws on the disciplines of oceanography, marine biology, marine conservation, ecology, population dynamics, economics and management to attempt to provide an integrated...

 decide the maximum annual harvest in a certain fishery, accounting for carrying capacity, regeneration rates and future values. This amount is called the total allowable catch (TAC). Under ITQs, participants in a fishery
Generally, a fishery is an entity engaged in raising or harvesting fish which is determined by some authority to be a fishery. According to the FAO, a fishery is typically defined in terms of the "people involved, species or type of fish, area of water or seabed, method of fishing, class of boats,...

 receive rights to a portion of the TAC without charge. Quotas can be fished, bought, sold, or leased. Twenty-eight U.S. fisheries have adopted ITQs as of 2008. Concerns about distributional impacts led to a moratorium
Moratorium (law)
A moratorium is a delay or suspension of an activity or a law. In a legal context, it may refer to the temporary suspension of a law to allow a legal challenge to be carried out....

 on moving other fisheries into the program that lasted from 1996 to 2004.

Starting in January 2010, fishermen in California, Oregon and Washington will operate via tradeable catch shares. Fishers have been discarding bycatch
The term “bycatch” is usually used for fish caught unintentionally in a fishery while intending to catch other fish. It may however also indicate untargeted catch in other forms of animal harvesting or collecting...

 that is not their target, typically killing the individuals. Catch shares allow trawlers to exchange bycatch with each other, benefiting both. Goals of the system include increased productivity, reduced waste, increased fish populations and higher revenues for fishers.
More than a dozen other U.S. fisheries are trying out catch shares. Fishery managers say that in Alaska, where catch shares have been in place for several years, fishermen are now getting higher prices for their catch.

Further reading

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