Project Report:
Moving Forward with Rights-Based Fisheries
Fishing Boat Photo Courtesy of Roy H. Hansen
Fishing Boat Photo Courtesy of Roy H. Hansen

- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


This project entails a unique partnership in which PERC, Environmental Defense-Austin TX office and the Reason Public Policy Institute are applying their individual strengths to bring about positive change in ocean fisheries management through rights-based fishing. Toward this goal, the partners held three seminars for U.S. federal policy makers and produced three educational booklets covering different aspects of individual fishing quotas (IFQs) conducted site visits and a workshop on innovative strategies for managing shrimp fisheries in North America; provided technical support for applying IFQs to the red snapper fishery; carried out a feasibility study of applying rights-based management to the Galapagos' sea cucumber fishery; and carried out initial plans to explore the integration of island community tenure systems with marine reserves.

Meeting with Shrimp Fishers in the Gulf
Meeting with Shrimp Fishers in the Gulf


For decades the world’s fisheries have relied strictly on government regulations to prevent overfishing. Such an approach has not eliminated overfishing, but it has generated enormous environmental and economic wastes. The good news is that there is a better way to manage ocean fisheries. Rights-based strategies such as individual fishing quotas, harvest cooperatives, and community rights systems have resulted in sustainable fisheries. However, such approaches were slow to expand during the 1990s and early 2000s in countries like the United States. PERC, Environmental Defense, Austin, Texas, office and the Reason Public Policy Institute are working to overcome this problem through a project entailing research, education, and outreach that demonstrate the benefits of rights-based approaches to policy makers and ocean stakeholders.

Immediate project goals include implementing rights-based fishing in three or more U.S. fisheries and in one or more small scale fisheries abroad. To this end, the partners are taking a three pronged approach. First, the partners will educate U.S. federal policy makers and their staffs on the benefits of using rights based approaches so that fisheries policy in the United States will become more accommodative of rights-based fishing. Second, the partners will provide expertise at the regional level of the United States so that rights based approaches are tailored to meet the specific needs of fishermen and marine life. Third, the project will provide feasibility assessments and recommendations for applying rights-based strategies to potential small-scale fisheries located in or near marine reserves or sanctuaries. Out of these assessments, recommendations will be made as to the best candidates for demonstrating rights-based management in the short term.

Accomplishments include the following:

National- The partners carried out three congressional staff seminars on Capitol Hill and published three educational booklets covering different aspects of individual fishing quotas (IFQs) in marine fisheries. These efforts have met with enormous success at the federal policy level. In the aftermath of completing the first two congressional seminars Congress allowed the seven year moratorium preventing the use of IFQs in US fisheries to expire. And not long after completing the third congressional seminar detailing how to govern US Fisheries with IFQs Congress and the administration completed Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Act provides guidance on how to use IFQs and other rights-based strategies in U.S. fisheries.

Regional- Two major efforts have been underway to improve the health of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The first effort involves the Gulf shrimp trawl fishery. This fishery has been plagued by both economic and environmental challenges over the years. An IFQ program would potentially generate operational efficiencies that would reduce the impacts of shrimp nets on marine life in the Gulf, while helping the bottom line for shrimp fishermen. Toward this end, the partners conducted multiple site visits in the Gulf and co-hosted a workshop for representatives from state agencies and the shrimp industry to design alternative strategies for managing the shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. These efforts have contributed to a proposed IFQ pilot program for Texas bay shrimp fishery. The goal of this effort is to demonstrate the benefits of using IFQs to shrimp fishermen in the Gulf.

The second effort entails the application of rights-based fishing to the highly complex multi-species reef fish fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. The partners provided technical support in preparation for two referendums on a proposed IFQ program for red snapper in the Gulf. Red snapper is a highly prized reef fish suffering from overfishing and high bycatch problems. The IFQ referendums were completed with fishermen voting overwhelmingly (87 percent in the last referendum) in favor of IFQs.

The partners are also bringing expertise to implementing a well-functioning IFQ system to meet the challenges of multi-species grouper management in the Gulf. Coalition partners Pam Baker of Environmental Defense and Don Leal of PERC have been serving on the Ad Hoc grouper IFQ Design Panel for the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council since 2006. Mark Lundsten and Bruce Turris were brought down from Washington state and British Columbia, respectively, to brief the panel’s fishermen on the benefits of IFQs in the Alaska halibut fishery and the British Columbia multi-species groundfish fishery.

International- In 2006, the partners Don Leal of PERC and Michael De Alessi of Reason carried out a site visit and feasibility assessment of applying rights based management to the Galapagos' sea cucumber fishery. The fishery is located next the Galapagos Marine Reserve, the second largest marine reserve in the world. Unfortunately there are signs that fishery governance is beset with problems. Local fishermen are suspicious of management carried out by Galapagos park personnel, while park personnel have become weary of the protests staged by fishermen when park management has proposed fishing restrictions. The current lack of cooperation between the two groups prevents this fishery from having meaningful reform via a top-down approach. One option is for fishermen to develop a management approach with expertise brought from the outside. Beginning in winter 2006, the partners will be exploring another site for its suitability for rights-based fisheries management.

In 2007, Michael De Alessi of Reason completed a trip to New Zealand to examine ways of combining rights-based strategies with marine reserves. The early success of the rights-based fisheries in the U.S. combined with the impact of site visits to New Zealand and other overseas locations has led fishermen to move more rapidly than expected toward rights-based management. But at the same time, the push for marine reserves is gaining momentum as well, leading to an inevitable collision between fishing rights and marine reserves.

In an attached report, Michael De Alessi describes a trip he completed in April 2008 to Wakatobi, an eco-tourist venture in a remote area of Indonesia, where local communities foster sustainable fishing practices and coral reef conservation, including a set of no-fishing reserves. The owners of the resort contracted with villages to prohibit destructive fishing practices, such as the use of cyanide and dynamite, on all the reefs and stop fishing completely on some of the reefs. The only reason that these contracts, and the ecosystem services that they pay for, are possible is because local communities have exclusive rights to certain reefs. The site visit explored how the communities have combined fishing rights with reserves.

Fishing boats Galapagos. Photo by Barrett Walker
Fishing boats Galapagos. Photo by Barrett Walker


The project investigates the causes of economic imbalances in marine fisheries in which too many fishers enter a fishery to engage in a wasteful race for fish and ultimately catch unsustainable amounts of fish. In addition, it explores and develops free market solutions to these imbalances by building on the economic successes that market oriented approaches such as individual fishing quotas, harvest cooperatives, and territorial fishing rights have as an alternative to the traditional fisheries management approach.


The world’s fisheries are estimated to lose $22 billion annually due to overfishing and overcapitalization. They could be generating $80 billion a year in profits if these problems were eliminated, says noted fishery economist James E. Wilen. Preventing overfishing in the United States is equally critical. The industry contributes billions of dollars a year but its long-term health is threatened by persistent overfishing and by declining economic returns. Such problems would be dramatically reduced, if not eliminated, if rights based strategies were adopted.

Information Dissemination

This project disseminates findings and results of the project on the partners' website:, as well as through workshops, seminars, and educational booklets covering various aspects of rights-based fisheries.

Project Link

Amount Approved
$50,000.00 on 11/30/2005 (Check sent: 12/14/2005)

  Related Organizations
PERC (Partnering with ED and Reason)  

Fishing village near Wakatobi resort and preserve
Fishing village near Wakatobi resort and preserve. Owners of the resort contract with the surrounding villages to prohibit destructive fishing.

The reef visible at the end of the resort's dock.
The reef visible at the end of the Wakatobi resort's dock is one of the healthiest in the area.

Posted 6/9/2006 12:49 PM
Updated   5/12/2008 9:03 PM

Educational Booklets

Ecotourist & Sea Lions Galapagos National Park.
Ecotourist & Sea Lions Galapagos National Park. Photo by Barrett Walker

© 2024 Alex C. Walker Foundation