Senate Testimony: Using Incentives to Restore Fishery Health

Jul 9, 2008 | James N. Sanchirico

Cooperatives and individual fishing quota (IFQ) systems can restore the economic and ecological health of depleted fisheries by improving the economic fortunes of fishing communities whose livelihoods depend on them, according to Senate testimony recently given by RFF University Fellow James Sanchirico.

These programs, which allocate shares of the total allowable catch and usually allow for the purchase and sale of shares, reduce the incentives that create “too many boats chasing too few fish,” he said. In essence, they create constituencies whose wealth is a function of the health of the marine environment, leading in turn to improved stewardship, sustainability, and further innovation.


Sanchirico identified two main benefits: the certainty that comes with ownership of share of catch and the flexibility associated with the ability to trade them.

Benefits of ownership of the catch shares include:


  • Reduced incentive to race for fish, resulting in longer seasons
  • Slowed pace of fishing, improving the ability to optimize onboard processing facilities, resulting in increases in the product recovery rate per pound of fish caught
  • Incentives shifted from maximizing the quantity of fish caught to maximizing the value of the catch 

Benefits of the transferability of the catch shares include:


  • Reduced number of vessels and fishing capacity
  • Greater flexibility provided for participants to match quota holdings with catches
  • Incentives provided that lead to the total allowable catch being caught at the lowest possible costs, as higher-cost (less efficient) vessels find it more profitable to sell their shares.
      James Sanchirico
RFF University Fellow 


Testimony of James Sanchirico
Prepared for the the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
July 9, 2008


Taken together, these benefits break a cycle where economically depressed fisheries are vulnerable to short-term thinking and risk-taking, and fishery participants cannot afford to invest in long-term sustainability.  Around the world, fisheries managed with individual fishing quotas or cooperatives experience profit rates ranging from 20 to 60 percent, said Sanchirico.   


He gave his remarks before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee for Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard.  Sanchirico, a former RFF senior fellow, is an associate professor of environmental science and policy at the University of California Davis.