Policy Proposals

Tomorrow’s Catch: A Proposal to Strengthen the Economic Sustainability of U.S. Fisheries

September 10, 2014
Energy & Climate

The Problem

Inefficient use and management of wild fisheries located in U.S. waters limits economic gains and increases ecological risks. Phenomena such as pollution or overfishing, which are exacerbated by outmoded regulations and incentives, can jeopardize communities’ economic opportunities in the short and long terms.

The Proposal

The U.S. Congress should consider an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act that requires comparative analyses of fishery management approaches—including catch shares—that consider economic, social, and ecological outcomes. Such analyses would be required for fisheries on risky trajectories or undertaken at the request of local fishermen, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supporting the design, implementation, and monitoring of new management structures.


For wild fisheries in U.S. waters, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. Yet the tremendous economic potential of U.S. fisheries is left largely untapped due to command-and-control style regulations that incentivize inefficient use of economic inputs, overexploitation, and overcapitalization. These perverse incentives can lead to economic, and often ecological, disaster. Fortunately, a collection of promising fishery management tools is available. This suite of solutions, collectively called catch shares, is based on the principle of property rights to individuals, cooperatives, or fishing communities; the policy and legal infrastructure for implementation of catch shares already exists in the United States. This proposal calls for an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the federal law currently guiding the management of U.S. fisheries, that would, for certain fisheries, require transparent comparison of the economic, social, and ecological trade-offs between status quo management and these alternatives. If executed carefully, this new approach could benefit all fishery stakeholders and lead to the design and adoption of fishery management approaches that significantly improve fishery value, recovery, and security for fishing communities, as well as ecological outcomes.