One way to help prevent overfishing may be to guarantee each fisherman a specified share of the catch, according to a new report.
Collapse of fish stocks is much less common in areas where "catch share" fishing is practiced than in other regions, researchers say in Friday's edition of the journal Science.
The reason, they say, is that the system increases the incentive to protect the fishery rather than causing fishermen to compete against each other to see who can bring in the largest catch.
In a catch share system, individual fishermen, or fishing cooperatives, are allocated a share of the catch based on what they have caught over a prior period, say five or 10 years, explained Christopher Costello of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
For example, if someone averaged 1.5 percent of the catch in a fishery in the past, they would be guaranteed 1.5 percent of the total in the future — regardless of what the total take is.
Thus, a healthy fish stock allowing for a larger total catch means each share is larger, Costello said, so fishermen tend to protect the stock by using less damaging methods.
Using catch shares to manage fisheries is common in some parts of the world and is currently under consideration for some U.S. fisheries also.
The finding was welcomed by the Environmental Defense Fund.
"The trend around the world has been to fish the oceans until the fish are gone," said David Festa, vice president and oceans director at EDF. "The scientific data presented today shows we can turn this pattern on its head. Anyone who cares about saving fisheries and fishing jobs will find this study highly motivating."