Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

A plan to save the ocean's fish

In a lot of cases these days, the oceans are kind of like the Wild West, with fishermen competing with each other to catch as many fish as they can. It's not that fishermen don't care about the oceans, but they have to take what they can today, since they don't know what they'll get tomorrow.

Now, researchers say that if individual fishermen or groups of fishermen should be guaranteed the right to catch a certain number of fish during the fishing season. This security would encourage them not to overfish the oceans and to leave enough fish to keep the populations healthy.

This idea has been around for a while, but there hasn't been much real-world evidence about whether this approach actually works until now.

Christopher Costello and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, compiled information from over 11,000 fisheries, including those whose fishermen had guaranteed rights to a portion of fish, from 1950 to 2003.

These rights are also known as "catch shares." And, a fishery just means an area of the ocean that is home to a lot of a particular kind of fish.

The researchers found that the fisheries which used the catch-share system were in much better shape than the other fisheries. The longer a fishery was managed in this way, the less likely the fish populations there were to disappear.

Dr. Costello and his colleagues conclude that implementing catch shares can halt, and even reverse, the trend toward widespread fisheries collapse. They present these findings in the 19 September issue of the journal Science.