The Less Deadly Catch

The Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” reality show chronicles the exploits of several Alaskan king crab fishing vessels and their crews operating in the Bering Sea.  The title for the show derives from the fact that Alaskan king crab fishing is one of the deadliest jobs around.  If the environmental conditions weren’t perilous enough, the traditional “derby” management of the fishery encouraged boats and their crews to fish fast and furiously so they could catch as much as possible before time ran out.  At least that’s how it was when the show began.

After the first season, catch shares were adopted in the Alaskan king crab fishery, eliminating the race-to-fish and increasing fishery safety as a result.  As ship captain Scott Campbell explains:

Since August 2005, we fish under a much better system called “catch shares,” which are also in place in some other fisheries. Now regulators divide up how much crab the fleet can catch among individual fishermen, as opposed to collectively, so we can fish at our own pace during significantly longer seasons. Tighter Coast Guard requirements have also improved safety.

I believe catch shares have saved lives in Alaska because crabbing deaths are much less common now.

Catch shares have not only improved safety, they have also created incentives for greater sustainability.

Catch shares have brought other benefits. Now we have a stake in protecting crab populations for the future. Because we aren’t in such a race against the clock, we’re able to get more young and female crabs we don’t keep back into the ocean unharmed. When we find an area has too many juvenile crabs, there’s time to go somewhere else instead.

Fishermen are earning more and the jobs now are more stable because we have much more time to catch crab. We can plan better because we know in advance how much crab we’re allowed to catch.

Further evidence that property-based resource management systems are superior than traditional regulatory alternatives.

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