MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Since 1950, 30 percent of the world's commercial fisheries have collapsed, so fisherman, scientists, and fisheries' managers have been trying to figure out how to preserve what's left while still putting seafood on the world's tables. But what's the best way to do that? A new study in Science Magazine looked at methods of managing fisheries and found one particularly effective approach. NPR's Richard Harris has our story.
RICHARD HARRIS: Most fisheries in the world operate on a simple principle. Regulators declare an opening day, and all the fishermen race out to catch as much as quickly as they can. Geoff Bettencourt, a fourth-generation fisherman from Half Moon Bay, California says, that's how it works for the Dungeness crabs he goes out for. And you can guess the result.
Mr. GEOFF BETTENCOURT (Fourth-Generation Fisherman, Half Moon Bay): Like in our Dungeness crab fishery, over 80 percent of our harvest is in the first 15 days of our season.
HARRIS: That race creates an incentive for more and more expensive gear. And it puts the fisherman at risk, too.
Mr. BETTENCOURT: It's just a poor, dangerous way to manage the fish. You know, you're making little boats fish horrible weather, guys are fishing with more gear than they should, just lots of things that way are out of balance. We're guilty along with everyone else, I mean we used to fish with my great grandpa, and then 50 pots was a big deal, you know, that was a big string. Now I got 650.
HARRIS: Bettencourt also fishes for ground fish, like petroli sole, sablefish, chili-pepper rockfish and rock cod. And there the story is different. Federal fishing regulators are talking about putting in a more sane system. Instead of racing out on opening day, Bettencourt will get a quota for fish that he can fill over the course of an entire year. And he can sell his quota if he wants. If it works as intended, he says he should face less economic risk and less risk to life and limb.
Mr. BETTENCOURT: So, it makes it a lot easier to not go over on a quota, makes for less discard, it makes it - you have a lot more options.
HARRIS: The quota system is called catch-share. It's used in only about one percent of the world's fisheries. There's little debate that catch-share arrangements are more profitable for fishermen. Now there's evidence that they're good for the fisheries, too. Christopher Costello is at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER COSTELLO (Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California, Santa Barbara): What was less known before our research came along was what were the ecological impacts.
HARRIS: Costello is concerned at the rapid failure of fisheries around the world. Thirty percent have already collapsed and many more are in dangerous decline. So he surveyed 11,000 fisheries from around the world to see whether those managed with catch-shares fared better than the ones in which fishermen simply raced to get the fish.
Mr. COSTELLO: We find that catch-share fisheries are about half as likely to collapse as other fisheries and that the longer since they've been implemented the less prone to collapse they are.
HARRIS: He's laid out those results in Science Magazine. Andrew Rosenberg at the University of New Hampshire says Costello and his colleagues make a compelling case that catch-share fisheries are good ecologically as well as good for the fishermen. The hard part is putting them in place.
Professor ANDREW ROSENBERG (Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, University of New Hampshire): They have to be developed carefully for each individual fishery. Each fishery will have different circumstances of the social conditions, the economic conditions, and the ecological conditions. And so it's not as if there's a simple solution that you can just say, OK, now we know how to do it all.
HARRIS: Indeed, back in Half Moon Bay, fisherman Geoff Bettencourt says the fishing community there is a bit weary of shifting to the annual catch-share system.
Mr. BETTENCOURT: What scares us is big companies coming in and buying up huge amounts of quota that a smaller fisherman may not have the capital to get involved with.
HARRIS: But he, for one, figures that the catch-share system will make his community a steward for the fishery. And if it's good for the fish, it's more than likely his children will be able to carry on the family business. Richard Harris, NPR News.