In this Q&A, Kate Bonzon, Senior Director, Knowledge and Solutions, Oceans – Environmental Defense Fund, talks about the catch shares program: the history, the challenges, and the successes.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.
At Environmental Defense Fund, I lead a team of experts dedicated to delivering cutting edge research and management options for fishermen and fishing communities. It’s our job to research what works, what doesn’t and share that knowledge with fishing communities that want a better future. We focus on the design and implementation of fishing rights, also known as “catch shares.”
I’m based in San Francisco and when I’m not in the office, you can find me enjoying the water—whether it’s walks on the beach, learning to sail or actually swimming in the Bay! I also love a day at the ballpark with my family or friends watching the awesome San Francisco Giants, and even better when they are in the World Series!
Q: What led you to an interest in fisheries management approaches?
I’ve always had strong ties to the oceans. Growing up, I spent my summers on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, where my mom’s family has vacationed in the same cabin on Useless Bay every year since 1949. That’s where I learned to crab, clam, and fish, and I have fond memories of walking the tide flats, exploring and enjoying the environment. And, I still return every year for at least a few days.
I realized I could actually have a career related to the ocean while in college. I took a class called “Fishing for Solutions” and was hooked! I learned about the real and complex challenges facing the ocean, but also about promising, effective solutions like catch shares, marine protected areas and sustainable labeling. These exciting new concepts coupled with my professor’s enthusiasm and breadth of knowledge inspired me to turn my passion into a career as well.
Q: Give us a snapshot of the historical context that led to the development of catch shares.
The world’s oceans were once considered so abundant with fish and marine life that we could fish harder and harder, and never deplete them. As human populations around the world increased—so did the taste for seafood—along with the advent of new and improved fishing technology and equipment. This has added increased stress on fish populations, generally resulting in dwindling wild fish stocks, decreasing catch and declining value to fishermen and communities.
In attempts to prevent such depletion, fishery managers often limited fishing effort by restricting the number of fishing trips or amount of fishing gear used. But the key drawback of “effort management” – and the reason these systems are an imperfect solution — is that reducing one measure of effort often increases other measures. For example, limiting the days a vessel can fish may lead to the use of bigger boats; limiting the number of boats may lead to the use of larger engines. The incentive to increase catch still remains because anything one fisherman leaves in the ocean could easily, and likely, be caught by another. There is no incentive for long-term stewardship.
But there is an alternative. All over the globe, we have seen examples of management systems that work, some based on thousands of years of experience and others recently implemented. Through extensive research, the common thread we discovered is that these systems provide fishermen with a long-term stake in the fishery, tying their current behavior to future environmental outcomes. By giving fishermen the privilege or right to a secure area or share of the catch, fishermen also retain the responsibility to conserve fish stocks and marine ecosystems and are subsequently rewarded by stable and healthy fish populations. Collectively termed “catch shares” more and more fisheries are trying to emulate these successful programs.
All over the globe, we have seen examples of management systems that work, some based on thousands of years of experience and others recently implemented.
Importantly, catch shares are flexible and can be custom designed to meet the different characteristics and goals of diverse fisheries. And they are. As of 2013, about 200 catch share programs are managing more than 500 different species in the waters of 40 countries.
If you’d like to learn more about catch shares, visit our Catch Share Design Center, the leading online resource for science-based information on catch shares. Another helpful resource is Google Scholar’s Catch Shares page.
Q: What are the greatest challenges in guiding a group toward implementing a catch share program?
Over the course of my tenure at EDF, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with policymakers, fishermen, fishery managers and other industry stakeholders around the world—and nearly all of them want the same thing – a productive, profitable fishery that delivers fresh, good quality fish.
But, implementing a catch share requires change. And change is hard, especially when it is unknown.
That’s one reason we developed the Catch Share Design Manual, the first ever step-by-step planning guide for fishery managers, fishermen and practitioners. It draws on the experience of hundreds of fisheries in more than 30 countries and the expertise of more than 80 fishery experts around the world. It shows how other people have successfully made this change and highlights how many different communities have tailored catch share programs to meet their unique needs.
The manual has been successful. So successful that many stakeholders began asking for more fishery management tools and resources, which prompted my team to develop a comprehensive toolkit for designing and implementing catch share programs in a wide array of contexts.
Q: What are you finding to be the long-term outcomes of catch shares management?
Around the world, from small scale fisheries to large commercial fishing operations, well-designed catch share programs are increasing compliance with catch limits, decreasing bycatch and discarded fish, increasing revenues and cutting back fishing-related costs, showing that sustainable fishing has a breadth of great environmental and financial benefits.
A review of 345 fish stocks from around the world found that those managed with catch shares had significantly lower cases of overexploitation, or fishing more than the resource can bear, when compared to conventional management practices while another study found that catch share implementation can prevent, or even reverse, collapse of fisheries.
Catch shares have also been shown to stabilize the amount of fish caught as well as fish populations. They provide fishermen more time and flexibility to choose when to take fishing trips. These factors make fishery management more certain and improve fishermen’s ability to plan more efficient and profitable business operations, while also making fishing safer.
Q: Where do you see yourself headed in the next few years?
I’ll never forget one of my first projects when I first started at EDF. I traveled up and down the California coast interviewing fishermen about their fishing experience and knowledge and include their insights into policy discussions. It didn’t take long for me to understand that most fishermen want to take of the resource, and even feel that it’s their duty to do so. But ineffective fishing policies were making that impossible while also hampering their businesses.
Ever since then, my on-going goal is to play a pivotal role in equipping fishermen and oceans stakeholders with the resources and knowledge they need to improve their businesses while also protecting biodiversity and ocean health.
Q: If you could eat any kind of fish for dinner tonight, what would you pick?
Living in the Bay area, I have access to some of the best taquerias in the country. And I frequent them often! I love a good rockfish taco and now I can enjoy them knowing that they are managed sustainably under the West Coast Groundfish fishery’s catch share program. In fact, the Monterey Bay Aquarium recently rated rockfish as a “Best Choice” option under their Seafood Watch Program—a seafood sustainability rating system.
Kate leads a diverse and talented team of experts to deliver cutting-edge scientific research, trainings and policy recommendations for innovative fisheries management. Collaborating with policymakers, fishermen, fishery managers and other industry stakeholders, Kate is a pioneer in the development and design of catch share programs, a proven approach for ensuring sustainable fisheries. She has led the development of numerous tools to advance the approach, including the first step-by-step guide for designing and implementing catch shares (the Catch Share Design Manual). Over the course of her EDF tenure, Kate has advised governments, fishermen and other stakeholders in more than 30 countries on sustainable fishery management tools and policies. Prior to her work on catch shares, she helped conceptualize, design, and capitalize the California Fisheries Fund, which gives U.S. West Coast fishermen low-interest loans to facilitate their transition to sustainable fishing practices. Kate graduated from Stanford University with an M.S. in Earth Systems and a B.A. in Human Biology. She is a 2003 Kinship Conservation Fellow.