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The distributive results of rights-based management in fisheries



Rights-based fisheries management reforms have sparked controversy over the unequal distribution of their economic benefits, but systematic quantitative evidence has been lacking due to data limitations. Our research draws on a longitudinal dataset to compare payments to masters, crews, vessel owners, and catch quota owners in the Bering Sea crab fisheries before and after the implementation of the Bering Sea crab fisheries. individual transferable quotas (ITQ). This document provides a fishery-wide account of returns to these various vessel-level stakeholder groups. The results highlight the importance of considering the distribution of payments to different stakeholders within each vessel as well as the heterogeneity of payments between vessels. Our approach provides a model for collecting and analyzing data on distribution outcomes for other fisheries.


Increasingly, fisheries managers have adopted rights-based management (i.e. ‘catch shares’ or ‘individual transferable quotas’). [ITQs]) to meet the challenges of economic and biological management under previous governance regimes. Despite their ability to resolve some of the symptoms of the commons tragedy and improve economic efficiency, capture shares remain controversial for their potentially disruptive social effects. One criticism is that the benefits of rights-based reforms are unevenly distributed among vessels and among fishing participants (e.g., hired crews and captains) and that stakeholders who do not receive an allocation of rights harvest may see their remuneration decrease. Yet empirical assessment of these demands is difficult in almost all ITQs due to the poor availability of longitudinal data on costs, earnings, and employment. This paper assesses these claims using vessel-level data to characterize the impacts of a long-established ITQ program for the Alaskan crab fisheries on the level and distribution of payments to claimant groups. We find that the share of vessel revenue accruing to masters, crews and vessel owners has declined under the catch-sharing regime to make way for new payments to quota owners. Average daily payouts to captains, crews and ship owners have declined, albeit slightly, while maintaining their prior ITQ bonuses relative to compensation in other industries. However, the inequality of payments to workers and ship owners declined after ITQs, as did the inter-seasonal volatility of workers’ compensation, a measure of financial risk. Finally, we find that the increases in leasing costs induced by consolidation had little effect on workers’ compensation, but reduced the returns to ship ownership.


    • Accepted November 10, 2021.
  • Authors’ contributions: JKA, BL and BG-Y. designed research; JKA and BL carried out research; JKA analyzed the data; and JKA, BL and BG-Y. wrote the paper.

  • The authors declare no competing interests.

  • This article is a direct PNAS submission.

  • This article contains additional information online at https://www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.2109154119/-/DCSupplemental.