Riding a surge of popularity since the 1980s, catch shares have gone into effect in 500 fisheries in 40 countries.

In recent years, however, many of the earliest catch share systems have begun to show their age, developing serious problems with major repercussions for small-scale fishermen and fishing communities.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is responsible for maintaining sustainable harvests on behalf of all Canadians. Each management plan is intended to strike the right balance between environmentally sustainable fish stocks and an economically sustainable fishing industry.

Almost every BC fishery is subject to a Total Allowable Catch (TAC), a maximum harvest that is set using scientific data. TACs limit fishing operations, ensuring that enough fish are left each season to reproduce and maintain population levels.


In competitive fisheries, all licence holders enjoy the same access. DFO sets a fleetwide TAC (represented in this picture by the oval), and all licence holders compete for fish until that TAC is reached. The fishery then closes to prevent overfishing.

The fishery may be subject to other restrictions to protect fish stocks and habitats, including gear types, season openings and closures, and fishing locations.

Under catch shares, each TAC is divided into individual quotas. Fishermen may only catch as much fish as their quota allows. If they want to fish more or if they catch more than their quota, they need to find more quota to cover that catch. The cost of buying or leasing that quota, however, can make or break the season.

More than half of BC's commercial fisheries
are now managed under catch shares

But how have catch shares affected the people whose livelihoods depend on fishing?

Next Section: One size fits few

Winners and losers in the game of fishery access.