Ocean fisheries are a classic example of the tragedy of the commons. For decades, governments have imposed command-and-control regulations to combat overfishing, but such restrictions have rarely worked. Shortened seasons and early closures created a dangerous, zero-sum “race to fish.” The result was a wasteful—and often deadly—derby that was bad for both fish and fishermen, who expended great costs to catch as many fish as possible before the closures set in.

PERC has been a leader in the development of a property-rights-based alternative known as individual transferable quotas (sometimes called “catch shares” or “individual fishing quotas”). With ITQs, fishermen have a right to catch a share of a total sustainable catch limit determined by fishery managers each season. Fishermen can buy, sell, or lease quota for each other, and they no longer have to race to fish. There is also more accountability for harvests and an incentive for stewardship.

The results have been impressive. Rights-based fishing reforms have reduced overfishing, led to higher incomes and safer fishing, and allowed consumers to buy fresh fish throughout the year. Today, there are nearly 200 catch-share programs worldwide, including more than a dozen in the United States. PERC continues to explore how property rights can prevent overfishing and address issues such as bycatch and recreational and community-based fisheries across the globe.