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Catch shares slow the race to fish


In fisheries, the tragedy of the commons manifests as a competitive race to fish that compresses fishing seasons, resulting in ecological damage, economic waste, and occupational hazards1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Catch shares are hypothesized to halt the race by securing each individual’s right to a portion of the total catch, but there is evidence for this from selected examples only2,9. Here we systematically analyse natural experiments to test whether catch shares reduce racing in 39 US fisheries. We compare each fishery treated with catch shares to an individually matched control before and after the policy change. We estimate an average policy treatment effect in a pooled model and in a meta-analysis that combines separate estimates for each treatment–control pair. Consistent with the theory that market-based management ends the race to fish, we find strong evidence that catch shares extend fishing seasons. This evidence informs the current debate over expanding the use of market-based regulation to other fisheries.

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Figure 1: Season compression before and after catch shares by region.
Figure 2: Average treatment effect for individual fisheries (top 20 fisheries by value).


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We thank NOAA, NC Sea Grant and ECS Federal for financial support; and J. Agar, C. Anderson, B. Best, R. Curtis, H. Fell, R. Felthoven, A. Haynie, J. Hilger, D. Holland, M. Larkin, J. Lee, M.-Y. Lee, D. Lipton, G. Magnusson, L. Perruso, D. Squires, J. Stephen, S. Stohs, A. Strelcheck, E. Thunberg, M. Travis, and participants at NAAFE, AERE, IIFET and ASSA for comments and data support.

Author information




A.M.B., D.J.K. and M.D.S. contributed equally to all parts of this research.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Martin D. Smith.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Reviewer Information Nature thanks R. Hilborn and A. Rosenberg for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Illustrative representations of season decompressions with similar magnitude to the average Gini coefficient treatment effect (around 0.08–0.09).

A change in Gini coefficient of a particular size may represent one of many possible changes in the distribution. The three examples are roughly equivalent in magnitude and represent changes from landings that are extremely compressed to highly compressed (a), uniformly distributed over three periods to uniformly distributed over four periods (b), and very spread out to completely uniform (c).

Extended Data Figure 2 Average treatment effect for individual fisheries (all fisheries).

Average change in landings Gini coefficient for OLS (a) and fractional logit (b) models. Error bars are 1.96 s.d. around point estimates. Negative point estimates that are significantly different from zero indicate season decompression. Figure includes US catch share fisheries for which sufficient monthly data are available.

Extended Data Table 1 Excluded catch share programs
Extended Data Table 2 Pooled regressions showing average season decompression across US catch share fisheries, excluding low-quota Pacific rockfishes
Extended Data Table 3 Meta-analysis showing average season decompression across US catch share fisheries excluding low-quota Pacific rockfishes
Extended Data Table 4 Meta-analysis showing average season decompression across US catch share fisheries in Alaska
Extended Data Table 5 Meta-analysis showing average season decompression across US catch share fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico
Extended Data Table 6 Meta-analysis showing average season decompression across US catch share fisheries in New England and the Mid-Atlantic
Extended Data Table 7 Meta-analysis showing average season decompression across US catch share fisheries in the Pacific
Extended Data Table 8 Meta-analysis showing average season decompression across US catch share fisheries in the Pacific (excluding low quota rockfishes)

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Tables 1-6, Supplementary Note 1 and additional references. (PDF 606 kb)

Supplementary Data

This zipped file contains eight Stata (version 11) .do files (code) and two .csv files (data). Seven of the .do files are numbered and can be run sequentially to reproduce results, or the single file “” can be used to automatically run the other seven. The .do files are linked to the .csv files. All files should be downloaded into the same directory for use. (ZIP 178 kb)

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Birkenbach, A., Kaczan, D. & Smith, M. Catch shares slow the race to fish. Nature 544, 223–226 (2017).

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