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'Catch Shares' Aim for Sustainable Fishing


More than 25 percent of the world's fisheries are overfished, according to the United Nations. Many communities worldwide depend on the ocean for their livelihoods. Now, they are struggling to manage resources. A growing number are adopting programs called "catch shares." These programs try to make fishing more, sustainable but critics say they put many fishermen out of business.

The sun is setting fast in Chesapeake Beach, Virginia. Rachel Dean is navigating her family’s boat ‘Roughwater’ into the port there.

"The deck light."

She and her family make a living by fishing. There are rules that all fishermen must follow. The old rules set by regional fishery officials’ decided how many striped bass fish could be caught in the Chesapeake Bay each year. Rachel Dean explains.

"It was a fishing derby and it was, Green light, go.' Catch all you can and hope that you get your share of the pie."

This would lead fishermen competing to catch fish as quickly as possible. It also led to overfishing, unsafe and destructive fishing, and other problems.

But last year, officials launched a "catch shares" system for striped bass in the Chesapeake. Under the new system, each fisherman gets a set amount of fish to catch.

Kelly Denit oversees fisheries at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

"That individual has the freedom to fish that amount whenever they choose. So you are no longer racing to get out and catch fish before the total amount has been caught."

But there are winners and losers in the new program. Larry Powley is a fisherman.

"There's some boys that had fished only two years. They got more quota than I did. I've been doing this job for 40 years."

Larry Powley was able to buy enough shares from other fishermen to stay in the striped bass business.

"But some of the young guys, the boys couldn't afford to buy up quota, then they're gonna get left behind."

Rachel Dean says her family was concerned at first, too.

"We didn't really get what we had hoped for. Obviously, everybody wants more when something's divided like that. That was our first fear. But we also knew there were going to be benefits with it."

But, Rachel Dean says she likes the program. Now, she is able to wait out bad weather and mechanical problems with her boats, and wait to sell her catches when prices are high.

And NOAA likes it because catch shares prevent overfishing and raise incomes.

"If you look across the 16 programs that we now have, I think you can see pretty clearly that there have been successes."

Catch shares don't work everywhere, but officials here say the programs are the best way to help fish, and the fishing industry.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Steve Baragona reported this story from Chesapeake Beach, Virginia. Marsha James adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

sustainable - adj. able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed

quota - n. a specific amount or number that is expected to be achieved

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