"Rights-based fishery management" reforms would boost the annual global catch by 16 million metric tons over current levels, according to a March report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That essentially means giving property rights to fishers or fishing communities, thus creating an incentive to protect and grow fish populations rather than plundering them from an open-access commons.
The researchers, led by University of California, Santa Barbara environmental scientist Christopher Costello, evaluated data from 4,713 fisheries around the world, representing 78 percent of the globe's reported fish catches. Awarding fishers property rights, they concluded, would yield them an additional $53 billion in profits while increasing the overall biomass of fish in the sea by 619 million metric tons. If property rights are not established, by contrast, the researchers project that fishing stocks could drop by as much as 77 percent below current levels by 2050 as fishers race to catch and sell the last fish before their competitors beat them to it.