Rights-based management (RBM) is a fisheries management tool that creates rules which define both the right to use and the allocation of fisheries resources. Thus, fishermen, fishing vessels, fishing communities and so forth can be awarded a licence, quota or fishing right to stocks.
There are a large number of different RBM approaches, such as limited non-transferable licensing; community catch quotas; individual non-transferable or transferable effort quotas, individual non-transferable or transferable catch quotas, vessel catch limits or territorial use rights in fisheries. In the EU, most Member States have already implemented some kind of RBM approach.
For an RBM system to function in tandem with ecosystem-based management, it needs to be applied within a framework that incorporates environmental and social considerations. When determining resource access, rights-based approaches to the management of small-scale fisheries need to take account of their collective nature, as well as the social and cultural dimensions of their activities.
Currently, fisheries globally and particularly in EU waters are characterised by overcapacity. As RBM systems have the allure of being able to cap the number of vessels legally operating in a fishery, it is thought that different types of RBM can contribute to a transition to a more sustainable fleet or might contribute to specific fisheries management objectives in selected fisheries, particularly with regards to capacity reduction.
However, a concern exists that some rights-based management tools, particularly Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs), could marginalise the small-scale fishing sector. Moreover, ITQs may also concentrate fishing rights in the hands of a minority of individuals or companies, who have the available capital to buy out their competitors’ share. Even in a system where ITQs would only apply to industrial fisheries, there is a risk of marginalising the small-scale sector in cases where both groups are accessing the same resources – a property right such as an ITQ, with some monetary value attached to it, may well take precedence over other access rights at times when further limitations are necessary.
While RBM may well be adept at reducing the total number of vessels operating legally in a fishery, this does not equate to adequately demonstrating how capacity will better match resources in the future, and so fails to entirely solve the problem of overcapacity. RBM solutions to overcapacity have been amongst the focal issues of the current CFP reform debate after the European Commission identified management of overcapacity as an area in urgent need of reform. However, for RBM solutions to be successful and for fishing capacity to be brought in line with the available resources, fleet capacity needs to be objectively assessed using a standardised set of criteria. With that information, the quantity and power of vessels can regulated to better match the available fish resources.