Quota-managed fisheries

Controlling catch for sustainable fisheries

An important way to achieve sustainable fisheries is to limit how many fish are caught.

This can be done through input controls, such as number of boats, number of pots, length of net or number of fishing days. These controls aim to limit the number of fish caught by limiting fishing effort.

However, as technology improves, fishers are able to catch more with less effort. This increases the risk of overfishing and doesn’t allow fishers to be flexible or innovative in the type of gear they use or the amount of time they spend fishing.

On the other hand, output controls such as quota units limit the total amount of catch. Quota-managed fisheries define a maximum amount or weight of fish that can be caught in a single year. It doesn’t matter how many days this takes, the size of the boat or the type of gear.

Some quota units are based on effort rather than catch. Trawl effort units convert to a fishing day based on the hull size of the boat being used (e.g. the East Coast trawl fishery).

So while it may not be possible to remove all effort controls, quota-managed fisheries give fishers greater choice in how they run their business.

How quota units work

Quota units are used in commercial fisheries across Australia to manage the sustainability of fish stocks, and improve catch rates and profitability by reducing competition.

A quota unit is not a fixed weight of fish—it is a fixed percentage of fish.

It’s like owning a share in a company.

Each commercial fishers is allocated a number of shares in a fishery—which can be bought, sold or leased (a simple process that can be done online at no cost).

These shares, or quota units, are a percentage of the total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for that fishery.

The TACC is the total catch limit for the commercial sector in a fishery. It doesn’t include fish caught by recreational or Indigenous fishers.

Figure 1: Quota units are allocated from the total allowable commercial catch
© Queensland Government

The value of each quota unit depends on how the fish stock is performing—just as the value of shares in a company depends on how financial markets are performing.

So, while the percentage of fish that you can take from the fishery stays the same, the actual weight of fish that you can take may increase or decrease depending on the health of fish stocks.

Figure 2: If the TACC increases or decreases, the quota percentage stays the same but the value (weight of fish) of the quota increases or decreases
© Queensland Government

If fish stocks are at sustainable levels, the TACC may increase—and so the value of the quota unit (the weight of fish) also increases.

For example, if the TACC increases by 10%, a quota unit with a value of 1,000kg would increase to 1,100kg.

Harvest strategies are used to decide whether a TACC increases or decreases.

More information

  • From hunter to harvester provides advice on adapting your fishing business to quota management.
  • A series of videos by Fishwell Consulting explain stock assessments, harvest strategies and fisheries economics.