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TACs and quotas: a complicated but necessary tool 2 minutes

  Feb 02, 2015

For many years, authorities have been attempting to control the fishing effort with a variety of regulatory instruments. These mechanisms are aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of stocks and fisheries while keeping fishermen and many directly related sectors in work.

One of the most widely used and effective tools in this regard is fishing quotas, whereby the relevant regulators set a species-specific total allowable catch (TAC) – typically defined in tonnage terms and within a given period of time. TACs are usually based upon the latest scientific advice available.

Portions of the TAC, called “quota shares”, are generally then allocated to individual fishing ventures. In many cases, these quota shares can also be traded and leased.

It is estimated that approximately 250 key fisheries around the world have now adopted some form of quota/TAC system.


Under the European Union (EU) Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the Council of Fisheries Ministers sets most TACs annually, or every two years for deep-sea stocks. These are then shared between member states in the form of national quotas using each country’s fixed allocation percentage (or “relative stability” key). A different allocation exists for each stock. However, EU countries can exchange quotas with one another.

Each member state is compelled to use transparent and objective criteria when distributing national quota among its fishermen. They are also responsible for ensuring that the quotas are not overfished in their territory and that fishing stops when all the available quota of a species is fished out.

In the United States, the main law governing fisheries management in federal waters is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA), commonly referred to as the Magnuson-Stevens Act and named after Warren G Magnuson and Ted Stevens, former senators of Washington state and Alaska, respectively.

Under MFCMA, eight Regional Fishery Management Councils (RFMCs) are charged with preparing Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) for the fisheries needing management within their areas of authority, including placing limits on the amount of fish that can be harvested, the amount of fishermen that can participate in a fishery, and where, when, and how fish can be caught.

As in Europe, these limits are based on levels determined by fisheries scientists to help ensure that stocks remain healthy.


As a major deep-frozen seafood supplier, Pittman Seafoods sources considerable quantities of wild-fishery species from many of the 27 “major fishing areas” internationally established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Almost all of these species are subject to some form of quota system.

For example, much of Pittman’s Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) – its leading product in volume terms – is caught in Area 61 (Northwest Pacific) and Area 67 (Northeast Pacific). The Alaska pollock fishery – the largest single source of whitefish in the world – is expected to climb slightly from 3,256 million metric tons in 2014 to 3,385 million in 2015. The US and Canada pollock harvest is expected to climb in 2015 to 1.48 million metric tons, up from 1.43 million metric tons in 2014. Russia’s pollock catch is also projected to grow to 1.62 million metric tons in 2015, while Japan’s catch will remain stable at 230,000 metric tons.

These and other fisheries have demonstrated that if fishing is properly controlled under robust, science-based quota systems, then commercial wild stocks can flourish, fishermen are given greater long-term viability and that end-consumers can continue to enjoy prime-quality sustainable seafood.