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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Individual transferable quotas (ITQs)

Variable relationship:

This theory has been around since the 1960s (Gordon 1954), and has gradually increased in popularity, both theoretically and empirically (Costello et al. 2008). ITQs have generally been applied to fisheries and considered part of the broader policy of "catch shares." ITQs involve the setting of what is referred to as a total allowable catch, or TAC, and the distribution of individual quotas, or rights (Policy Instrument). The sum of these rights should equal the amount of the TAC. The property regime involved is private, with the rights held by individual fishermen (Property Regime). If the TAC is set in accordance to what is determined to be the maximum sustainable yield (see "numeric management" theory, which is a part of this theory), then the regime should lead to a sustainable outcome for the resource (Commons Condition Trend).

Importantly, for ITQs to be effective, performance (Compliance) has to be monitored so users do not exceed their quotas (External Monitoring) and violations sanctioned (External Sanctions).

Fisheries (Stock-specific)
Scientific Field
Component Type(s)
Natural Resource Unit


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Policy instrumentProximate independent variableA market-based instrument assigns a portion of the total annual catch in the form of quota.Market-based instrument
Metric diversityProximate independent variableITQ's, as an example of numeric management, are designed to optimize a system for a relatively small number of outcomes.Low
Governance knowledge useProximate independent variableNumeric management relies primarily on scientific knowledge in order to determine how much of a commons should be used.Scientific
Property regimeProximate independent variableMarket based instruments involve a form of private property that grants rights to individuals or corporations.Private property or Corporate property
Actor scientific knowledgeModerating independent variableA high level of scientific knowledge is needed to set an ecologically appropriate catch limit.High
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeThe introduction of the quota system and the subsequent distribution of private rights should effectively limit resource harvesting and ameliorate the condition of the commons.Remained the same or Improved

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Private property rights and conservationrelated
Numeric managementcontains

Related Studies


Gordon, H.S., 1954. The economic theory of a common-property resource: the fishery. The Journal of Political Economy 124–142.


Costello, C, SD Gaines, and J Lynham. "Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?". Science 321, no. 5896 (2008): 1678-81.


Rosegrant, Mark W, and Hans P Binswanger. 1994. "Markets in tradable water rights: potential for efficiency gains in developing country water resource allocation."  World development 22 (11):1613-1625.


Howe, Charles W, Dennis R Schurmeier, and W Douglas Shaw. 1986. "Innovative approaches to water allocation: the potential for water markets."  Water resources research 22 (4):439-445.


Salvanes, Kjell G, and Dale Squires. 1995. "Transferable quotas, enforcement costs and typical firms: An empirical application to the Norwegian trawler fleet."  Environmental and Resource Economics 6 (1):1-21.