A paper authored by two UCSB scientists has been selected as one of the top research papers published by the prestigious journal Nature in 2008.

A product of the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, the award-winning article was originally published in the journal Science. That the paper was acknowledged by a rival journal, Chris Costello, co-author of the study and professor of resource economics at the Bren school, said is a great honor.

“To have the competing journal recognize our work is the most rewarding press we have had,” Costello said.

The study, which focused on fishery sustainability and management techniques, investigates a method known as “catch shares.” Under this system, regulating the number of fish caught rather than enforcing specific hunting seasons manages resources. As a result the approach allows fishermen to sink a line whenever they please.

According to Costello, seasonal fishing propagates a damaging influx of fishermen trying to catch as many fish as possible during the permitted fishing season.

“Most fisheries are regulated by a season length, anyone with a fishing license can fish during the season,” Costello said. “[For example,] if a season is limited to a two-month period, [fishermen] have to make all of their income in two months. They buy big ships, big nets, hire a big crew, so they can catch a lot of fish in the [time limit].”

Because the current seasonal system employs these two-month fishing binges, Costello said, fish populations rapidly — and unnaturally — diminish. Also, the short window of fishing time forces fierce competition between fishermen. Fishermen nowadays he said, are turning to advanced fishing technology to keep up.

“It’s like an arms race,” Costello said. “Everyone keeps racing to catch the fish.”

Seasonal fishing yields short-term boosts of harvested fish but damages the ability of a fishery to catch as many fish in the future, Costello said. Ultimately, he said, this seasonal approach hurts fisheries and tends to result in fishery collapse, ruining economic opportunities for fishermen.

On the other hand, according to Costello, fisheries using “catch share” programs are half as likely to shut down, and tend to function efficiently. Under a “catch share” program, he said, careful research determines the number of fish that can be caught without disrupting the existing balance.

According to Costello, the future of environmentally conscious fishing hinges on the work of the Sustainable Fishery Group, a team of scientists whose research new mechanisms for more sustainable fisheries and finds ways to implement them in real-world situations.

Hopefully, Costello said, fisheries around the world will take the bait, and implement more catch share programs.