Hook, Line, Sinker, and No Fish

(image by Justin Brito

by Scott McClinton 

Put bluntly, over-fishing is a massive problem. One of the central tenants of this issue is the way that the misused resource itself, the fish stocks, are treated as common pool resources with open access for all to exploit. In either the high seas or in national waters, fish are allowed to be caught by a wide array and number of people, and are considered “non-excludable.” But every fish caught decreases the total available catch, meaning the good is also “rival.” Therefore, a unique situation is created where every individual in the fishery has the motive to take as many fish as they can (before their competitors take it) even though over-fishing hurts everyone.

Hundreds of years of this cycle of competition over dwindling resources in the face of ever greater competition had left many places around the worse far worse off than if they ever started to engage in this common pool race. In reaction to this, governments have shifted to find ways to provide ownership. For example, Alaska and other developed fisheries have attempted an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system. ITQs help to convert the common pool resource problem explained above into a private good, since each part of the catchable stock is owned by different fishers. This helps to change the incentives of the fishery from “I need to catch as many of the catchable share as possible” to “I need to catch my portion, and make sure no one is taking over their limit.”

This shift helps to describe how the ITQ system privatizes the good in such a way that over-fishing is minimized as self-preservation and longer term objectives fall into the picture. Some issues can arise though when it comes to who gets the initial issuing of the licenses, what cost they will be, and of course how to deal with losses of employment and non-consistent measures of fish stocks.

Another attempt at a pseudo-ownership system can be seen in the lobster harvests of the American northeast, where a wide array of co-management process have worked to bring about large harvests under responsible management. In this system, the creation of oversight councils and areas built around small Maine communities have transformed a “free for all” into a series of areas where community enforcement, oversight, and pressure builds sustainability. We will see in the future if this trend of ownership creation results in population support for fish stocks.

Sources cited:

“A Rising Tide.” Fishing and Conservation. The Economist Newspaper, n.d. Web. 3 May 2013. <http://www.economist.com/node/12253181?source=hptextfeature&story_id=12253181>.

“Find Your Blue.” Ocean Portal. Smithsonian Institution, n.d. Web. 03 May 2013. <http://ocean.si.edu/>.

Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. New York: Walker and, 1997. Print.

“New Study Offers Solution to Global Fisheries Collapse.” Alert. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2013. <http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-09/s-nso091208.php>.

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