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Andy Morriss, a law professor at the University of Illinois, sent a letter to the Financial Times yesterday in response to an article about over-fishing by EU nations. He speaks eloquently on the commons-problem, and how proper assignments of property rights can overcome the tradegy of overfishing and resource depletion.

 

However, he uses the individualized tradable quotas from New Zealand as an example of how assignments of property rights can mitigate the resource depletion problem. He is no doubt correct that assigment of rights to a certain number of fish is an improvement over open access fishing, I think that in an attempt to appear reasonable in his letter, he misses an opportunity to make a much more important point.

 

It would be neat to see someone recommend that the actual ocean should be owned. I don’t see how ownership of the ocean should be any different than ownership of the land. If people had secure titles to areas of the ocean, perhaps they would apply their sweat and innovative energies to think of ways to “fence in” pieces of it, invest in aquaculture, make some of it habitable for humans, etc.

While allowing for the ITQ solution as being the best one, Professor Morriss unwittingly grants that the EU and other government authorities are the rightful “owners” and decision makers when it regards the seas. I am surely not willing to make that concession.

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