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Just minutes after posting on Ostrom’s work on governing the commons, the US Congress in typical dangerous bipartisan fashion votes to ensure the continued depletion of fisheries and ocean resource stocks. The amendment was offered by Steve Southerland (R) with the help of Barney Frank (D) and others. What a disaster. I was going to post an illustration today of how the Alaskan halibut fishery was depleted and then revived after instituting catch share programs and how successful those programs have been in other countries.

Reason reports today:

passed legislation disallowing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to expand its fisheries catch share programs [PDF]. One of the chief sponsors of the legislation was Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla) who declared:

One of the greatest threats facing Gulf and Atlantic fisheries today is catch shares.  By capping the amount of fish to be caught annually and gifting a select few with shares of the annual catch, NOAA is privatizing access to a once open fishery.

Gone are the days when enterprising young people can buy a boat and set out to make a living for their families.  Now they must lease access to the fish they want to catch, paying one of the gifted few for the privilege.  As catch shares are systematically implemented, in one fishery after another, more fishermen go out of business because they are not gifted enough shares to make a living.  This management tool is nothing short of cap-and-trade for our coastal economy.

Say what? There won’t be all that many fish left for “enterprising young people” if the tragedy of commons is allowed to play out to its depleted conclusion. Using Southerland’s logic, “gone are the days when enterprising young people could just put herds of cows on the prairie and set out to make a living for their families.” Damned privatized farms and ranches!

And there is plenty of evidence that at least one-third of capture fisheries globally are being depleted by overfishing. CEI cites a report that suggests that global fisheries subsidies amount to just under $14 billion annually. Basically fishers are being paid to kill far more fish than is economically justifiable. In addition, research shows that creating property rights in fisheries, most frequently individual tradeable quotas (ITQs) encourages fishers to manage stocks so as to increase their size. The CEI report notes:

In 2008, researchers Christopher Costello, Steven Gaines and John Lynham investigated the effects of all 121 fisheries where IFQs and other catch share schemes exist around the world for a study published in Science magazine, comparing them to the 11,000 fisheries without property rights and controlling for confounding factors such as fish species and ecosystem characteristics. They found that the existence of catch share rights not only precluded fishery collapse but, as in New Zealand, often helped reverse pre-existing collapse

Throw them all out.

6 Responses to “How’s That for Pee-ing All Over Us?”

  1. Trapper_John says:

    Couple of questions for Wintercow or the commentariat. What do you see as the appropriate role of the State in these matters? In the previous post, the solutions seem to be private in nature, or at the very least governed at a local level. On the surface, catch share programs seem to resemble taxi cab medallions, the FCC, or some other evil manifestation of crony capitalism. What’s the difference?

    Second, Julian Simon is a bit of a patron saint in these parts (and rightfully so), yet his proclamations on resources and scarcity seem to fall flat in regards to fisheries. Is there a point I’m missing that explains why running out of fish is possible but running out of oil is not?

    These questions are posed humbly out of ignorance. Thanks in advance for any wisdom.

  2. Brent says:

    I am just about to finish reading “Playing God in Yellowstone.”
    Never really thought Elk and Cod would have so much in common…

  3. Harry says:

    I clicked to see whether my brother, a sport fisherman, would weigh in on this, since he knows people in the fishing business, what happens 200 miles out, et cetera.

    Today I watered some tomatoes I just planted; my water, pumped by my pump from my well, it turns out wastefully because it rained. Tomorrow the sun will come out, and we should all be happy that sunshine comes free. (WC as a physicist knows that in the long run there is entropy that dooms the world, but for now, we get free sunshine. Except in Erie.)

    I am more concerned about the price of everything, including halibut, going up, as we electronically print money rapidly. Too bad we do not actually have to print it. It would make foresters and wheelbarrow makers (domestic fair trade wheelbarrow makers) rich, and then they could enjoy expensive fish.

  4. chuck martel says:

    I don’t know about the revival of the Alaskan halibut fishery, the average size of caught halibut has decreased dramatically through the years, the bulk of the catch being younger and smaller. There apparently won’t be any fishing for king salmon on the Yukon again this summer because the fish run won’t be big enough for required spawning numbers in the Canadian section of the river. This is in spite of an intensively managed fishery that includes limited entry permits both on the river and in the North Pacific.

    Depletion of desirable fish stocks reduces catch and pushes prices upward, encouraging further fishing effort, especially by the best fishermen, until it no longer becomes profitable for marginal actors to participate. Government sees its role not necessarily as preserving fish numbers but in maintaining the fishery itself, the economic paradigm of fish stocks, successful fishermen, boat builders and chandlers, packers and, ultimately, consumers. They’re more worried about the extinction of the fishermen than the fish.

  5. Rod says:

    There's an excellent article about the mismanagement of the groundfish fishery off the coast of Maine at the bunnyclark.com website.
    My favorite fishing headboat (a boat that takes recreational anglers fishing on the ocean) is the Bunny Clark, operating out of Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, Maine.  My son and I fish on the Bunny Clark two or three times a year, but if I lived closer to Ogunquit, I'd want to go fishing every day.  Without question, it is the best recreational fishing boat on the east coast for catching Atlantic cod, pollock, haddock, white hake, cusk and redfish (the smaller northern variety, not to be confused with red drum of southern waters.  We always catch enough fish in a day to fill a large cooler with fish fillets.  Once we caught enough fish to fill three coolers, so we do indeed kill plenty of fish in areas that are mostly closed to commercial fishermen.  because we use a hook and line to catch these fish, we can send under-sized cod back to the ocean alive, whereas fish caught in a trawl or a purse seine are all dead when they reach the deck of a commercial fishing boat.  Bunny Clark fishermen also don't keep fish they're not going to eat or give away to friends and relatives who appreciate fresh-caught fish.  Thus there is very little "bycatch" of fish needlessly killed on the Bunny Clark, and I'd bet the same is true on other headboats in the Gulf of Maine.
    While the areas of the ocean we fish are closed to commercial fishermen in quest of cod, the National Marine Fisheries Service nonetheless allows mid-water herring trawlers to operate on Jefferey's Ledge, a place identified as a good place for little codfish to become big codfish.  Back in the 1980's, when I first fished on Jefferey's Ledge, herring were plentiful, and they attracted whales and bluefin tuna in great numbers.  They also were the baitfish that fed big numbers of Atlantic cod.  Now, however, the herring trawlers have seriously depleted those herring populations to the extent that the cod have moved farther offshore to areas not closed to commercial codfishing, and even farther into international waters that are open to everyone.  The herring trawlers also kill large numbers of juvenile cod, pollock and haddock, producing a bycatch of fish that would never be killed by recreational fishermen.  It's a mystery why the NMFS folks can't figure all this out.
    This year, the NMFS even lowered the size limit for cod from 24 inches to 19 inches, relying on the assumption that ALL cod caught on a rod and reel were dead and that it would be a waste not to lower the size limit.  Tim Tower, the owner of the Bunny Clark, insisted to the NMFS that the reverse is true: that nearly all under-sized cod caught on his boat are released back into the ocean alive.  Most Bunny Clark anglers have stuck with the 24 inch limit, or at least have released cod under 22 inches in length.  We all want the junior cod to grow up to be big, yummy cod that can be filleted and released.
    I'm all for cod quotas and other measures that might prevent the depletion of the cod fishery, but when the NMFS allows such things as having the herring trawlers in otherwise closed areas, they're working against the renewal of the cod fishery.  

  6. Catch Shares work, while many other methods have failed to sustain fisheries. Catch Shares have worked effectively in Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland. There are physical limits to how many fish can be hauled sustainably from the sea year after year. Implementing catch shares can ultimately restore our fisheries to what they were centuries ago, which will ultimately increase the catches available to fishermen while restoring our collapsed fisheries around the world.

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