Archive for the ‘fisheries’ Category

Avatar at Home? Those pesky Somali pirates have hampered the pillage of East African seas, leading to higher fish catches by locals

January 12th, 2010 1 comment

As a follow-up to my earlier posts (note: link fixed) on how the rape of East African fisheries ($200-300 million per year) & ocean dumping by Western nations led to the rise of Somali piracy, I just ran across this interesting recent report by AP (“Kenya fishermen see upside to pirates: more fish“) on how the presence of the pirates has boosted local fisheries.

Strange But True IV: NOAA proves govt CAN learn – and seeks to end tragedy of commons in fisheries by implementing "catch share" quasi-property rights!

December 21st, 2009 No comments

Fellow libertarians, O Cynical Ones, you might be surprised to note that, at least in some cases, it MAY be possible to educate thick-headed and corrupt government bureaucrats and political appointees about the reasons for policy failures, and the government MIGHT even actually decide to cean up  its act. While the task may be difficult, it is apparently NOT impossible; there is a silver lining; and persistence may pay off in greater local authority.

The case in point? Signs of hope that the US government is learning from the painful lesson of many disastrously managed fisheries, and is starting to empower fishermen to self-manage that the resources on which they rely, by setting policies that favor “catch share” programs. (I have blogged on the fisheries “tragedy of the commons” a number of times; serious problems continue.) “Free-market” enviro-libertarians have been making the case for such changes for thirty-odd years or so.

(BTW, this is exactly the point that Elinor Ostrom has been making for years, and why she was awarded the Nobel prize in economics. Further, as I have previously noted, even mainline enviro groups – those enviro-facists – have been specifically calling for “catch share” programs as a way to slow the disastrous tragedy of the ocean commons.)

Here are excerpts from a December 10 online release bu the , “NOAA Encourages Use of Catch Shares to End Overfishing, Rebuild Fisheries and Fishing Communities”: (emphasis added)

NOAA released today for public comment a draft national policy
encouraging the use of catch shares, a fishery management tool that
aims to end overfishing and rebuild and sustain fishing jobs and
fishing communities
. In doing so, NOAA recognized that catch shares are
not a panacea or one-size-fits-all solution, but are a proven way to
promote sustainable fishing when designed properly at the fishing
community level.

“We have made great progress in rebuilding many fisheries, but more
than 20 percent of our fish stocks have not been rebuilt, and even
larger proportion of our fisheries are not meeting their full economic
potential for the nation,” Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said.
“Catch shares is a tool that can help us realize the full economic and
biological benefits of rebuilt fisheries.”

Catch share
programs, which include Limited Access Privilege programs and
individual fishing quotas, have been used in the U.S. since 1990 and
are now used in 13 different commercial fisheries. Four new programs
will begin over the next year. 
NOAA estimates that rebuilding U.S.
fish stocks would increase annual commercial dockside values by an
estimated $2.2 billion, a 54-percent increase over current dockside
values of $4.1 billion, and help support jobs in the seafood industry
and across the broader economy.

“From Florida to Alaska, catch share programs help fishing communities
provide good jobs while rebuilding and sustaining healthy fisheries and
ocean ecosystems,”
said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce
for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Although this is a
national policy, our emphasis is on local consideration and design of
catch shares that take into consideration commercial and recreational
fishing interests.”

A catch share program differs from traditional fishery management by
dividing up the total allowable catch in a fishery into shares. These
shares are typically allocated based on historical participation in the
fishery. They may be assigned to individuals, cooperatives, communities
or other entities, who would be allowed to fish up to their assigned
Catch share participants also agree to stop fishing when they
have caught as much as they are allowed.

Under traditional
management programs, fishermen compete for a total allowable catch.
This has lead to fishermen racing each other to catch as many fish as
they can before the total catch limit is reached. This results in more
boats and gear than necessary, quotas being exceeded, increasingly
shorter fishing seasons, unsafe fishing and high levels of bycatch. It
also may result in too many fish brought to market at once, reducing
their market value to fishermen and coastal communities.

“Catch shares allow fishermen to plan their businesses better and be
more selective about when and how they catch their allotment, because
they know their share of the fishery is secure,”
said Dr. Jim Balsiger,
acting administrator of NOAA’s Fisheries Service.
“They can plan their fishing schedules in response to weather, market,
and individual business conditions. Catch share programs help eliminate
the race to fish, reduce overcapacity and bycatch, enhance the safety
of fishermen and their vessels, and improve economic efficiency. They
also help ensure fishermen adhere to annual catch limits because the
value of their share is directly linked to the overall health of the
fish stock and its habitat.”

While catch shares are not
always universally embraced when they are first introduced, their
benefits have been well proven. “We fought against the program right up
until the time it passed,” said Alaska fisherman Rob Wurm, referring to
the halibut and sablefish catch share program, which began in 1995.
”But to my surprise, it really has worked well. It has created a lot of
stability, stopped the race for fish and changed the fishing
environment in ways that have made it safer and allowed us to avoid
bycatch.” …

Members of NOAA’s Catch Shares Policy Task Force, which includes
participants from each of the eight councils as well as NOAA experts,
provided significant input on the draft policy.

Among the policy’s components:

  • Development
    of a catch share program is voluntary. NOAA will not mandate the use of
    catch shares in any commercial, recreational, or subsistence fishery.
  • The
    individual fishery management councils will consult fishing communities
    to evaluate the data, effects, and enforceability of any potential
    catch share program before moving forward. In some cases, councils may
    find catch shares not to be the most appropriate management option.
  • NOAA
    will provide leadership and resources and work in partnership with
    fishery management councils, states and members of the public to help
    with the implementation of catch shares. This includes assisting
    fishing communities as they make the transition, and conducting
    regional workshops, online seminars, and other educational and outreach
  • Well
    thought-out and developed catch share programs will promote sustainable
    fishing communities by supporting good jobs, and promoting preservation
    of wharfs, processing facilities, and fuel and ice suppliers.
  • Catch
    share programs can be designed to set aside shares to allow new
    participants into the fishery, including new generations of fishermen,
    small businesses, or others.

NOAA encourages
those councils adopting catch shares to consider a royalty system to
support science, research and management as fisheries become more
profitable under the program. NOAA will also seek appropriated funds to
supplement what may be collected through cost recovery and royalties to
assist in the design, transition period and operation of catch share

Readers may note very close parallels between NOAA`s approach and the common principles for sucesssful management of open-access resources that Ostrom has identified.

Let`s hope that the US and other nations can use similar approaches to begin to manage any number of fisheries that are crashing or are under severe pressure around the world – due both to government-instigated commons problems and to races to catch fish in pelagic regions not subject to meaningful government control. We could use approaches that actually empower the fishermen, and end both government mismanagement and politicization and chaotic systems of widespread, roving and destructive “fish raiders”. The alternatives of fisheries that have crash and been placed under bans (under the CITES convention) and politicized deadlocks that we see for whales under the IWC are not very attractive.

So, we ARE making some progress.  Forgive me for suggesting that similar efforts by libertarians to play a productive role regarding energy policy might also eventually pay off?

Capitalism, the destructive exploitation of the Amazon and the tragedy of the government-owned commons

May 25th, 2009 5 comments

Searching for solutions to problems is admirable, but the effectiveness of such efforts will be limited if they are based on a faulty or incomplete understanding of the problem.  

Many of those who have some familiarity with the “tragedy of the commons” paradgim outlined by Garrett Hardin can identify a free-for-all when they see one, but fail to understand the perverse role that governments often play in perpetuating such situations.  While there may be a productive role that government can play in ameliorating destructive exploitation, it is undeniable government involvement can be counterproductive as well.

Further, while modern markets and technological advances certainly increase the pressures on “common”, open-access resources, trying to change “capitalism” or “global trade” systems may be much less productive than addressing the institutional failure at the location of the particular resource.

These thoughts come to mind in connection with ongoing discussions regarding the application of the “tragedy of the commons” paradigm to fisheries and to climate change.  Unfortunately, what passes for discussion on climate change (and other environmental issues) is too often people talking past each other (frequently with all of the hallmarks of a tribal battle):  some correctly see a looming commons problem that they believe requires government regulation but ignore the risks of pork, partiality and wasted resources in the policies themselves, while others, not anxious for government to expand its regulatory purview, downplay or dismiss the resource problem and focus on the downsides of government action or the motives of those calling for government action (while ignoring those invested heavily in a status quo that is replete with moral hazard).

To further illustrate, I take the liberty of copying below portions of a discussion with Myanna  Lahsen at Roger Pielke, Jr.`s Prometheus blog in 2007 (emphasis added):

Concluding paragraph of the linked Lahsen & Nobre paper:

“While solutions to sustainability problems in the Amazon in some cases might be found through technology, the problems themselves are responses to national- and global global level economic structures that perpetuate poverty, ignorance, and unsustainable, short-sighted extractive approaches to natural resource management. To truly understand and address environmental degradation in the Amazon, one must thus strengthen understanding and recognition of the connections between sustainability problems and global and regional structures of power and inequality, including the impact of capitalism and liberal globalization on environmental practices, standards and policies (Bunker, 1985; Campos Mello, 2001). Unsustainable uses of the Amazon, and the associated land-related violence, human rights violations and exploitation in the region, are influenced directly or indirectly by global markets in (and, hence, global consumption of) export commodities such as soybeans, meat and timber. Recognition of such connections render evident that the causes of local-level problems in the Amazon and their solutions are, in practice, far from purely local, suggesting that the most deep-cutting solutions depend on systemic changes at the global level.

Ms. Lahsen, allow me to make a few comments. Roger has just steered me here from a different thread.


1. I think you are absolutely correct that the incentive structures of funding institutions and the individual incentive structures of the scientists involve are key reasons why so little applied science connected to developing sustainable practices in the Amazon has come out of the LBA. But they are not the only reasons.

Few scientists take naturally to politics. Even when important public policy issues are at stake, the efficacy of those scientists who do choose to step into the policy arena may be severely limited, as is clear from the climate change debate in the US. Decision-makers act or delay action based upon perceptions of self-interest and the interests of constituencies they identify with.

Scott Saleska alludes to this when he refers to the travails of Hansen and the changing official agenda of NASA.

This problem is even more acute in the Amazon, where land tenure and land use practices are highly politicized, and where speaking out in ways that affect the strongest interest groups is outright dangerous, not merely to one’s career, but to one’s health.

2. There are plenty of scientists who engage in applied science – but mainly with respect to fields of application where there is a strong demand from the private market. I suspect that the only area where applied science is in significant demand in the Amazon is for agricultural science and technology in the areas that have been converted to soybean farms. Interest in silvaculture and ecosystem protection may grow if groups interested in preserving forests or growing trees can find a greater voice, both politically and legally.

3. In your conclusion, you rightly refer to international factors that fuel “sustainability problems” (viz., deforestation) in the Amazon, but these are very thinly sketched out and deserve greater attention. But even more importantly, I think you misunderstand the relative importance of the various institutional failures that are driving the destruction of the Amazon, and are wrong to conclude that “the most deep-cutting solutions depend on systemic changes at the global level”.

While global markets create incentives for some to cut and export logs and others to burn forests and raise cattle or crops for export, the rest of the developed world faces the same the markets and still does not destroy its forests – in fact, forests are growing in the north. Trying to tackle Amazonian deforestation by destroying export markets, “capitalism” or “liberal globalization” is simply Quixotic (if not counterproductive), and the implication that embargoes should be placed against Brazilian products derived from forest destruction are objectionable not only on grounds of practicality but morally – shall we beggar Brazilians to protect the forests that we find more valuable than they do?

The principal problem is simply that by and large nobody owns the forests in the Amazon (or in other tropical ares), or where there are indigenous peoples and others who do, these rights cannot be effectively enforced. Most of the Amazon is government owned, but the government does not care (and is probably incapable even if it desired) to protect its forests against politically well-connected cattle and farming interests. As is frequently the case when the government “owns” resources, those resources are very vulnerable to depredations by national elites.

The result in the Amazon is that forests are essentially a free resource that can be easily taken from the public treasury and converted into private wealth – and local interests that wish to protect forests (from rubber tappers like Chico Mendez to indigenous peoples and their sympathizers, like priests and nuns) are dealt with brutally and with essential impunity , as you have recognized. Like the open and secretive ways that fossil fuel interests have made efforts to protect their free use of the open-access atmosphere, we can expect that entrenched interests in Brazil will try to forestall measures that eliminate their free plundering of public forests and forests titled to the powerless.

While there is indeed a problem that there is no mechanism presently in place by which wealthier nations could pay Brazil to protect the Amazon, such steps are being discussed, but will still require effective enforcement on the ground to be at all meaningful.

Accordingly, rather than looking to “systemic changes at the global level”, one should recognize that the causes of local-level problems in the Amazon and their solutions are, contrary to your conclusion, in all tractable senses purely local to Brazil [and other Amazonian countries].

The destructive exploitation of the Amazon is a paradigmatic case for the problems of sustainable development everywhere. To have wealthy societies, we must have instititions that eliminate destructive exploitation by establishing clear and enforceable rights (whether private, collective or public) to property.

This means that one effective investment in research will be towards low-cost technology that helps resource owners on the ground to identify their property, to provide warnings of trespassers, and evidence that can be used to bring private or public proceedings to protect property.



Posted by: TokyoTom at January 17, 2007 10:36 PM

Dear Tom,
You frame the problem as a strictly local one, and we beg to differ.
Global consumption patterns drive natural resource use. Growing demand for soybeans in China, and to feed cattle in Europe in the wake of the mad cow disease scares, is centrally driving soybean production in the Amazon, for instance, which has greatly accelerated deforestation in the Amazon in recent years. The oscillations in deforestation rates correlate closely with the prices of soybeans on global markets.

Yet another global, systemic cause of deforestation as well as human rights abuses in the Amazon is neoliberalism, which has weakened national governments, especially in Latin America, as we mention this in the paper and back up by reference to scholarly studies.

Finally, we take issue with your suggestion that “The principal problem is simply that by and large nobody owns the forests in the Amazon.” As indicated in critiques of Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” theory, private property is not a solution. Indeed, much of the destruction of the Amazon is on private lands.


Myanna Lahsen and Carlos A. Nobre

Posted by: Myanna Lahsen at March 6, 2007 09:11 AM

Hi Mayanna,

You write, “Finally, we take issue with your suggestion that “The principal problem is simply that by and large nobody owns the forests in the Amazon.” As indicated in critiques of Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” theory, private property is not a solution. Indeed, much of the destruction of the Amazon is on private lands.”

Here’s a website that says:

“In Brazil, 65 percent of forested area is in public hands, but the proportion reaches 75 percent in the Amazon region. According to Azevedo, the new law, accused of “privatising” the forests, seeks precisely the opposite: to combat de facto privatisation through illegal means. Currently, more than 80 percent of illegal lumber production comes from public lands.”

So that website is saying 75 percent of the forested area in the Amazon region is in public hands, and that 80 percent of illegal lumber production comes from public lands.

Do you disagree with either of those numbers? If so, what do you think the numbers should be?


Posted by: Mark Bahner at March 6, 2007 07:24 PM

Oops. This is the website that had those figures on land ownership and illegal logging:

Posted by: Mark Bahner at March 6, 2007 07:29 PM

Myanna and Carlos:

Many thanks for the response.

However, you misinterpret me. First, I have NOT said that the problem is a strictly local one, and I completely agree that global consumption patterns are closely tied to natural resource use. Any rational observer of the international economy will see not only that market economies are great at creating wealth where private transaction occur relating to OWNED resources, but are also great at the destructive exploitation of resources that are not effectively owned or protected.

The Amazon is a classic case of the latter. There are essentially two possible approaches to the problem – one can try to put a stick in the gears of the global markets for foreign resources (by destroying export markets, global “capitalism”, “liberal globalization” or “neoliberalism”), or one can focus on trying to ensure that Amazonian forests are more effectively owned and protected.

Which of those seems to you like a more manageable task? (And if you chose the former, don’t forget the ethical questions I posed to you on them.)

I don’t think that the problem is an easy one at all, and I commend you both for trying to tackle it. However, I think that solutions, if any are to be found before the Amazon is gutted, will most likely be found in trying to ways to help people on the ground identify and protect resources that are important to them – and in trying to co-opt the wealthy elites who are essentially plundering Brasilians’ “national wealth” by using brazen physical power.

How can this be done? Imaginative people can think of many ways. A few come immediately to mind. One is to push the Brasilian government (and foreign aid agencies) to stop subsidizing the development of physical infrastructure like roads and power, so that those who would profit from destruction have to pay all of their own costs. It would help to identify clearly those who are converting forests, but this is not strictly necessary if taxpayers can be made aware that they are being fleeced twice – in the theft of government property and in the subsidization of it. Perhaps the government could even be persuaded to get out of the land ownership business altogether, and have all of the land auctioned off to the highest bidders. Police forces, courts, land registration offices and technologies that help identify land and trespass would all be beneficial. Markets can also be harnessed to tap “green” demand for sustainably owned and maintained resources, thus further empowering natives.

Please also understand that I am not advocating solely “private” ownership. Community ownership of resources may be quite effective. But government ownership of resources is simply a recipe for those resources to be ripped off – literally or figuratively – by those with the best politcal connections/the powerful, and at the expense of the little guy/disenfranchised.

Some focus on the demand side can also work – if PR light can be shed on the home economy firms colsest to the exploitation. But this is very difficult to do, as one purchaser can easily be replaced by another, and there’s always the Chinese, who really don’t care what we might have to say.

I’m happy to expand/expound further if you’re inclined.

Posted by: TokyoTom  at March 16, 2007 05:40 AM


Libertarians to lefty-enviros: without community-based property rights, sustainable fisheries are impossible

May 11th, 2009 No comments

Readers from RealClimate, thanks for your visit.

Here`s my comment with embedded links:

#188 / 245: Neal & Jim, thanks for the references to the successful experiments in Iceland, NZ and the Alaskan pollock fishery to replace the tragedy of the government commons with property rights approaches that gives the fishermen a stake in protecting the resources they harvest, instead of simply an incentive to invest in a mad race to catch fish before others do in a continually shrinking fishery with shorter and shorter seasons.

Don Leal and other free market environmentalists (particularly at PERC in Bozeman) have long been leaders in this field, and interest is finally growing, as the serial collapse of important fisheries continues.

Elinor Ostrom has also been a leader in documenting the ways that a community of users (NOT the dread and sloppily misused “soc-ial-ism”) may effectively manage a shared resource.

Readers might be interested in the World Bank`s Oct 2008 report, “The Sunken Billions; The Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform”.

With support from the World Bank, PERC is in the middle of hosting a conference on approaches to sustainable fisheries (and on ending the massive overharvesting and wasted subsidies and malinvestment under current regulatory approaches).

I also urge readers to look at what the organization Defying Ocean’s End (cofounded by Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, The World Conservation Union, and World Wildlife Fundhas to say about protecting fish:

“Most of the solutions that have been implemented or proposed to fix the world’s fisheries center on command-and-control measures: regulators or courts telling fishermen how to fish through the imposition of controls on effort (e.g., fishing vessel length, engine horsepower, gear restrictions, etc.). Prescriptions like these work against strong economic incentives for maximizing catch, which are not addressed by such measures, and are of course usually resisted by fishermen. Often, prescriptions create incentives for “work-arounds” and set up a cat-and-mouse game between fishermen and regulators – for example, if regulators impose a restriction on vessel size, fishermen may purchase two vessels to maintain high catch levels.

“As in most natural resource problems, more effective solutions will address the fundamental drivers of unsustainable fisheries. In this case, the key necessary reform will be to designate secure catch privileges. It is important to understand that such privileges can be allocated to different kinds of entities in different ways, and indeed, they should be tailored to specific fisheries and communities to fit with local customs, traditions, values, and social structure.”

I`ve linked a number of my other posts on fisheries here

Categories: fisheries, property rights, RealClimate Tags:

Strange but true: in the context of climate & fisheries, enviros discuss property rights, cooperation and the tragedy of the commons

May 9th, 2009 No comments

Here, in the belly of the Beast – the ” RealClimate” blog by climate scientists.

Anybody wanna chip in?

So far, comments by yours truly are as follows:

134. TokyoTom Says:

thanks for a thoughtful post that I hope will be brought to the
attention of every so-called “skeptic” – none of whom has any basis to
deny that there are simply NO property rights protecting the atmosphere
(or the oceans).

As a result, to prevent a continuing “tragedy of the commons” the
nations of the world, we need to make a collective effort to manage what
is, after all, a shared resource.

It`s nice to see that others see that where there are no formal or
informal property rights or similar mechanisms, all incentives point to


171. TokyoTom Says:

rights are not an end-all or be-all, but they are a linchpin in
understanding the dynamics of the tragedy of the commons problem.
Resources that are owned – formally or informally, in common or
privately – are husbanded, at least much better that when they are not.

This is a key point to keep hammering home with “conservatives”,
“skeptics” and ordinary people, whom can all recognize that market
demands produce a tragedy of the commons whenever valuable resources
are not owned (or cannot be protected) by those who use them.

When there is ownership, (1) users have incentives to invest in
protecting what, after all, supports their own livelihoods and, even
further, (2) those who also care about the resource have an ability to
also protect the resource – by investing it themselves, or by making
other private, market decisions, such as to boycott particular owners
and to favor others.

When there is no ownership, there is very limited ability by anyone
to protect the resource directly, and what we are left with is a battle
of words.

Of course a corollary problem that requires attention is that when
resources are “publicly” owned, such resources may in fact be treated
as a commons, or something that politicians and bureaucrats dole out to
whomever is in favor – witness the environmental destruction in
communist states, the logging of “public” tropical forests, and our own
continued mismanagement of public lands.

In that case of fisheries, this is so readily apparent that even the
mainline environmental groups are now calling for giving fishermen
property rights in the fish they catch in order to end the destructive
race to catch them:

Meanwhile, concerned citizens continue to misunderstand the key
dynamics of environmental problems, and to miss opportunities to rub
the faces of “market” fundamentalists and “conservatives” in the
obvious lack of property rights in the atmosphere (and a related
inability of those adversely affected by using the atmosphere as a
dumping ground to seek redress from those who profit from using it as

For crashing fisheries, a coalition of mainline US enviro groups calls for …. property rights!

January 15th, 2009 No comments

In a recent post, Andy Revkin, a New York Times reporter who blogs on energy and environmental issues at his “Dot Earth” blog, asks “When whale species, like the minke, are no longer rare, can they be both admired and eaten — as North Americans do with bison — or is it simply wrong to kill whales at all?”

In a comment in response, I noted that as whales are unowned, the problem of how to manage whale stocks shares much in common with the problem of ocean fisheries – viz., open access tragedies of the commons, and politicized management – further noted that the main US environmental groups have very clearly recognized, somewhat surprisingly, that implementing property rights systems is vital to ensuring the long-term protection of fisheries.

Mainline enviros pushing for property rights?  Has the world gone crazy?

I copy below my comment, which quotes the key fisheries statement by the enviro coalition (emphasis added):

Andy, of course the real problem with whales, bluefin tuna and most other ocean resources is that no one owns them, so catching them for one dinner plate or another is frequently a classic tragedy of the commons or, if governments regulate catch, a race to catch within season all while trying to make sure limits are not set too low.

This is the reason why whaling stocks crashed and whalers agreed to a moratorium. The fact that whales remain unowned but further takings are decided by a committee of nations is what ties the dispute to a political process – a process that frankly serves no one’s long-term interest and is a distraction from the more important problems of protecting crashing ocean fisheries in general.

The clear way forward is in establishing rights to the particular stock of whales or fish, so that those who value the resource can invest in protecting it. This holds true just as much for whales as for fish.

This is what the organization Defying Ocean’s End (cofounded by Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, The World Conservation Union, and World Wildlife Fund) has to say about protecting fish:…

“Overfishing, high bycatch rates, the use of gear types that damage habitat (like trawls and dredges), and the large subsidies supporting fisheries (totally over $15 billion per year) are all symptoms of an underlying problem. In most fisheries that are exhibiting declines in landings and revenues, overfishing, bycatch, and habitat damage, actions that result in the symptoms are actually rational given the way the fisheries are managed. In these fisheries, secure privileges to catch certain amounts of fish are not specified, so naturally individual fishermen compete to maximize their individual shares of the catch. No incentives for conservation exist in this situation, because every fish conserved can be caught by another fisherman. The competition to maximize catch often results in a fishery “arms race”, resulting in the purchase of multiple vessels, the use of powerful engines and large vessels, and the use of highly efficient gear like trawls. Capital costs for vessels and gear increase as a result. At the same time, the competition to maximize catch often results in supply gluts, as most fishermen land large catches at the same time during seasons that become shorter and shorter due to the excessive number of vessels participating in the fishery. Prices paid to fishermen are reduced by the glut, and the quality of fish supplied to consumers declines as well (from fresh to frozen). The non-market costs associated with this kind of behavior — such as habitat damage, overfishing, and bycatch — are passed on to the fishery and onto society as a whole.

“Most of the solutions that have been implemented or proposed to fix the world’s fisheries center on command-and-control measures: regulators or courts telling fishermen how to fish through the imposition of controls on effort (e.g., fishing vessel length, engine horsepower, gear restrictions, etc.). Prescriptions like these work against strong economic incentives for maximizing catch, which are not addressed by such measures, and are of course usually resisted by fishermen. Often, prescriptions create incentives for “work-arounds” and set up a cat-and-mouse game between fishermen and regulators – for example, if regulators impose a restriction on vessel size, fishermen may purchase two vessels to maintain high catch levels.

As in most natural resource problems, more effective solutions will address the fundamental drivers of unsustainable fisheries. In this case, the key necessary reform will be to designate secure catch privileges. It is important to understand that such privileges can be allocated to different kinds of entities in different ways, and indeed, they should be tailored to specific fisheries and communities to fit with local customs, traditions, values, and social structure.”

FWIW, I’ve blogged on whales and fishing any number of times:……

The problem of crashing fisheries is a far greater one than what to do about whales, so it is a real shame that the environmental community, Japan (which consumes much of the world’s fish) and other nations cannot see fit to bury the hatchet – at least on whale populations that are growing (perhaps by applying a property rights regime that would allocate ownership rights not only to whaling fleets but to conservation groups) – and work together on setting up sustainable, property-rights based harvesting regimes on imperilled ocean fisheries.

Somali piracy flows from the greater and continuing Western theft and abuse of Somali marine resources

January 7th, 2009 3 comments

The January 4 Huffington Post carries a perceptive column by Johann Hari, a writer for the Independent , who explains that Somali piracy (which I have commented on here and here) has roots in the Western theft and abuse of Somali marine resources – in the form of ongoing massive Western and Asian fishing and illegal dumping of toxic waste along the 3300 km Somali coast – and in efforts by Somali fishermen to respond (even as such piracy has now morphed into an industry in its own right, and not closely connected to the suffering fishing industry).

Hari’s post raises difficult questions about the ownership and management of open-access resources, and the obligations (if any) of Western governments to make sure that such resources are not plundered merely because local peoples are unable to defend them.  (A report by a Canadian observer to a 1998 UN mission provides background information and raised these issues here.)

While neocons and others make rousing cries for Western governments to stiffen their spines at the impudent pirates (they’re terrorists, barbarians and “enemies of mankind”, after all) and send in their navies to provide free cover for those poor Western shipping interests who seem incapable of fending off the pirates, no one seems to care much about reining in Western fishermen or toxic waste dumpers.   The St. Augustine quote I referred to in my preceding post begins to seem even more apropos:  “what are kingdoms but great bands of brigands?  Unfortunately, this type of resource exploitation is the rule rather than the exception when markets meet unowned or inadequately defended resources.  I have made a number of blog posts on related issues:  salmontunaother fish and whales.

I quote from Hari’s column (emphasis added):

In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste.

As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the [Mauritanian diplomat who is] UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia’s unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

This is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a ‘tax’ on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and it’s not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters… We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” William Scott would understand those words.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But the “pirates” have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news-site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking – and it found 70 percent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence of the country’s territorial waters.” During the revolutionary war in America, George Washington and America’s founding fathers paid pirates to protect America’s territorial waters, because they had no navy or coastguard of their own. Most Americans supported them. Is this so different?

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn’t act on those crimes – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about “evil.” If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause – our crimes – before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia’s criminals.

A little digging finds ample credible support for Hari’s piece ( actually, I noticed some in connection with my earlier posts, but declined to refer to it then).

More background is here:

“It’s almost like a resource swap,” said Peter Lehr, a Somalia piracy expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the editor of “Violence at Sea: Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism.” “Somalis collect up to $100 million a year from pirate ransoms off their coasts. And the Europeans and Asians poach around $300 million a year in fish from Somali waters.”,0,6155016.story,+%22Plundered+Waters%22&source=bl&ots=bYYy-Zz2kU&sig=iLqa6DxqiotxfGNVzmfPnAmUtMo&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result#PPA109,M1,1518,594457,00.html


Save wild fisheries – buy your certified sustainable salmon from Walmart!

December 9th, 2008 No comments

I’ve blogged before on the “tragedy of the commons”/bureaucratic mismanagement problems that underlie the crashing of the West Coast salmon fisheries  and that imperil the giant Atlantic bluefin tuna ; a recent article by Fortune shows that there are glimmers of hope for ocean fisheries, when large-volume purchasers like Walmart lead the charge by insisting that the fish they purchase come from a fishery that is independently certified as sustainable

In my post on tuna, I suggested that hope might lie in having the Japanese, who consume most of the tuna, bring concentrated pressure to bear on fishermen; here’s to hope that they and that fishers of Atlantic bluefin (and their governments) can similarly get their acts in order before the resource is decimated beyond recovery.

Who knows – maybe ensuring sustainability and creating ownership rights in stocks may also be a way to for environmentalists and the Japanese and others to bury the hatchet and come to terms on minke and other non-threatened whale stocks

h/t to Lynne Kiesling, who at her blog Knowledge Problem points to the Marine Stewardship Council as the organization that has been leading the “bottom-up, voluntary, collaborative” effort with scientists, industry, consumers and environmental groups to develop sustainability criteria for various fisheries and to support sustainability by tying sustainable practices to market demands via a credible third-party eco-label.

Tragedy of the ocean commons: stocks of giant Atlantic bluefin tuna look ready to crash, like the once rich cod fishery

November 28th, 2008 No comments

Despite an 80% drop in populations of east Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna since  the mid-1970s, and continued massive overfishing above agreed quotas, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), under pressure from fishermen in the European Community,  on November 25 approved tightened 2009 fishing quotas that nevertheless exceed the recommendations of ICCAT’s own scientists by 50%.  Quotas were cut from 28,500 tonnes in 2008 to 22,000 tonnes, and the ICCAT also approved other measures designed to bring illegal fishing under control, but it is unclear whether these measures will be sufficient – particularly as illegal fishing in the past has been at multiples of quota levels.  ICCAT scientists had recommended that the quota be cut to 15,000 tonnes.

The EC praised the results, in the face of opposition by the US, Canada and Norway, which had supported the quota recommended by scientists.  Environmental groups of course were disappointed and called for tuna boycotts and suggested that all the member nations to the CITES convention (on trade in endangered species) should consider listing bluefin tuna as an endangered species – which would bring all commercial exploitation to a halt.

I looks like the pressure is on – both on the valuable bluefin tuna resource and on the relevant national governments, fishermen and consumers to better manage it.  The west Atlantic stocks of bluefin have apparently already collapsed, due to mismanagement by the US government.

As I noted on the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog:

Andy, this is an ongoing shame, the roots of which are not human greed but, as indicated by your reference to a “tragedy of the commons”, a lack of any ownership of the resource by those fishing it. The result is wasteful investment by fisherman in a race to catch fish before others do, no incentive for fishermen to invest in managing stocks sustainably, pressure by fisherman on governments for higher quotas, catches that exceed quotas, and government subsidies to keep unprofitable fishermen from losing their livelihoods. If we managed our agriculture the same way, we’d have a race to harvest, but nobody planting. More here:…

The answer clearly lies in finding ways to link the interests of the fishermen more closely to the resource that they rely on; while this is difficult in the case of international fisheries, there have been a number of success stories for fisheries that are managed by various countries. Transferable fishing quotas (and an ability to keep track of catches) have been the key:

Given all of the different governments involved it may be difficult to expect agreement tighter and more meaningfully enforced quotas, but a key possibility lies with Japan, which buys most of the bluefin tuna. As the chief purchaser (of course there are a variety of private purchasers involved), Japan is in a position to insist on purchasing only tuna caught by boats that properly record their catches and to unilaterally limit its own purchases to a sustainable level. Since the Japanese do not want to see the tuna fishery collapse, they have finally begun to support tightening quotas and finding other ways to improve management of the tuna stocks:

Consumer boycotts and pressure on Mediterranean governments to end subsidies to fishermen (a problem George Monbiot has noted [see the Mises link above]) are other leverage points.

Is a semi-privatization of the fishery, by allowing fishermen to transfer the quotas they receive (including purchase by interested consumer and environmental groups), possible?  Can Japanese consumers (and other sushi eaters) in particular bring pressure to bear?

More on the science of the bluefin tuna stocks here and here (the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics).

Destroying the salmon; the socialized commons and climate change (Part II)

July 23rd, 2008 3 comments

I briefly commented previously on the perilous state of the West Coast salmon fishery, which is crashing due not only to climate change-related stresses in the ocean and in stream flows, but also to our government’s destruction of Indian-held private and community property rights to salmon and substitution by a classic tragedy of the commons, bureaucratized mismanagement and political favoritism.  I made related remarks in connection with an article by George Monbiot, who bemoaned the role that European governments were playing in subsidizing the destruction of regional and global fisheries.

I expanded further on this in a comment on the NYT’s “Dot Earth” blog run by Andy Revkin.  I copy below my remarks, including the portion of a comment by another to who I was responding (emphasis added):

#62 Mike Roddy:

” I lived in the Northwest for many years, where clearcut logging muddied rivers and destroyed salmon runs. This caused serious damage to drinking water and wildlife, and a major economic group was damaged: salmon fishermen.

Even with the combined effects of ecosystem damage and hardship in another sector, nothing changed. The timber industry did not pay for this damage due to their political clout, and continued to be handed subsidies in the form of roads and favorable tax rates. Destruction of salmon runs continued, and does to this day.”

Mike, you are spot on about subsidies and cost-shifting, but are missing the chief cause, as documented by the free market environmentalists at PERC and others – the state and federal governments essentially removed the salmon from ownership/management by Indians and substituted, first, and open-access commons, with the resulting tragedy of the commons, that the government then tried to manage bureaucratically (essentially socializing the ownership of salmon).

Because no one has any vested rights (other than the Indians to net a portion of the take left after catches at sea), no one has an incentive to invest in maintaining the resource, and no rights to stop those damaging it like loggers (or otherwise making deals with them).  Instead, we have a bureaucracy that thinks it knows better than everyone, substitutes its judgment for everyone’s and becomes the battleground for parties who have legitimate interests but are unable to conclude any deals. 

Government has consistently benefitted from this situation, while everyone else has been frustrated, though insiders of course also benefit – as when Cheney single-handedly killed tens of thousands of salmon in Oregon by ordering water diverted from federal dams to farmers (during a time of low streamflows).

Mismanagement and the destruction of the great salmon runs has what we’ve purchased.  We need to privatize the salmon, so their owners can protect habitats and returns on the respective rivers, and stop free-for-all ocean takes.