Archive for the ‘ITQs’ Category

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).