Archive for the ‘whales’ Category

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?

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.

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.

Whales and fisheries – "standing up to Japan", or managing/enclosing the commons?

February 15th, 2008 2 comments

Dave Neiwert, a thoughtful voice on the left and with an experienced, informed view on America’s right-wing racist fringe, has a rather confused post up on whaling on his blog, Orcinus

Neiwert sends a mixed message by saying we need to “stand up to Japan”, by prominently posting recent footage of a whale’s death struggles at the hands of Japan’s “scientific” whaling fleet, and then by calling for the need to build bridges and networks over physical confrontation – but doesn’t really begin to explain why whales have become so politicized or the best way to turn deadlock into a desperately needed victory for management of the ocean commons

Copied below are my comments to his post (edited and emphasis added):

Gravatar Dave, with you and others thoughtlessly feeding the political grandstanding, it’s hard to see how the bridge- and coalition-building that is needed to tackle whaling – or the much more serious and pressing global fisheries – issues is ever going to get off the ground.

As others have noted, the Japanese came late in the whaling game, mainly after WWII (with US encouragement) and after the stocks were already starting to crash after a 150 years of western industrialized whaling pressure.

The Japanese persist in pelagic whaling [which is obviously non-traditional] despite the damage it does to their international reputation and long-term national interests because Westerners have done a great job of stiffening the spines of conservative politicians – so much so that while Japan’s private industry has completely abandoned the hunt, whaling persists as a wholly government-owned (and loss-making) endeavor!

Have you ever spent any time wonder WHY we care so much more about a Japan’s ‘scientific’ catch of a few whales now (which make no noticeable impact on growing populations, and a return to commercialized whaling under the IWC nowhere to be seen) than we do about the millions of very intelligent pigs, and less intelligent cattle etc. that we slaughter annually? The answer is simple, of course – though we should care about how humanely animals are killed to satisfy our wants, we have our greatest political battles over resources that NOBODY owns and for which unrestrained take can obviously imperil their very existence and lead to extinction. Because there are no ownership rights, political action has been needed.

But politics may often simply feed rancor and provide opportunities for grandstanding by politicians and others interested in protecting or using the resource – at our long-term detriment. Japan should be an obvious ally in preventing the crashing of global fisheries and ensuring their sustainability, but it lets itself be caught up in this emotional nonsense. So while environmentalists should care about building coalitions to rationally manage the oceans as a whole, they choose instead to fight what should be one of their greatest natural allies – a nation which ought to care greatly about the sustainability of the fish harvests they consume – because the partisan battles provide such a rush and keep those contributions rolling in.

There are obvious solutions on whales, that would allow some take of abundant species while protecting others. Establishing property rights of the kind that are now being seen as the solution for managing fisheries (‘catch shares’ or ITQs) is one, and one that would allow environmentalists to directly express their preferences by owning and managing their own stocks, and buying rights from others.

But it’s time to start realizing that the current terms of discussion about whales are not only unproductive, but actually imperil much more important issues about fisheries.