Natural Resources

A Potential Solution to Commons Tragedies in West Coast Fisheries


West coast fisheries might begin in 2011 an experiment in assigning something more like property rights in the ocean commons, the LA Times reports. Excerpt:

The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously Friday to make a historic shift in strategy that encourages cooperation, rather than competition, among fishermen who drag nets to catch cod, whiting, rockfish, flounder and sole.

The new approach, often called "individual fishing quotas," will give commercial fishermen from Morro Bay on California's Central Coast to Puget Sound in Washington state the right to bring in their portion of the catch when the seas are safe and they can command higher prices.


Advocates of this approach, which has been used successfully in Alaska and elsewhere, believe that this can help turn around West Coast fisheries…..

The shift to individual fish quotas comes after recent scientific studies showing that the system has a way of encouraging fishermen to be better stewards of the resource. It tends to end the dangerous race to catch fish before another boat does and has helped stocks rebound.

Ron Bailey on individual fishing quotas from back in 2005.

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  1. I believe you mean northern calfornia fisheries —

  2. Why couldn’t an independent, trustworthy appraisal company make a reliable estimate of potential catches of commercial fish throughout all the oceans, then fishing companies could bid at an international ocean products auction company for the amount they wanted to haul in?

  3. This is good news. I think fishery depletion deserves more attention as a potential environmental crisis than global warming.

  4. Why couldn’t an independent, trustworthy appraisal company make a reliable estimate of potential catches of commercial fish throughout all the oceans, then fishing companies could bid at an international ocean products auction company for the amount they wanted to haul in?

    This experiment could grow into that.

  5. The indiv policy has saved untold lives in the north atlantic. it is the way it should be. The reason an indv quota works sooo much better is that it allows fisherman time to set thier rigs up the best, and pick and choose what conditions,to fish in. in a total quota say 10 mil pounds o fish if you hit a school that is mixed you run your net and have a ton of bycatch that is usually dead before it gets back into the water. with an ind quota you see that and say, nope lets wait for a better haul, and pass it by, it also saves many sinkings and injuries as if the weather is bad you just stay in port.

  6. How are these IFQ’s tracked? What department/organization is in charge of this task? Any speculation on who the first Fish Czar is going to be?

  7. David E. Gallaher,

    1. the ocean is too big, and there are too many tiny regional fisheries that are changing too fast to effectively catalog.

    2. reliable estimates of potential catches are very tricky, bordering on the impossible. Counting fish isn’t like counting individual deer in a herd. Mix in the fact that, with all the various types of fisheries, you’d need many estimate methodologies. Therefore your results would be tremendously expensive to generate, and hopelessly out of date by the time they reached the market

    3. many “fishing companies” are “a guy with a boat.” Many of these guys with boats don’t speak English, and have no easy access to phones, interwebz, etc. Your plan would prohibitively favor large factory fishing operations… the very concerns that are the most troublesome to regulators and environmentalists alike.

  8. Johnny Nowhere,
    I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just trying to brainstorm.
    But why couldn’t there be an International Fish Exchange where fish futures or fish stocks could be traded? If that were true, even a guy with a boat could buy a share or two.

  9. Ruthless-
    The problem is that unlike many other commodities, there is very little ‘truth’ that a market must respond to. Well, except for extinction.

    We’ve also seen lately that a “independent, trustworthy appraisal company” is a mythical beast.

  10. I don’t know David E. Gallaher, but his brain storming is out lunch.

    I doubt he has ever worked in N. CA as a weigh master unloading fishing boats. All fish commercial fish buyers employ weigh masters to unload the totes of fish off the boats. The w/ms are there to keep both fisherman and buyers honest, and also maintain fish tallies for CA Fish & Game. The tallies inform the buyers they are buying over the limit of a boats permit. If buying occurs beyond a boats limit it must be reported to F&G. If not reported the fines can be astronomical for both fisherman &/or buyers.

    All by-catch must also be reported to F & G.

    This is why (in my opinion) the w/ms should be licensed specifically for off loading fish by the state or employed by the state. I think licensing makes more sense.

    Another interesting aspect: Most of w/ms know more about the fish being caught than F & G personnel officiating in the area.

  11. cramoft,
    My brain storming may be out to lunch, but a can of sprats from Riga, Latvia, revives it, not to mention reloading my testicles.
    After a can tomorrow I may be able to decipher your jargon.
    I’m not William F. Buckley nor his son, Chris.
    I’m a landlubber.
    Bless ye o’ the sea. Long may ye wave.

  12. cramoft, your comment was really interesting, but I can’t figure out how it was relevant to Gallaher’s earlier comment. Please explain the connection.

  13. I love how they have to wrap it in the language of socialism, even though it’s basically a system that relies on tradable property rights. “Cooperation” vs. “competition”. Whatever make you feel better, I guess…

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