Property Rights Are the Way to Save the World's Depleting Fisheries, Reports Science


Here fishy fishy fishy.

I will repeat my mantra: Wherever you see whatever you want to call an environmental problem, catastrophe, screw-up, it's occurring in an open access commons. That is, since nobody owns the resource, everybody exploits it as much as they can because they know if they leave something behind, the next guy is just going to take it. I live in hope that someday soon environmental activists will heed this lesson.

A new study, "Status and Solutions for the World's Unassessed Fisheries," (sub required) published this week in the journal Science notes that only 20 percent of the global catch comes from formally assessed fisheries, missing 80 percent that is harvested mostly from smaller scale local fisheries. With regard to the assessed fisheries, the study notes:

A recent synthesis of global fisheries with formal assessments reveals that although 63% have a biomass below what would produce maximum sustainable yields (MSY), nearly half of these (45%) have lowered exploitation rates sufficient for recovery. A complementary analysis by the FAO found that 32% of 441 studied stocks are either overexploited (28%), depleted (3%), or recovering (1%).

So the researchers looked at thousands of unassessed fisheries and found…

…that small unassessed fisheries are in substantially worse condition than assessed fisheries, but that large unassessed fisheries may be performing nearly as well as their assessed counterparts. Both small and large stocks, however, continue to decline; 64% of unassessed stocks could provide increased sustainable harvest if rebuilt. Our results suggest that global fishery recovery would simultaneously create increases in abundance (56%) and fishery yields (8%-40%).

So what do? Establishing property rights would help a lot:

Our analysis suggests large potential conservation and food benefits from improving the management of the world's unassessed fisheries. To realize these benefits requires successful approaches for fisheries reform. Limiting entry and using individual transferable quotas (emphasis added) have been shown to benefit data-rich fisheries within developed countries . These approaches, however, may prove more challenging to implement for unassessed fisheries in developing countries, because they inherently require strong governance, rule of law and monitoring. Rather, ap- proaches such as territorial user right fisheries (TURFs), fisheries cooperatives, TURFs coupled with no-take reserves (25), and co- management approaches are likely to be more broadly appropriate tools. In addition, coupling recent advances in data poor assessment with these management instruments will be critical to success.

Speaking of the rule of law, for a depressing glimpse of how politics screws up even fisheries successes in the U.S., see my blogpost, "Give a Man a Fishery and Soon You'll Have More Fish."

NEXT: Steve Horwitz on Austrian Economics, Family, and Bleeding Heart Libertarians

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  1. Hey, Ron, curious as to when you’re going to write about this recent study:…..lenews_wsj

    (latest unscientific assault on GMO crops).

    Maybe something that references Rachel Carson, methinks …. 😛

  2. Property Rights Are the Way to Save the World’s (insert natural resource here)


  3. Fish? You might as well eat a vegetable at that point.

    1. Well, you’re supposed to eat like 3-5 servings of vegetables/day, so clearly fish still has a place in a balanced diet.

  4. You know what’s super awesome about quotas? When one branch of the Government declares them, another branch can claim it’s a “Disaster” and use taxpayer funds to get the people who were put out of business to clam up.

    1. clam up

  5. since nobody owns the resource, everybody exploits it as much as they can

    Property is theft, maaaaaaaaaan.

    1. You just want The Corporations to own the ocean, man, so then they can keep everybody out and put up big razor wire fences on the beaches, you gaia-rapist.

  6. Also, I have it on good authority that managed ocean fisheries (teh FishFarmz!!11111) are an abomination, and it would be better if “wild” fish were netted out of existence than to make use of a property rights based approach.

    So there’s that to consider.

    1. Ummm, no. You’re supposed to sit in the dark and starve to death for gaia, not go out and repeatedly plunge your spear-phallus into gaia’s wet, dark, netheregions.

      1. Anybody else get a semi reading this? No? Uh, yeah, me neither…

  7. While I agree that stronger property rights is the solution to fishery declines and similar problems, I am always a bit uncomfortable about how the property rights are established in the first place. It seems to me that there would be a lot of competing claims to ownership of the fish in some spot in the middle of the Atlantic and to establish property rights for one party basically requires the property to be essentially seized by a government.

    1. It works out in the end.

      The gov’t seizes the rights, and distributes them to cronies, who are inherently shitty at management, and eventually the rights get sold to someone with the proper skills and resources. Everyone wins. Well, except taxpayers.

    2. Well, duh?

      That is pretty much how property has always worked.

      Mises pointed this out and pretty much said “you have to draw a line in the sand at some point and say ‘from here on, property rights'”. Its also why I support a Single Land Tax. Tax away the rents and there is no benefit to merely “owning” property. You have to use it to get value from it.

      1. Well, yes, I do realize that. I guess that is why some days I think I’m an anarchist.

  8. ” I live in hope that someday soon environmental activists will heed this lesson”

    Well, given that most environmentalists are mostly just closet socialists who’ve found a convenient cover that escapes the standard criticisms of their disastrous ideology while allowing them to pursue the same old tired agenda, I have only one thing to say…


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