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‘Rational’ Catch Shares in Alaska

October 13, 2011

Pretty interesting critique of catch shares.  It sketches how Alaskan crab fishermen lost faith in the fisheries managers, especially after 75% lost their jobs in 2005 due to the ‘rationalization’.  I do take issue, however, with the quick dismissal of the problem of overcapacity, which leaves the central problem of balancing between fishermen’s wellbeing and sustainability unexplored.

There is also a good point made that one key assumption needs to be tested: private ownership leads fishermen to take better care of the resource.  I think behavioral economics has revealed that many things beyond rational self-interest affect behavior.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2011 9:54 am

    The idea that privatization of natural resources leads to conservation certainly hasn’t been proven in other natural resource sectors – so why would we think it might happen in fisheries? One of the outcomes of privatization in Canada is that the small scale fishermen, who general fished with more sustainable fishing gear end up selling out their share to larger operations. The net effect of this is that there are fewer “small businesses”, money leaves the community and processing jobs go overseas. The other aspect that needs to be fully tested – beyond simply the effect of catch shares on fish stocks – is the effect on the marine ecosystem as a whole. In many ways, catch shares or ITQs are ways of downloading the management responsibility of a public resource to the private sector, and it takes the onus off government to fully implement precautionary and ecosystem based management. If catch shares result in conservation, why are conservation organizations buying up fisheries quota? How would 100% catch share systems undermine the effectiveness of policy advocacy? There are many questions that remain unanswered, including those regarding access to food from fisheries resources and basic human rights to a public resource.

  2. October 13, 2011 10:39 am

    Really good points. On employment, there’s a big difference between what ITQ proponents have offered and what we’ve seen. In theory, ITQs could be implemented in myriad ways to affect different employment outcomes and maintain those small businesses. How might we get small businesses to stay in the game? What are the economics that lead them to sell? Perhaps it’s simply that they aren’t valuing the ITQs properly? Or maybe the size of the ITQ shares are mismatched (too big or small) for small businesses to find that Goldilocks scenario?

    On the sustainability, I too am waiting for good evidence of improved biological targeting. As I understand it, the ITQs say nothing about the TAC set by regulators. They still may be set it too high. The difference is the fishermen’s incentives are supposed to change, so they stop lobbying for over-fishing, and start lobbying for sustainable targets. My hunch is this will eventually occur in ITQ fisheries…just not right away as the dominant philosophy of economic fundamentalism might suggest. Government bureaucracies can be adverse to change, and fishermen may have to work through some ideology and cognitive dissonance (e.g. ‘well, last year we advocated for much more fish…and now we advocate for less…were we wrong?’). Plus, overcapacity can certainly return; if the subsidies are still there, technical efficiency could shoot way up. Bubbles can happen in any economic sector when we tinker with the inputs.

    What will the role be for public advocacy? I think still much the same. Incentives might change for fishermen, but there will forever be these limits to human cognition. Plus, we will always need people advocating for our natural wealth, rather than our economic.

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