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21.5.03

(Part 1. Hopefully the new version they're upgrading Blogger to shortly will fix this request-too-long problem)

Too Few Fish In The Sea
The new study, while alarming, told environmental analysts little they did not already know. Approximately 70 percent of fish stocks worldwide are either fully or overexploited. The state of fish in U.S. waters is not much better. The National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledges that dozens of federally managed fish stocks are overfished. Worse, it cannot account for the status of two thirds of the fish species under its "protection." Although the number of healthy fish species has increased in recent years, such gains have come at tremendous costs to local fishing communities faced with fishery closings and other stringent conservation measures. Green activists may exaggerate many environmental fears, but, if anything, they have been too quiet on the fate of ocean fisheries.

Conservation of marine fisheries presents the archetypal "commons" problem, most famously detailed by ecologist Garrett Hardin in his 1968 essay "The Tragedy of the Commons." ...

... Under an ITQ [individual transferable quota] system, the government sets the total allowable catch for a given season, and then allocates shares of the catch -- quotas -- to individuals, boats, or firms as a form of transferable right. By allocating portions of the fish catch, ITQ systems eliminate the "race to fish" and encourage less wasteful fishing techniques. In several countries, ITQ programs have met with substantial success in increasing fishing efficiency, reducing over-capitalization, and lessening the ecological impact of fishing operations. What's more, ITQs have encouraged fishers to exercise greater stewardship. "It's the first group of fishers I've ever encountered who turned down the chance to take more fish," noted Philip Major of New Zealand's ministry of agriculture after the implementation of ITQs there. There have also been private initiatives to allocate annual harvests among firms in catch-limited fisheries so as to create quasi-property rights and capture the economic and ecological benefits that result.


Adler picks up on the fact that fisheries are a classic example of the "tragedy of the commons" (actually the tragedy of the open-access resource -- commons are another beast entirely), and finds what seems to be the classic tragedy of the commons (TOC) solution: private property. ITQs sound potentially promising -- though other sources indicate that they have plenty of problems, especially for small fishermen. But Adler's attempt to squish fish and ITQs into the TOC paradigm leaves something to be desired.

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