More Definitive Evidence That Property Rights Improve Fishing Yields and Sustainability

Lynne Kiesling

I’ve been enjoying this new research from environmental economist Chris Costello and his two co-authors, Steven Gaines and John Lynham: “Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?”:

Recent reports suggest that most of the world’s commercial fisheries could collapse within decades. Although poor fisheries governance is often implicated, evaluation of solutions remains rare. Bioeconomic theory and case studies suggest that rights-based catch shares can provide individual incentives for sustainable harvest that is less prone to collapse. To test whether catch-share fishery reforms achieve these hypothetical benefits, we have compiled a global database of fisheries institutions and catch statistics in 11,135 fisheries from 1950 to 2003. Implementation of catch shares halts, and even reverses, the global trend toward widespread collapse. Institutional change has the potential for greatly altering the future of global fisheries.

This is a wonderful result for a whole host of reasons — good for fish, good for fishers, good for fish consumers, good for the interactions in the fish ecosystem, good for fishery policy, good for economists who argue that institutions matter and that effective institutions for common-pool resource governance can lead to superior outcomes.

At Aguanomics, David Zetland provided more thoughtful and insightful analysis and commentary than I’ve been able to pull together this week, as well as links to the Economist article and the New York Times article on the research.

See also Ben Muse’s post with useful links and a valuable reminder that the primary sustainability driver that comes from better-defined property rights is that it makes the fishers more interested in long-term outcomes.