Overfishing and the Impending Collapse of Fisheries

Lynne Kiesling

Why is it so difficult, in terms of politics and transaction costs, to define and enforce property rights in fish? If we fail to do so, some important fish species are likely to go extinct due to overfishing, such as the bluefin tuna. Migratory fish like the bluefin pose the biggest policy challenges, and it’s difficult to implement a property rights policy like catch shares — the combination of the fish migration and the international, deep water fishing makes negotiation and policymaking difficult (plus in the case of tuna there’s regulatory capture — the NGO in the tuna fishing industry, ICCAT, routinely caves to Japan’s arguments not to reduce fishing limits).

The other day Alex Tabarrok wrote about fishery declines, highlighting the important and exciting research on catch shares of marine environmental economist Chris Costello. Alex’s post is full of useful and informative links, including a new Reason TV video on catch shares.

I always cover fisheries when I teach environmental economics, both because the economics are fascinating and difficult and because the more educated and aware we are of our policy failures, perhaps the more likely we are to actually implement better policy as we come to the brink of species extinction. I am not usually a “doom and gloom” girl, but this is one area where doom and gloom are warranted, unfortunately.

One thought on “Overfishing and the Impending Collapse of Fisheries

  1. It seems that, rather than ITQ’s, outright ownership of fish might be a workable solution. I’m not sure how the fish could be tagged or tracked or kept in a certain area, but if certain fishermen “owned” certain fish and their offspring, much like farmers do with cows and sheep, they’d be certain not to let them die out.

    It seems like private ownership is the only reason why cows and chickens haven’t gone extinct, despite our (and other animals’) voracious appetite for them. It might be worthwhile to use some form of ownership for other animals in danger of extinction.

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