Jonathan Adler reports from a PERC workshop on fisheries management and how property rights institutions can reduce pervasive overfishing problems in fishing. Overfishing is a serious environmental and economic problem, and Jon provides excellent links to the body of research showing that property rights institutions, such as tradeable catch shares, can reduce overfishing and improve the long-run sustainability of both the fish populations and fishing profits in the industry.
I can’t stress how important this is. For example, overfishing has brought the Atlantic bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction, and despite the prospects of losing this species and the future stream of profits from fishing it if it were to survive, the industry has failed to self-organize and have continued to overexploit the common-pool resource. How they can place so much weight on current profits and so little weight on the loss of future profits is a mystery to me. But if they can’t self-organize to agree to catch shares they will be subject to regulation, which if done right will be a system of catch shares.
But catch shares aren’t always politically popular, particularly with successful incumbents in the industry. As Adler notes:
Political opposition to rights-based fishery management is a timely concern. Although rights-based management systems have been successfully adopted in several U.S. fisheries, as they have in other parts of the world, they are under threat. Earlier this year, Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) pushed successfully for an appropriations rider prohibiting the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from spending money implementing additional rights-based reforms in U.S. fisheries. Rep. Jones, in particular, is on the warpath against rights-based management – which is a shame as rights-based fishery management is about as market-oriented environmental policy as there is. (Indeed, even the folks at CAP recognize the value of rights-based fishery reforms.)
Opposition to catch shares is environmentally indefensible and economically foolish. Any program than can simultaneously increase the environmental sustainability and economic efficiency of a natural resource should be a no-brainer. It would also be good for the federal budget. A recent study in the Journal of Sustainable Development estimated the widespread adoption of rights-based fishery management could reduce the deficit by as much as $1.2 billion.
Here’s an area where the long-term economic and environmental interests coincide, but are being stymied by backward-looking and short-term economic and political interests.