I attended the annual conference of economists in San Francisco a week or so ago. (They had TWO papers on water -- out of over five hundred! Missing the point here folks...)
One of the best papers [PDF] I heard described an interesting "institutional" scenario. It was the story of how fishermen in Alaska, when allowed to join a voluntary cooperative, were able to lower their effort (as a group) and raise their profits (as individuals). The main reason? About 60% of the boats were left on shore.
For those of you who don't know, the curse of fishing (the "tragedy of the commons") is that there are too many boats chasing too few fish. The result is few fish, small catches and smaller profits.
The sad side of the story is that this fishing cooperative was disbanded by the Alaska Supreme Court when non-members complained that it was against the Alaska constitution for people to benefit from "fishing activity" without going to sea, i.e., that it was illegal to cooperate to reduce fleet size.
I have no idea what these guys were thinking, since more boats are worse for everyone. Perhaps they wanted to see MANY others fail instead of the same others succeed by fixing the messed-up incentives.
In any case, there are no winners from the resumption of the free-for-all.
On a related note, check out the articles in the Economist's "Special Report on the Sea." It's so good that it could serve as a text for a class on the environment and natural resources (the sea and the fish). The sad news is that we are in DEEP DEEP trouble with the seas (overfishing, acidification, pollution, etc.)
Bottom Line: Enjoy the seas (and their declining abundance) while you can. It doesn't seem like politicians are interested in saving for tomorrow the things that we are exploiting and destroying today. :(