22 Jul 2010

Lobster thieves

We stayed in Little Corn Island (LCI) off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua for a few days. Our guest house was run by a retired fisherman, Carlito, who told us about some recent arrests.

LCI is known for its lobsters (see lobster traps at right), and many of its people -- and people on the neighboring islands -- make their living during the 8 month season, selling lobster tail for $8 per pound to two big companies that ship tails to customers in the US.

The season is necessary to keep the lobster population healthy, to give eggs time to hatch and mature. It starts on July 1.

We were there at the end of June, and the arrested fishermen were Nicaraguans from Puerto Cabezas, about 120km to the north. These guys had depleted their fisheries. When the government tried to shorten their season, they protested and got it re-opened. Then they wiped out the fishery. (Sound family, salmon guys?).

They were fishing without permission off LCI, before the start of the season.

The LCI fishermen asked the government to intervene. Nothing was done. They asked the mayor and port master to do something, they shrugged their shoulders.

So several boats of LCI fishermen boarded PC boats and arrested the PC fishermen. They found lobsters that were undersized and carrying eggs.

When they brought the PC fishermen back on shore, the government came to pick them up.

It's hard enough managing an open access fishery, but it's even worse when force trumps rule of law.

I suggested to Carlito that LCI fishermen organize into a co-op -- to protect their fishery from outsiders -- and issue catch permits (ITQs) to allow locals to fish when they want while keeping the local lobster population healthy.

Bottom Line: It's not hard to make rules. It's hard to make sure they are enforced.


  1. Your suggestions, though nice, do not address the bottom-line problem. Also, ITQ's don't always solve every fisheries problem.

    It sounds like they fixed their problem on their own.

  2. @Josh -- what's the bottom line problem? Yes, they "solved" property rights, but what's to prevent them from overexploiting THEIR OWN resource. I agree that ITQ's are not the only way, but they are quite efficient.

  3. It sounds like they are worried about overexploitation of their resource, and so whatever they choose (phased MPA's, ITQ's, general limits, etc.) may work out just fine. If, however, they don't have a mind to really save their resource, then ITQ's ain't gonna help, because it'll be about implementation, and not about the concept.

  4. Oh! The bottom-line problem, as I saw it, was the impact on the resource, not the rights issue.

  5. @Agreed. Will is a pre-requisite.


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