25 May 2011

Well-meaning destruction

This article (via NT) speaks of a very positive development -- the move by the EU to limit overfishing using individual tradable quotas (ITQs) for fish (cap and trade based on sustainable yield).

The article quotes some skeptics of ITQs saying silly things.

Boris Worm, a noted fisheries scientist, said:
ITQs gives planning security to the industry, but it comes at a social cost - you end up with fewer operators, probably lower employment in the fishing sector, and probably concentration of shares in the hands of people who are good at acquiring them.
Yes, that's the point! Fewer boats with fewer and better fisherman catching fewer fish for more money in a sustainable fishery.

Markus Knigge of the Pew Environment Group went further:
Fish stocks are a public resource, we all own them; and access to this resource should be given to those who demonstrate they fish in the most environmental and socially beneficial ways, and it should not be for any great length of time...This is the virtual privatisation of the oceans.
"We all own them" is why we are all destroying them (cf., Soviet Union). Why "give" permits to the Kumbaya Crowd, for a limited time? They may not be efficient (higher carbon footprint per fish; more injuries; worse quality), and "a limited time" gives them the incentive to overharvest in their last year of owning "our" fish.

Bottom Line: Open access fisheries fail because of overharvesting; they can be protected and harvested in a sustainable way by the assignment of property rights (that get more valuable, the longer the fish are around) -- not by high-minded, but poorly reasoned, rhetoric.