22 Mar 2013

We do fishin right!

SS sent this article on fishing, sustainability and markets. I found it to be very weak on analysis and rather hopeful on bashing markets and bad economic reasoning, so I left this comment:
This article is indeed trying to create a "big bad capitalism" image with repetition of "winners and losers." Everyone loses when a fishery collapses.
  1. It's true that catch limits are sufficient to establish environmental sustainability, but catch shares are a useful way to reduce "effort" (e.g., boats, men) such that the fishery is economically sustainable.
  2. Small guys like Collins probably got excluded b/c shares were grandfathered to the largest fisherman, and he was "too small" to administer. (It's obvious that they could have given him 1 share worth 50*200lbs=10 tons along with everyone else, if only as a means of preventing these claims, but what about the 100lb/week guy? And so on...)
  3. The WHOLE POINT of catch shares (as well as catch limits) is to reduce the number of boats and fishermen. Lost jobs = success in an industry that's over capacity.
  4. The attempt to link funding to results, even while admitting that lots of "govt funded" studies support catch shares, is a fishing expedition that makes the author look biased. Pity.
  5. Thanks for writing this. I will blog it as an example of journalism that pushes an agenda over policy analysis and misses the big picture of a economically and environmentally sustainable outcome.
My much more careful and knowledgeable colleague, Josh, gave this opinion:
This nicely shows the complexity of causation around catch shares and their ecological effects (I personally don't believe it is catch shares that are primarily responsible for rebounding of fisheries, notwithstanding Costello's paper -- it's mostly just better monitoring of quotas which might be a bit easier under catch shares and the ensuing consolidation). It also shows how a really nice solution to improve economic efficiency in fisheries is in danger of being scuttled due to inattention in program design to distributional aspects in the transition from the overcapitalized, inefficient system to a more efficient one. There are very real losers created by catch shares who have had their previous de facto property rights devalued in the initial allocation. We have to think of ways to make the Kaldor-Hicks compensation more than hypothetical or we are going to end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. There is no reason why catch shares MUST create these dramatic distributional consequences.
Bottom Line: Sustainable fishing is not just a question of imposing markets, but markets ARE compatible with sustainability, economic efficiency AND equity. Just ask an economist how to do it right.