Reversing the Decline in Fish Stocks

The stock of fish is declining worldwide at a rapid and accelerating pace.  In Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse? the authors survey fish stocks and find that individual transferable quotas (ITQs) do appear to work in stabilizing and even increasing stocks:

Although bioeconomic theory suggests that assigning secure
rights to fishermen may align incentives and lead to significantly
enhanced biological and economic performance, evidence to date has been
only case- or region-specific. By examining 11,135 global fisheries, we
found a strong link: By 2003, the fraction of ITQ-managed fisheries
that were collapsed was about half that of non-ITQ fisheries. This
result probably underestimates ITQ benefits, because most ITQ fisheries
are young.

The results of this analysis suggest that well designed catch shares
may prevent fishery collapse across diverse taxa and ecosystems.

One of the authors of the paper, Christopher Costello, is featured in the video below from Reason TV which covers the world wide decline in fish stocks, "capital stuffing," and the use of ITQs to solve the tragedy of the commons (FYI, all these concepts are discussed in Modern Principles).

The video mentions but does not investigate further the problem of fish and whales that travel long distances, making property rights more difficult to enforce–a good subject for classroom discussion. See also this 60 Minutes video on tuna.

Addendum: Catch-shares have recently (2009) been introduced in Cape Cod.  Here's a good primer on the costs, benefits and difficulties of implementation.  One interesting observation:

Doing away with season restrictions reduces 'derby' conditions, in which fishermen race out, even in dangerous weather, to catch as much as possible. It also eliminates seasonal market gluts, potentially increasing the prices fishermen can command for their catch.


Depletion of fisheries is frightening. Much worse than a little bit of oil getting into the ocean.


Depends on how you allocate and how you define "problem". Auctioning the rights is the proper way to do it, but if one insists on other qualifications than highest bidder, then you got a problem.

Yancey would give the money to the United Nations for alleviating world hunger.


Whatever the governments of the world agree to is ok with me. I would only be interested that the rights be apportioned to those who truly value them the highest.

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever. Allow a man property rights to fish and he’ll feed the world.


These aren't problems of a different kind that have never been dealt with- and no, it doesn't have to be world government, but it will likely entail cooperation amongst governments. I took your first comment to be addressed to how to allocate the property rights themselves, not to how to enforce them. Of course, the auction bids will be discounted to how well those rights are actually protected.

Yancey, I was just kidding on the world government issue, but it does illustrate that even markets need supervening authority to make them work optimally.

There is one other thing regarding cooperation that is interesting. The Fishermens Cooperative Marketing Act grants an antitrust exemption for fisherman to collectively market their fish, and has been used as a private allocation mechanism. What is interesting is that there is no exemption for monopoly, so that if there were another entrant, they could not exclude that entrant, and thus you might see government allocating rights and permits.

The problems arise in the international waters. And, fish do not need visas and travel permits to ply the high seas, so that if an international area is unregulated, it first gets overfished before ye old fishy enters toward coastal waters.

But, what was interesting with this discussion is how it evolved into a role for government notwithstanding.

There has to be a libertarian fish out there somewhere that has a non-governmental solution.

Better solution: Privatize the ocean.


I like your solution:

Every man is an ocean.


Don't keep making the mistake of confusing anarchism with libertarianism. They overlap in some respects and in some groups- not all anarchists are libertarians, and it is certainly true that most libertarians are not anarchists. Most libertarians are actually down with enforcement of property rights and the protection of other negative rights.

The fishermen in New England are protesting the catch shares system, arguing it is too complicates, has too much overhead, and is putting half the fishing boats out of business.

Of course, this is after the quotas system was replaced at the advice of the economists with catch shares because it is superior; the quota system put about 80% of the boats out of business, with the Federal government buying a lot of them.

But the quota system was put in place as fisheries collapsed and 80% of the boats went out of business, and the ecologists got moratoriums and quotas passed, with the regulators always setting the quotas too high to restore the fisheries to say 1900 levels.

One isn't obvious to people shopping for fish in the markets is how badly over fished nearly every fishing ground is, but none more than the New England waters.

In 1800, whaling was done using long boats from shore. Lobster was trash catch that was so much in excess it was fed to the poor, and used for fertilizer. The prime fish sold in the seafood shops today were all throw back or used for chump a century ago.

If it were possible for a Ted Turner to buy the Georges Bank, he would eliminate fishing other than sport fishing for fees plus selective catches for his restaurant chain and the Turner brand frozen fish sold in Whole Foods. Turner has really pissed off everyone with his Turner Ranch operations - the cattlemen because he's returning the land to the bison, and the environmentalists for his deals in taking ownership of wildlife.

And I wonder how many "libertarians" would approve of what Turner is doing; after all he's managing his land more like the Kings of England and Europe managed theirs. Turner isn't going to adopt all the technology of the modern industrial farm like genetically engineered crops and animals, feed lots, etc.

>Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever.

No, no, no. It is:
Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll never work again.

>Depletion of fisheries is frightening. Much worse than a little bit of oil getting into the ocean.

With the increasing CO2 levels, the acidity in the oceans is rising. Rising acidity means that the "shells" on plankton and krill don't harden fully - this makes things easier for predators to hunt and consume them, and harder for the bottom of the food chain to survive. Straight line projections claim that sometime between 2030 and 2040, the oceans will be too acidic for krill's shells to harden at all.

Some straight line projections of fishing catches seem to indicate that the oceans will be empty of edible fish sometime near 2050.

Yeah...we don't own fish. We no longer need to eat them to survive. We eat them for taste and for cultural reasons (fish n chips, sushi etc). We kill all the apex predators such as sharks and large fish like tuna, which upsets the balance of the smaller fish.

Nobody seems to have learned anything from historical overfishing and we continue to send out massive fishing trawlers with nets that could fit six jumbo jets inside. Much of which is caught and left to die is thrown over the side, wasted, never getting a chance to reproduce.

We don't have rights to kill fish. We think we have rights to kill fish, there is an important diffrerence which is often ignored.

If the world took up a predominantly organic vegetarian diet, (which WOULD satisfy ALL nutrition requirements, as well as creating more farmers, increasing useful skills etc, improving environmental conditions, and feeding EVERYONE.) we would reduce our demand for fish, which would decrease our amount of fishing, which would increase fish stocks.

Remember, this is all about taking wild fish from their natural environment, and turning them into money. It is not about survival.

Great site. This could probably have the refactoring tag added t it.

Ok guys, I stumbled upon this article because I'm doing a paper for school about the decline in fish stock - something I have never thought or heard of before. Anyway, wanted to say thank you to many of you who posted, I probably learned more from you then the article itself in regards to how to correct the problem. @ Fred, great post and great sustainment plan. I do like fish, but I would rather go without then to have the oceans fish stock depleted.

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