Preemptive Overfishing

The Endangered Species Act endangered some species and announcing that a fishing area will be protected in the future increases fishing now.

PNAS: Most large-scale conservation policies are anticipated or announced in advance. This risks the possibility of preemptive resource extraction before the conservation intervention goes into force. We use a high-resolution dataset of satellite-based fishing activity to show that anticipation of an impending no-take marine reserve undermines the policy by triggering an unintended race-to-fish. We study one of the world’s largest marine reserves, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), and find that fishers more than doubled their fishing effort once this area was earmarked for eventual protected status. The additional fishing effort resulted in an impoverished starting point for PIPA equivalent to 1.5 y of banned fishing. Extrapolating this behavior globally, we estimate that if other marine reserve announcements were to trigger similar preemptive fishing, this could temporarily increase the share of overextracted fisheries from 65% to 72%. Our findings have implications for general conservation efforts as well as the methods that scientists use to monitor and evaluate policy efficacy.

One puzzle is why there should be an increase in over-fishing? Shouldn’t a commons already be overfished to the point of zero return? One possibility is that previous steps to limit overfishing were working.

The possibility of preemptive overfishing suggests the utility of surprise protections, but that’s not always possible and the authors don’t suggest that preemptive overfishing makes protection unwise only that it has a short term cost.

Hat tip: Paul Kedrosky.


Why is there in increase in fishing?

Think of it as labor supply and taxes. The regulation decreases npv of future earnings of fishermen, increasing marginal utility of income, so fishermen work longer hours now.

You are correct but that is not his question. He is asking why pre-policy fishing did not result in zero marginal returns. That is, there is some slack. He offers the conjecture that some previous policy (licenses, enforcement, persuasion) worked to reduce fishing to a level that is somewhat more sustainable. And this new policy thwarted the effectiveness of those.

"One puzzle is why there should be an increase in over-fishing? Shouldn’t a commons already be overfished to the point of zero return?"

Maybe the locals already had an arrangement to prevent overfishing? Your excellent Elinor Ostrom MRU videa suggests a few clues as to how that would happen.

I think you’re right. Also, what makes a locally regulated fishery doesn’t necessarily make a good preserve for the overall ecosystem, in particular if there are endangered species.

Possibly it's the Coase theorem at work. The fisherman had negotiated an agreement to reduce overfishing. The regulation upends that agreement.

Or appeal to an indefinitely repeated game argument. An equilibrium outcome is for all to reduce their fishing. Enforced with a trigger of reverting to non-cooperative equilibrium if anyone cheats. The regulation introduces the end-period problem.

"don't suggest ... makes protection unwise"

Gosh, I would hope not, since that would be imbecility on the level of, oh, say, Dick Cheney or Susan Combs-types railing against wilderness and the ESA while spending every spare moment of their rich-guy lifestyles flyfishing.

Maybe the likes of Dick Cheney, living in a rural area and an outdoorsman, knows a bit more about conservationism than those in DC. I bet he wouldn't have had the tight logging in CA that led to the awful forest fires.

There have been catastrophic forest fires in the West much longer than there have been Anglos managing those forests (or tucking their houses in them).

OTOH I'm sure Cheney would eagerly support something like the Rosemont Mine; and that's 5000 NF acres that will never burn - so you've got a point there.

Yikes, you're having to go back a long way to find a designated villain... Isn't there anyone in the current generation of R's that we can all hate?

Names are not important, who they are is not important. But oh, Combs is still a threat. She was rather in disgrace in Texas, her career seemingly over, but somehow or another she came to Trump's notice and is at Interior now*; and there's Katharine Armstrong 2.0, her daughter Anne Idsal, whom Trump put at EPA (Katharine Armstrong being Cheney's close pal); there's Idsal's old boss, the truly reprehensible George P. Bush, Land Commissioner of Texas, despite being Floridian (though, perhaps refreshingly, he admitted he would have run for state dogcatcher just to get on the Texas GOP ladder). I only know the names of Texas' gifts to the nation; they tend to be a rather incestuous group, and Cheney's an honorary member. But perhaps I might add Mike Lee (R-UT) to this illustrious group - he who shared with us last week, somewhat mysteriously, that climate scientists are ensuring that Hawaiians will be reduced to using seahorses of unusual size for transportation.

*And, to be fair, I think that was a horse trade by the environmentalists - they mostly let that one go, in return for quashing Trump's pick for White House environmental policy adviser - the demented Kathleen Hartnett White, of course also from Texas, whose chief qualification was her belief that CO2 was harmless because "invisible." I am not sure that was wise, though - Hartnett White was too unhinged to be more than entertainment, whereas Combs is not crazy, just an ideologue.

as if a beach has never been found below a layer of ice. the point is that for a paleontologist, a bone is a bone.

Some disagree on the cause.


.. However, a broader analysis demonstrates that this surge was unrelated to the closure of PIPA and was due to a strong El Niño event that created a fishing surge across multiple EEZs and high seas, not just PIPA (2)...

My vote is for sloppy science. No statistical test, just splines? Much higher variance in the studied area, compared to the control. Contrary to what the authors say, there is a large difference between number of spline points.

Why is it a puzzle? Didn't trade in certain sectors between China and the USA increase just before a deadline for certain tariffs were announced?

Trade doesn't have the zero return feature of textbook commons analysis.

Probably the people frontrunning the new fishing ban have a history of fishing that ground, so they figure this is their last chance to get more fish.

Unless Congress changes the law, this situation will not change. All policy created by agencies require public notice and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act and analogous state laws.

Preemptive buying of guns precedes every major gun control proposal. This is why Obama was dubbed Gun Salesman of the Year for several years. Gun prices plunged, and ironically the abundance of sales put many gun makers in financial distress because high sales undercut future purchases. Obviously this situation differs from fishing which relies on natural replacement. But was the "over" fishing really depleting, or did it just pull fishing forward from the future? It seems I could model this just like cash flows with interest rates equating to population growth rates. That is, does portfolio value over a long horizon fall when capital is depleted earlier even if the growth rate increases in the near future? My guess is that there is a crossover point at some future time T and depends on how much preemptive depletion there is relative to the policy's protected growth later. Obviously, depleting the entire capital stock in advance of a protective rule will produce a smaller long term portfolio. But as Alex asks, then why not do that now?

It's true current sales undercut future sales of an especially durable good like a gun. The other factor that hurts the profitability of gun maker is an election that makes it less like there will be gun control. For example,
Remington: US gunmaker files for bankruptcy amid 'Trump slump'

Seems pretty obvious to me. Present someone with the chance that a good's availability will be reduced in the future, and people will consume and stockpile it now. It's why you got long gas lines after Hurricane Sandy, it's why gun purchases spike after a mass shooting, it's why people overpurchase bread and milk if a major storm is coming. You take as much as you can now, even if it's not reasonable our economically efficient.

Regarding the supposed puzzle of how if they are already overfishing, why should they do so more, the answer is that indeed they may be overfishing, but doing so with an expectation of a certain set of rules holding over time. With those rules changing to limit their future ability to overfish, if they have any intertemporal evaluation, they may indeed may be inclined to do a one-shot last chance overfishing beyond the in-place overfishing they have been doing, given that they may not be able to engage in their standard overfishing in the future.

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