Beyond Individual Transferable Quotas by Michael De Alessi
Excerpt below… highly recommended for overview of economics of marine natural resources. I invited the author to give a talk at an Economic Thinking or Independent Institute debate workshop, however he is now senior researcher at Bogor Agricultural University in Bali. ) — Greg Rehmke
Technologies for Sequestering and Monitoring Ocean Property
The troubles that fisheries face underscore the foresight of Garret Hardin in 1968 when he first described the “tragedy of the commons”: In a system of open access to valuable resources, “ruin is the destination toward which all men rush” (Hardin 1968: 1244). There is little doubt that the tragedy of the commons is responsible for the decline in many salmon runs as well as for the decline of many other fisheries around the world.
In an open-access commons, the only way to own or benefit from fish is to extract them from the sea. This does not cause problems when fish are plentiful and catches are small but, as pressure on a fishery grows, so does the potential for depletion. Since no one fisher has rights to any of the fish in the water, what is left behind may be caught by someone else. There is no reason to exercise restraint, so fishers try to harvest as much as they can. Depleting resources and destroying livelihoods may make no sense in the aggregate, but when fishers cannot monitor each other, it is rational for them to catch fish at an unsustainable rate, and ruin is inevitable.
Fisheries depletion is often hastened by technologies that allow fishermen to increase their catches. On land, technological innovations usually result in increased productivity but, for the oceans, the opposite is true as these technologies are adapted for exploitation, not conservation. If marine resources could be privately owned, however, advanced technologies would only facilitate private stewardship.
In this chapter, I shall address property rights and private stewardship in four sections. First, I shall examine the nature of property rights and how they are allocated by the institutional arrangements of government control, common property, and private property. In the second section, I shall examine how ownership is related to resource conservation and technological innovation. The experiences of the frontier American West, where technological innovations helped to create and define private property, illustrate how private property rights in the oceans might develop. In the last two sections, I shall describe some of these specific technologies.
Until recently government control of marine resources ignored the problems of open access and instead relied on limiting catches through restrictions on gear, effort, and seasons. This resulted in overcapitalization, inefficient harvesting techniques, dangerous races to harvest fish, and little or no progress in stemming the depletion of fisheries. When Frederick Bell studied the northern lobster fisheries in the United States, he estimated that “over 50 percent of the capital and labour employed in lobstering represent an uneconomic use of factors” (1972: 156). The Alaskan halibut fishery is another example of regulatory failure: at one point the annual halibut season was only two days long. Fishers and fishing technologies invariably stay one step ahead of the limitations imposed on them, and regulating technologies or fishing seasons does nothing to discourage fishers from harvesting as many fish as they can. …