The Debate Over Catch Shares: Food & Water Watch vs. PERC
Jonathan Adler, in a 2011 Volokh Conspiracy post, notes that catch shares made Alaskan king crab fishing a lot less dangerous. Alder links to a Nov. 14, 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed by Alaskan crab fisherman Scott Campbell Jr.
Campbell writes in the WSJ:
Catching crab in the Bering Sea can be treacherous. But most people don’t realize that it’s become a lot less deadly since 2005, when fishing regulations for Bering Sea crab changed dramatically….
Since August 2005, we fish under a much better system called “catch shares,” which are also in place in some other fisheries. Now regulators divide up how much crab the fleet can catch among individual fishermen, as opposed to collectively, so we can fish at our own pace during significantly longer seasons.
Commercial fishing is dangerous enough with storms and high seas. Why add man-made all-against-all fishing regulations to the dangers nature provides? But as debaters know, there are usually two or more sides to public policy reforms, and catch shares seem to be no exception.
Food and Water Watch, for example, is against catch shares and other market and privatization reforms. F&WW was founded in 2005 by: “12 members of the Energy and Environment Program at the non-profit organization Public Citizen.” (Source.) Public Citizen‘s 2012 budget was $12 million, and they describe themselves as a progressive citizen’s advocacy organization providing a counterweight in Washington DC to the lobbying of big corporations.
F&WW received contributions of $11.5 million in 2011, but it’s fish program service direct expenses were $1.3 million compared to $3.7 million for “food” and $2.6 million for “water” programs. F&WW’s Annual Report for 2011 is here. In the “Fish Program” report that begins on page 11 you can read about their effort to stop “Factory Fish Farms” that begins by condemning corporate farming.
Apparently multinational corporations are to blame though it is not clear why national corporations would operate farms differently. And what if national corporations were run by people born in other countries?
But back to the question of F&WW’s claim that multinational corporations “have forever changed the way food is grown to the detriment of public health, the environment, local communities, and food quality itself.” If Wham-O were to enter the agricultural industry with, say, plastic toy farm equipment, does having a “multinational” CEO make the whole corporation multinational, even after manufacturing is moved back to America? And would Wham-O be multinational because it ships American-made plastic toys to other countries? (The Economist writes on manufacturing moving back to America here.)
All this could matter if multinational corporations had wrecked U.S. agriculture and were plotting to bring similar multinational corporate havoc to U.S. fisheries. F&WW apparently believes that Blue Water Farms “factory fish farming” in offshore Hawaiian waters will again be a “detriment of public health, the environment, local communities, and food quality itself.” (I am guessing that one or more major F&WW donors have vacation homes on the Hawaiian island of Kona.)
(Critical discussion of various rhetorical and factual weaknesses in Food and Water Watch reports here.)
Part of the F&WW $1.3 million fish program budget was spent on Fish, Inc., a report critical of “The Privatization of U.S. Fisheries Through Catch Share Programs.” You can find an overview and download the full report here.
Corporations are apparently at it again, handing American fisheries over to those “whose primary goal is often immediate profit rather than sustainable use and long-term conservation.” This claim seems the opposite of what catch shares aim to do, since they create incentives for catch share owners to expand fisheries, and therefore their shares. But students can read the F&WW
arguments against catch shares for themselves and evaluate the arguments and evidence.
Expanding (or contracting) catch shares for fisheries is a topic worth researching and debating. The claim that “big corporations” pushed out family farming in America sets the background for claiming catch shares enable multinational corporate fishing to take over from traditional American “family fishing.” There is an army of environmental reporters deeply skeptical of markets and property rights, and there are plenty of fishermen struggling with stories to tell. Here is March 2013 story from San Francisco: “Catch shares leave fishermen reeling.”
This undated post on the PERC blog, “Catch Shares Around the World,” links to a cool 2010 EDF map of “275 catch share programs in effect worldwide, affecting 850 different species.”
Maybe all 275 are hurting the environment and family fishing, but that seems unlikely. Another possibility is that the transition to catch shares can be and has been mismanaged. That is a possibility.
Maybe catch share programs that favor commercial fishing limit options for sports fishing. Here is a post on the political battle on North Carolina between salt-water sport fishermen and the politically-connected off-shore commercial fishing interests. Sport fishermen tend to lack political clout because they are unorganized and benefit just marginally from reforms, while the fewer and concentrated commercial fishing firms can have millions invested in status quo fishing regulations.
Here is the PERC video on the benefits of catch shares “Saving Ocean Fisheries with Property Rights” which tells the story of transitioning to IFQ (Individual Fishing Quotas) for fisheries.
Students have an opportunity to research and debate the many sides of the catch shares. Which organizations and scholars offer the most reasonable analysis of the catch shares debate, Food & Water Watch (and other “progressive” environmental organizations), or the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC)? By the way, the total PERC program budget for 2011 was about $1.7 million (source).