Monday, February 16, 2009

Sustainable fisheries

Nowhere is the "tragedy of the commons" clearer than in ocean fisheries, which are difficult to regulate and maintain in a sustainable way. A recent article, Fish Shares and Sharing Fish describes the problem well. (From a market design perspective, one difficulty is that fishermen have large strategy sets, so changing the rules of the game often changes behavior in unanticipated ways.)

In national waters, regulations involve law enforcement, and the Washington Post has an illuminating story about a criminal investigation involving the sale of illegally large rockfish (striped bass), which the law requires must be thrown back so that the breeding pool should not be selected to consist of only small fish. Swimming in Intrigue in Backwoods of Md.: Four-Year Undercover Probe Led to Charges of Rockfish Trafficking.
Some quick quotes from that story:
"Cheating is an old vice around the Chesapeake, with watermen sneaking in extra bushels of oysters or undersized perch. "
"The fish -- a key predator and a beloved sport fish, also known as striped bass -- has rebounded from desperate lows in the 1980s, in part because of restrictions on fishing."
"Many of the fish were tagged as having been caught with hooks and lines, but the agents suspected they had actually been caught in a large net and should have been subject to different restrictions.
To prove it, they turned to a fish coroner. "

In October 2007 I hosted a conference at Harvard organized by Ecotrust on Market Design for Limited Access Programs in U.S. Fisheries. One consequence of that is that, together with some students and colleagues, I occasionally get to talk to Paul Parker of the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, about contemporary market design problems in the Cape Cod scallop and ground fish fisheries. His concern is with how regulations on fishing may impact the composition of the fishing fleet; and how the makeup of the fleet (specifically the relationship between big factory ships and the small day boats that are the constituency of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association) will in turn impact the fish.

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