“Equity in the Ecosystem”

September 22, 2008

A new report concludes that assigning individual property rights within the fishing industry staves off ecosystem collapse more frequently than other types of governance.

Management policies that assign catch rights to individuals may better stave off fishery collapse, according a report in Science. Christopher Costello, Steven D. Gaines, and John Lynham assembled a worldwide database of fisheries and catch statistics in 11,135 fisheries, from 1950 to 2003. By 2003, fisheries that have deployed “individual transferable quotas” collapse about half as frequently as fisheries that have no catch rights.

The impetus for the study came from the much-discussed 2006 study by Boris Worm et al, which predicted a collapse of all world fisheries by 2048. Costello, Gaines, and Lynham resolved that the community to date has focused on problems disproportionately to solutions. As a result, they happened upon inefficiencies in current management that might be rethought — in local ecololgical, economic, and social context. “The answer lies in the misalignment of incentives,” they write. “Even when management sets harvest quotas that could maximize profits, the incentives of the individual harvester are tyhpically inconsistent with profit maximazation for the fleet.”

Costello, Christopher, Steven D. Gaines, John Lynham. “Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?” Science 321 (19 September 2008): 1678-1681.

See accompanying article, from which title of this post comes: Stokstad, Erik. “Privatization Prevents Collapse of Fish Stocks, Global Analysis Shows.” Science 321 (19 September 2008): 1619.