Protecting fisheries

The Economist has an interesting story about privatising fisheries. Or, as we Americans would write, privatizing them. This is an important issue, since a 2006 study indicated that all of the world’s fisheries could collapse by 2048 if current trends continue. Preventing overfishing is extremely important, but without any regulation fishermen have an incentive to simply grab as much as they can as quickly as they can, leading to the tragedy of the commons.

The article in question describes a system currently in use in 121 of the worlds approximately 10,000 fisheries that allocates how much a company can catch through use of Individual Transferable Quotas, which, as the name implies, can be bought and sold. ITQs can be held long term, so companies have a strong incentive to maintain the fishery in which they have a large stake. Research into those areas where ITQs are used indicates that they can halt, and even reverse, the collapse of fisheries, on which much of humanity depends for food and livelihood. Promisingly, fishermen grasp the usefulness and value of this system to themselves and their own long-term prospects. Market forces and intelligent planning can lead to a situation that’s better for consumers, workers, business, and the environment without heavy-handed government regulation.

The Economist warns against government micromanaging the system, which would eliminate many of the free market benefits, leading to a less efficient system, and which would be prone to undue lobbying influences.

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