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Green Blog: Sustainability of Fisheries

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 28, 2013    •    692 Views

By Amy Tourgee, guest blogger, Kent Place School alumna and Environmental Studies undergraduate at Princeton University

One thing I’m really going to miss about summer is eating lots of seafood. I can’t say I ever really eat the fish at Princeton’s cafeteria, so when I leave school for the summer, I make seafood four or five times a week. Also, my family is originally from Boston with a lake house in Maine, so we’re big fans of fish, scallops, and especially lobstah (in the Boston accent, of course).

However, while I love eating seafood, there’s a part of me that feels a bit guilty about how much I eat. It’s no secret that the status of global fisheries is in a senescent phase – meaning that the world’s fish resources and yield are declining. It’s a classic tragedy of the commons dilemma. The eternal question of environmental economics rises again: how do we allocate scarce natural resources?

But there is hope – this Bloomberg article explains how the program of “catch share” can be a viable solution to our fishing woes. Catch share is a fishery management practice in which fishermen are given secure shares of quota or fishing area. As the article explains, this system links a fisherman’s individual interests to the health of the fishery.

The catch share program makes more sense when you think about it in contrast to a second best instrument. For example, a command and control program might regulate when a fisherman can catch or even how to catch (say, with a mesh of a minimum size). We could call this a cap on effort, while a catch share program would be a cap on catch. The biggest problem with a cap on effort is that it is not cost effective – all fisheries do not operate the same way, and by putting a uniform regulation on all of them, different fisheries will have different costs to comply with the regulations.  Not very fair.

A cap on catch doesn’t have this problem – every different fishery can determine what effort level and corresponding harvest will maximize their own profit. Then, they can buy or sell their quotas to achieve that maximum net benefit. So there’s a degree of flexibility for the fisheries.

In the end, what these programs are trying to do is create a sustainable yield. Instead of driving fish populations to extinction, we only want to harvest so much fish so that the populations can recover, and we can come back year after year and get the same yield.

I might have to cut back on my salmon burgers, but at least I’ll still have the option of eating salmon!

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