Community-based fishery management and Somali pirates
A question: What do Somali pirates have to do with community-based fishery management?Skip to next paragraph
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Before I answer that, the news:
Last week, the New England Fishery Management Council approved 19 fishermen-run, community-based sectors – a fishing cooperative-based catch share system, explains Julie Wormser of the Environmental Defense Fund – that will take effect in May 2010.
In my last post, I talked about the importance of sustainable fishery management. Basically, catch shares give fishermen a kind of ownership share in the fish stock – a percentage of a year's harvest. If the fish do well, they get more fish. If not, they get fewer. That theoretically is an incentive for stewardship.
What about community-based management? Communities living next to and using a resource will best manage it, the thinking goes. They have the most to lose from bad management, and the most to gain from good management.
There are some holes in this argument, of course. Local interests have, in fact, had a voice at the New England Fishery Management Council for a long time, and it didn't seem to stop overfishing.
What went wrong? Scientists count a number of factors – government subsidies increased the number of fishing boats far beyond what the stock could sustain, a "days at sea" approach led to extensive by-catch, a "race to fish" destroyed habitat, and so on.
Catch shares are supposed to stop some of this, but even catch shares don't always work. To illustrate this point, Seth Macinko at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston,
once illustrated their potential failures with the example of a pod of blue whales points to a famous paper on blue whales by economist Colin Clark:
Say a community of whalers "owns" owns rights, or privileges, to harvest blue whales in a certain area. According to catch-share theory, they should manage the cetaceans for their long-term health. Except that blue whales, the largest animal to have ever existed, can easily live more than 80 years. They reproduce so slowly that, from a purely economic point of view, the fishermen would do better to kill all the blue whales, sell the meat and blubber, and put their earnings in a bank to earn interest. They'd earn more that way than by waiting around to harvest "sustainably" harvest one whale per human lifetime.
That's an extreme example, but you get the point: Ownership doesn't solve all problems. And if you remember Jared Diamond's case studies of societal collapse in "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," neither, necessarily, does community-based management. People sometimes make the wrong management choices about the environment that sustains them, although the right approach seems to be staring them in the face.
But if local management isn't foolproof, mining of resources by nonlocal interests is often disastrous. Historically, foreign fishing fleets have epitomized this truism. They take all they can get and, when the fish grow scarce, move somewhere else to begin the fish mining anew.
In the northeastern United States, in fact, foreign fleets severely overfished stocks beginning in the 1960s before the US's established its 200-mile-wide exclusive economic zone.