Ocean Fisheries Commons

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Ocean Fisheries Commons

Jorge Buzaglo:

"In the general competition for the exhaustible resources of the oceans, countries have built huge fishing fleets, often by subsidisation of new investment. The oceans are being rapidly depleted. The majority of fisheries’ stocks are fully exploited. Fish stocks have col-lapsed in nearly one-third of all ocean fisheries — fisheries collapse is defined as catches dropping below 10% of the recorded maximum (Worm et al. 2006). All commercially valuable world fish stocks could completely collapse by 2048. As in the case of atmosphere, an international agreement and a new institution are needed, in order to regulate the use of ocean fisheries and other resources of the seas. The global commons perspective suggests the creation of tradable fishing rights entitling fishermen to a portion of the sustainable global catch. These rights to fish a certain amount are not permanent or hereditary or based on tradition (as in the case of similar systems in countries as e.g. Iceland), but auctioned off periodically, annually for instance.

As is the case of emission rights, fishing rights should be global — fish move freely. As in the case of emission rights, they should also be equal for all; there are no bases for particular privileges. Citizens of both land-locked countries and countries with large ocean coasts and platforms should have the same rights. Fishing rights should be administered in a fashion similar to the atmosphere, by a specific entity, and the revenues distributed according to equal per capita shares." (http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue51/Buzaglo51.pdf)


Fisheries of Baja California

Wolfgang Hoeschele:

"Fish and other marine organisms that freely move around in the open sea cannot be owned – they only come into private or other ownership once they have been captured. However, there can be collectively imposed property rights regulating who is allowed to fish where and when, and using which methods. An interesting case has been described by Emily Young (2001) in two localities along the Pacific Coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico. In the 1920s and 1930s, these localities (Laguna San Ignacio and Bahia Magdalena) were rather isolated and distant from markets. Small communities of fishers fished for subsistence purposes as well as transporting dried fish to markets by burro (a 12-day trip) or selling them to passing merchant ships. At that time, there was an essentially open access regime (absence of property rights), which was sustainable because demand was limited by the small local population and the difficulty of accessing markets elsewhere.

As transportation infrastructure was extended to these places and the Mexican state became interested in developing the fisheries from the 1930s onwards, the open access regime was replaced by a complex and contradictory set of property rights. Federal laws created three sets of fishers, pescadores libres, cooperativistas, and permisionarios. The “free” fishers were allowed to fish from local fishing grounds for subsistence purposes only (and were thus not allowed to sell their fish), while members of cooperatives were given concessions to fish commercially valuable species (e.g., abalone, lobster, and sea turtle), but were allowed to sell these only to a government-owned monospony company which sold these products abroad. The permit holders were allowed to harvest fish not reserved for the cooperatives, and could sell them on the open market. The government continued to claim the right to enforce regulations, such as fishing seasons, quotas, and restrictions on equipment. This not only created a complex set of overlapping private, communal (cooperative) and state property rights that were technically difficult to enforce, but also left enforcement to a government that had relatively little stake in the preservation of the resource. The result was overfishing and the degradation of the fisheries.

With the advent of neoliberal policies in the 1980s and 1990s, fisheries were liberalized in Baja California Sur. Cooperatives no longer had exclusive fishing rights to certain species, and had to compete with permisionarios for permits to fish the same species. The monopsony buying company was privatized and deprived of its exclusive buying rights. The access to international markets was further facilitated. This led to increased profit potential in the fisheries, more incursions by fishing companies from outside, and more conflict between different groups of fishers. Now there was a mix of private and state property rights that remained equally difficult to enforce, and government still had little stake in the preservation of the resource. The result was accelerated overfishing, the creation of scarcity of fish and the undermining of local livelihoods.

A method to overcome these conflicts of interest that support what Young calls a “tragedy of incursion” would be to assign property rights to the people who have the greatest stake in preserving the local resource, and assigning the property rights to a collective rather than to individuals in order not to favor short-term individual interests over the long-term collective interest in sustainability. This could be done by identifying the fishers who are residents of the local community, and having them create a collective structure that then regulates fishing in the area – catch limits for individual species, fishing seasons, limits on technologies to be used, and so on. Collectively, they would have an interest not only in the long-term survival of the species they fish, but also in avoiding a glut in the market now that would undercut their own profitability. Individually, each member would have an interest in other members abiding by the rules, so there would be mutual enforcement of the rules. While there would have to be government support in enforcement (e.g., preventing the incursion of large trawlers from outside), the overall government enforcement effort could be drastically reduced. Hence, a shared ownership mechanism that ensures that the collective interest in the preservation of the commons prevails over individual or outside interests would also ensure the continued abundance of fish, and of fishers’ livelihoods. Such goals have apparently been achieved in the case of some fisheries through catch-shares, where fishers within a fishing community can acquire the rights to a certain percentage of the total (both now and in the future), and each year’s catch is determined through study of the fish populations (Environmental Defense Fund 2011)." (http://www.icape.org/b5-Hoeschele.pdf)