Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Saving Global Fisheries With Property Rights

Economists often use over-fishing as an example of the "tragedy of the commons," a situation in which each individual who exploits a common resource benefits individually, but no one has an individual incentive to trim back on exploiting the resource in the name of preserving its long-run health. An alternative is to use tradeable property rights for catching fish, which leads to a situation in which those who are doing the fishing have some incentive both to restrain themselves and to monitor others.

A group of 12 authors shows what is at stake in their essay"Global fishery prospects under contrasting management regimes," which was published on-line in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on February 26, 2016.  The authors are Christopher Costello, Daniel Ovando, Tyler Clavelle, Kent Strauss, Ray Hilborn, Michael C. Melnychuk, Trevor A. Branch, Steven D. Gaines, Cody S. Szuwalski, Reniel B. Cabral, Douglas N. Rader, and Amanda Leland.
"What would extensive fishery reform look like? In addition, what would be the benefits and trade-offs of implementing alternative approaches to fisheries management on a worldwide scale? To find out, we assembled the largest-of-its-kind database and coupled it to state-of-the-art bioeconomic models for more than 4,500 fisheries around the world. We find that, in nearly every country of the world, fishery recovery would simultaneously drive increases in food provision, fishery profits, and fish biomass in the sea. Our results suggest that a suite of approaches providing individual or communal access rights to fishery resources can align incentives across profit, food, and conservation so that few tradeoffs will have to be made across these objectives in selecting effective policy interventions. ...

"Current status is highly heterogeneous—the median fishery is in poor health (overfished,with further overfishing occurring), although 32% of fisheries are in good biological, although not necessarily economic, condition. Our business-as-usual scenario projects further divergence and continued collapse for many of the world’s fisheries. Applying sound management reforms to global fisheries in our dataset could generate annual increases exceeding 16 million metric tons (MMT) in catch, $53 billion in profit, and 619 MMT in biomass relative to business as usual. We also find that, with appropriate reforms, recovery can happen quickly, with the median fishery taking under 10 y to reach recovery targets. Our results show that commonsense reforms to fishery management would dramatically improve overall fish abundance while increasing food security and profits. ...
"We examined three approaches to future fishery management: (1) business-as-usual management (BAU) (for which status quo management is used for projections), (2) fishing to maximize long-term catch (FMSY), and (3) rights-based fishery management (RBFM), where economic value is optimized. The latter approach, in which catches are specifically chosen to maximize the long-term sustainable economic value of the fishery, has been shown to increase product prices (primarily due to increased quality and market timing) and reduce fishing costs (primarily due to a reduced race to fish); these are reflected in the model. In all scenarios, we account for the fact that fish prices will change in response to levels of harvest."
Here's a flavor of their results in an interestingly multidimensional graph. The vertical axis is based on a measure the biomass of the catch divided by the maximum sustainable yield. If this  ratio is 80% or higher, then the fishery is taken to be sustainably managed; if it's less than 80%, then overfishing is occurring. Thus, these estimates show that in a business-as-usual system, the share of fisheries that are being sustainably managed will continue to decline, and to experience financial losses. In contrast, the rights-based fishing management techniques at the top do the most to keep fisheries sustainable, and also have the biggest harvests (shown by the diameter of the circles) and the highest profits (shown by the blue color).