NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 10, 2006

Fisheries throughout the oceans of the world are at risk due to over-fishing and the absence of any incentives for fishermen to conserve, rather than exploit, these common resources, says G. Tracy Mehan, an environmental consultant.

Government policies that "cap" the total harvest of fish ignore a hybrid solution to maintain a public or communal ownership, but grant a usufruct interest (a legal right to use and derive profit from property belonging to someone else) subject to reasonable regulation, says Mehan.

  • A recent manifestation of the hybrid approach, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, established an acid rain trading program; under Phase I, emissions from coal-burning electric utility plants were reduced by almost 40 percent below their required levels.
  • The allowance trading system could save as much as $3 billion per year -- over 50 percent -- compared to conventional command-and-control regulation.
  • It also has the largest, quantified human health benefits (not including ecological benefits) amounting to more than $70 billion annually; this is the best of any federal regulatory program in the last 10 years with a benefit/cost ratio of 40:1.

Nevertheless, fishermen have enjoyed higher profits, lower costs, longer fishing seasons and a safer, more stable industry in the eight fisheries where dedicated access privileges (DAPs) have been implemented.

Fortunately the Senate Commerce Committee approved a Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill in 2005 which incorporates the new provisions, and it now goes to the full Senate and then to the House for consideration, says Mehan.

Source: G. Tracy Mehan, III, "Go Fish," American Spectator, May 2006.


Browse more articles on Government Issues