NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fishing For Solutions

June 20, 2000

Despite claims that it has reached its upper limit, the global fish catch continues to increase. Recent increases in world production have come primarily from aquaculture and newly discovered stocks. In contrast to these mostly private efforts, many of the world's depleted -- and government managed -- fishing grounds are not recovering.

According to a recent study:

  • World fishery production is now more than six times what it was in 1950.
  • In 1996, world fishery production was 115.9 million tons, an increase from 113 million tons in 1995.
  • Direct human consumption of fish has almost tripled over the past 37 years, rising from about 27 million tons in 1960 to 90 million tons by 1996.

Experts say the most important influence on fishery health is its institutional management. If the incentives created by laws and social norms favor unlimited extraction, fishers are able to work around any government imposed restrictions by using larger nets and boats or technologically advanced equipment.

However, if the institutions that manage fisheries provide incentives for conservation and stewardship, it is more likely depleted stocks will be restored. Private ownership successfully encourages conserving behavior by forcing people to bear the costs of using a resource.

In fisheries managed as common public goods incentives to harvest stocks sustainably will remain weak. Government programs that are moving toward more private control of the fisheries, however, are proving to be more successful.

An example of such programs is the development of a system of Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) for fisheries, especially in New Zealand. The closer an ITQ resembles a private right, the greater flexibility the system has to adapt and evolve into a system of real private rights.

Source: Michael De Alessi (Competitive Enterprise Institute), "Fishing for Solutions: the State of the World's Fisheries," Earth Report 2000, Ronald Bailey, editor (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999).


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