Reversing the Decline in Fish Stocks

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Originally posted on June 6, 2010.


The stock of fish is declining worldwide at a rapid and accelerating pace.  In Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse? the authors survey fish stocks and find that individual transferable quotas (ITQs) do appear to work in stabilizing and even increasing stocks:

Although bioeconomic theory suggests that assigning secure rights to fishermen may align incentives and lead to significantly enhanced biological and economic performance, evidence to date has been only case- or region-specific. By examining 11,135 global fisheries, we found a strong link: By 2003, the fraction of ITQ-managed fisheries that were collapsed was about half that of non-ITQ fisheries. This result probably underestimates ITQ benefits, because most ITQ fisheries are young.

The results of this analysis suggest that well designed catch shares may prevent fishery collapse across diverse taxa and ecosystems.


One of the authors of the paper, Christopher Costello, is featured in the video below from Reason TV which covers the world wide decline in fish stocks, “capital stuffing,” and the use of ITQs to solve the tragedy of the commons (FYI, all these concepts are discussed in Modern Principles).


The video mentions but does not investigate further the problem of fish and whales that travel long distances making property rights more difficult to enforce–a good subject for classroom discussion.

Catch-shares have recently (2009) been introduced in Cape Cod.  Here’s a good primer on the costs, benefits and difficulties of implementation.  One interesting observation:

Doing away with season restrictions reduces ‘derby’ conditions, in which fishermen race out, even in dangerous weather, to catch as much as possible. It also eliminates seasonal market gluts, potentially increasing the prices fishermen can command for their catch.


See also this 60 Minutes video on tuna.



About the Author
Alex Tabarrok is Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and director of research for The Independent Institute. Tabarrok is co-author with Tyler Cowen of the popular economics blog, Marginal Revolution. His recent research looks at bounty hunters, judicial incentives and elections, crime control, patent reform, methods to increase the supply of human organs for transplant, and the regulation of pharmaceuticals. He is the editor of the books, Entrepreneurial Economics: Bright Ideas from the Dismal Science; The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society; and Changing the Guard: Private Prisons and The Control of Crime. His papers have appeared in the Journal of Law and Economics, Public Choice, Economic Inquiry, Journal of Health Economics, Journal of Theoretical Politics, The American Law and Economics Review, Kyklos and many other journals. His popular articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other magazines and newspapers.