The purging of our ocean water fish stocks is at an all time high. Coastal fisheries on the Gulf of Mexico, New England, Alaska, and the Northwest have all suffered from the absence of private property rights to fish stocks, a deficiency that offers little incentive for conservative fishing. An increase in technology and number of fleets, teamed with an everlasting demand for cod, tuna, marlin and other commercially favored fish puts the percent of over fished stocks at 25 percent, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
The United States policy concerning over fishing has included measures such as shortened seasons, limits per vessel per trip, and minimum size limits; however these precautions have all had adverse consequences. A two day season forces fishermen to buy bigger, faster boats, challenge dangerous weather, and degrade the efficiency by which fish are processed. A minimum size limit for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in the waste of millions of pounds of snapper caused when fishermen toss back fish too small.
Now the Bush administration is hoping new legislation will provide the changes needed to produce a more effective fishing market. The legislation involves assigning transferable catch quotas (or individual transferable quotas as Tietenberg refers to in chapter 13) to fishermen, an approach that will hopefully net a free market that accomplishes what restrictions, shortened seasons, and size limits could not.
The introduction of transferable quotas will limit each fisherman to a percentage of the total allowable catch set each season by fishery managers. A desire for increased or decreased limits can be met by buying or selling quotas from others in the industry.
Other countries already in the business of exchangeable fishing quotas have reported encouraging benefits; higher fishing incomes, reduced fleet excesses, higher product quality, safer fishing, and reduced over fishing are all advantages offered by the free market transfer.
The system surely offers more friendly competition than does a two day season that forces fishermen into dangerous waters. With the use of transferable quotas, fishermen can invest more time into practicing more efficient techniques. Extended seasons, fresher fish, and less waste are all benefits for producer and consumer alike.
The little guy need not worry. Transferable fishing quotas impose limits on how much quota individuals or companies can hold, so big corporations won’t buy out smaller ones. Another perk of the system is that regulators can control the total allowable catch, if a need to raise or lower the total arises.
In order to accept the efficiency of ITQs, there must be an understanding that they correct the market failures associated with inefficient methods of regulation. As noted before, other forms of regulation have resulted in dangerous competition caused by incentives for faster boats, over fishing, and challenging treacherous weather. However, ITQs avoid these downfalls by encouraging each holder to catch their share, meet an efficient amount allocated for their fishery, and transfer quotas within the industry to achieve the optimal level.
We have studied the use of transferable discharge permits as a good policy for regulating pollution. ITQs are a similar method in achieving an optimal allocation of resources, and the legislation supporting them should be backed in order to improve upon the fishing community and the problem of over fishing.