Tag Archives: Market Watch

Fishing for Property Rights

As oil continues to spill into the Gulf or Mexico, the states around the slick face many tragic consequences including damage to ocean life, the threat of oil washing onto land, and lost tourism.

One of the greatest economic effects will come from damage to the area’s seafood industry. Market Watch reports:

“Looking back at the Exxon Valdez spill, there were significant fishery declines,” said Jackie Savitz, a senior scientist at Oceana, an environmental advocacy group. “There is no question that fishery populations are going to be set back.”

She noted that fish larvae are especially susceptible to oil and that the Gulf is a breeding ground for some of the country’s most commercially valuable species, including bluefin tuna, grouper and snapper.

While an unprecedented supply shock like the BP spill would hurt any industry, Gulf Coast fisheries were in an unenviable position before disaster struck.

The lack of property rights in these fisheries left the area highly susceptible to a Tragedy of the Commons. Without being able to profit from the long-term health of a fishery, fishermen have incentives to overfish in the present.  Gulf Coast fishing is currently regulated primarily by Individual Fishing Quotas, a blunt tool which relies on government command and control rather than market incentives to preserve fisheries.

While oceans often suffer from the Tragedy of the Commons, Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize for her work on common pool resources reminds us that there are solutions.

In Fencing the Fishery, Donald R. Leal explains the importance of allowing commercial fishermen to have a stock in a population’s long-term health, aligning profit incentives with the preservation of fisheries.  Gulf Coast regulators should allow for such market-based solutions to help the region’s economy recover.