Community Ownership and Natural Resource Management: Fisheries

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"Ocean fisheries are a quintessential example of the so-called 'tragedy of the commons,' in which a lack of specified property relationships is said to result in overexploitation of the fish population (Gordon, 1954; Hardin 1968). In a liberal capitalist political system, open access to nearshore fisheries and a lack of international agreements on straddling and high seas fisheries have led to excessive investment in fishing capacity, too little conservation of fish populations, and resultant political crises. A central problem is the difference between what might be conceived as the public trust and the interests of the individuals and communities who utilize a natural resource. O'Connor (1988) argues that this dichotomy leads to a range of conflicts over social decisions concerning the use and conservation of these resources. The regulatory regime which developed in the period before and following World War II extended the role of the state into the operations of individual enterprises (Eisner, 1994). Government attempted to mediate the relationship between capital and nature (O'Connor, 1988), but this societal regulatory regime generated a whole new range of operational inefficiencies while at the same time failing to meet conservation standards. These failures led to a search for alternative natural resource management regimes whose general form was termed 'the efficiency regime' (Eisner, 1994). "In fisheries, these alternatives are increasingly based on a bioeconomic framework which has become the dominant economic paradigm for natural resource management. It is premised on the foundations of neoclassical microeconomic theory and includes assumptions of individual maximization by well-informed economic agents (e.g. fishing vessel owners) and the social optimality of the market equilibrium. Public policy has emphasized more complete specification of individual property rights, which appear in fisheries in the form of individual transferable quotas (ITQs), although this specification is incomplete because of the prevailing fisheries management statutes in the U.S. "There are at least three important reservations with this approach: 1) equity in the monetization of fisheries access; 2) the political forces which constrain and affect the implementation of such programs; and 3) the impact of the uncertainties in setting and maintaining quotas. These reflect the impact of the natural variabilities of population dynamics in fisheries and the incomplete information upon which fishers and managers must act."
IASC, common pool resources, oceans, fisheries, conservation, resource management, economic behavior, ITQs, tragedy of the commons, fishing vessels