Archive for the ‘Fisheries Classics’ Category

Fisheries Classics: The Pacific Salmon Fisheries

May 18, 2010

A while ago, I had the opportunity to read Crutchfield and Pontecorvo’s book on the Pacific salmon fisheries. The Pacific Salmon Fisheries, published in 1969 and subtitled A Study of Irrational Conservation, was an early contribution to the empirical literature on fisheries economics. The subtitle clearly signalled Crutchfield and Pontecorvo’s opinion on both the current and historic regulations of the fisheries. Perhaps the status as a ‘classic’ can be debated; notwithstanding, its scope and ambition is nothing but impressive: The Pacific Salmon Fisheries discusses theory, describes the various salmon fisheries along the North-American Pacific coast; the gear, the environment, the regulations, and their histories, it discusses the different fisheries potential and performance, and finally alternative regulations.

My favorite part of the book is the illustrations of overfishing and overcapitalization in both the Alaskan and Puget Sound fisheries. In particular, Figures 9 and 10 on pages 58 and 59 highlight the problems in the Alaskan fisheries:

From the figures, it is clear that in the period 1930’s to 1960’s, while total catch went down (top curves in both panels), average catch per fishermen went down (left, middle curve), total number of fishermen went up (bottom, left curve), and gear use (middle and bottom, right curves) went up: More men with more gear catching less fish. Two simple pictures illustrating the fundamental fisheries problem: The Tragedy of the Commons. Why did this happen? After all, the Alaskan fisheries were old fisheries already in the 1930’s and assumed to be in rent-dissipated equilibria. It turns out, however, that prices of salmon increased steadily throughout the period (see Figure 8, p. 57).

An interesting and amusing thing about the figures in The Pacific Salmon Fisheries are that they are handdrawn and, for the most part and of unknown reasons, not on a linear scale. Perhaps there was an agenda involved?

Crutchfield and Pontecorvo’s analysis of the fisheries in the Puget Sound did not produce any happier conclusions. They wrote:

As long as the present situation continues, there can be no real hope of economic health in the fishery. Any increase in relative prices of salmon is promptly swallowed up by increased entry, rising costs, and more stringent pressure on the physical resource and those charged with its management. It simply leads to a new equilibrium, no more satisfactory than the previous one, with a net loss to the economy as a whole as more factors of production are trapped in the fishery (p. 196).

To me, The Pacific Salmon Fisheries represents the first, truly convincing evidence of overcapitalization in fisheries and is certainly a classic all fisheries economists should be familiar with.

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Fisheries Classics: The Tragedy of the Commons

April 13, 2010

Garret Hardin’s 1968 article in Science, The Tragedy of the Commons is for sure a classical piece in the fisheries economics literature and has become the most popular description of the commons problem; fisheries problems are usually regarded as a special case. The passage where Hardin describes the tragedy is perhaps the most famous:

Garret Hardin (1915 - 2003)

Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his [input] without limit – in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons (Hardin, 1968, p. 1244).

Hardin has had an enormous influence, perhaps particularly in the sciences. It has been suggested (by notable persons as Jim Wilen and Elinor Ostrom) that Hardin’s choice of metaphor (the tragedy, where helpless individuals are lead to destruction in an inexorable process) has been unfortunate; Wilen, for example, has written that modern fisheries management systems are founded on a perception of tragedy.

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Fisheries Classics: The Common Wealth in Ocean Fisheries

April 8, 2010

In this series, I will post bits and pieces from, and perhaps comments to, various classical texts in fisheries economics. I’ll begin with the very first paragraph of The Common Wealth in Ocean Fisheries by Christy and Scott (1965). The Common Wealth is perhaps not a dominant landmark in the fisheries literature, but Christy and Scott were indeed to very influental characters in the early development of fisheries economics, and their book helped introduce fisheries problems to social scientists.

The biological resources of the sea have long fascinated man. The mystery of what lies beneath the surface has stimulated his imagination and nurtured hope that in this vast area there are resources capable of feeding a growing and a still hungry population for centuries to come. But, at the same time, realization of this hope is impeded by the opacity, instability, and sheer magnitude of the medium itself – by man’s inability to see and hold. Fishing – one of man’s earliest callings – is still haphazard and subject to the vagaries of weather, ocean currents, and mysterious migrations (p. v).