Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Common property resource mythology

In today's Globe and Mail there is a fascinating column by Jeffery Simpson called Why this country believes its own fish story (subscription required).

In part he says:
In a country with the world's longest coastline, we have made a hash of too many fisheries. Instead of being the leader in intelligent fisheries policies, we cling to mythologies that, in turn, have led to bad practices that more sensible countries discard.

The most tenacious mythology, especially in Atlantic Canadian fishing communities, is that fisheries must be a "common property resource," owned by all through the government and therefore available to all.

The results of this mythology are everywhere apparent: The fishery is not an industry based on economic principles, but a mixture of some economics and various forms of welfare.

It doesn't have to be this way, and it isn't this way in Iceland*, New Zealand, Australia and parts of the United States. And it wouldn't be this way if Canadians followed these examples and were also inspired by the latest report from the U.S.-based organization Environmental Defence.

. . .

The conclusion: Ditch common property resource regimes and adopt what Environmental Defence calls a "catch share fishery," also called a "transferable quota system." (full report here)

. . .

Why is this system, which has revolutionized the fisheries of Iceland and New Zealand, so dreaded in Canada? The mythology of the common property resource is one reason, the system having been in place for so long. Another is that catch share tries to put the fishery on a sound economic basis. It provides stable, full-time employment, and, through its market principles, encourages the best fishing interests.

It does, therefore, lead to less part-time employment and some shrinkage of processing capacity in small communities. Since the fishery-cum-unemployment system in Canada is designed to maximize part-time employment, ostensibly to help fishing communities, the very economic soundness of catch share causes fright.

It caused fright in Iceland and New Zealand in the early years. There were problems in setting overall catch limits and allocating initial shares. But, eventually, the fisheries of both countries found strong economic foundations, and no one proposes going back -- back to where Canada is and for the most part has always been, gripped by one of its mythologies.
Both the federal and provincial, Liberal and Conservative party fisheries spokespeople on government and opposition sides subscribe to the fisheries as a common property resource. As long as they do, any and all fisheries "reforms" will be mere tinkering around the edges never avoiding the tragedy of the commons.

I'm sure if it wasn't for the equalization jihad gripping the province that this column would be the "they are bashing us again" story of the day.


It's interesting that abandoning the common property resource for the fisheries never seems to enter into the calculations of those who want us to emulate Iceland (more on that another time).

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