Press Release

A Strategy for Establishing Property Rights in the Atlantic Fishery

For Immediate Release March, 1997
AIMS, 1657 Barrington Street, Suite 521 Halifax, NS B3J 2A1
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A paradox facing the Atlantic fishery is highlighted in AIMS’ most recent Commentary paper. (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Wherever fishers have secure property rights to the fish they catch, immense economic and ecological improvements result, and fishers become strong supporters and participants in the systems – yet fishers themselves are often reluctant to see property rights established in the first place.

“Given the favourable experience with individual quotas, why don’t those engaged in fishing press for individual quotas everywhere? If we want to see progress, this question needs to be addressed,” University of British Columbia Professor of Resource Management Peter Pearse writes in Allocating the Catch Among Fishermen: A Perspective on Opportunities for Fisheries Reform.

Pearse sets out a concrete strategy for building the type of property rights in the Atlantic fishery which have transformed the fishery in other nations into a dynamic, innovative sector of the economy while enhancing the welfare of fishers.

Government, Pearse says, should strengthen the insecure and frail rights now found in many Atlantic fisheries, and give fishers more say in management. “There are now many individual quota regimes in place, and their successful performance is likely to open the eyes of fishermen to their opportunities under this system much more than academic writings and bureaucratic argument.”

Pearse calls on government to establish a consultative body “that is representative of fishers, respected by them, and capable of galvanizing their interests in a design for change. Fishers themselves must be engaged in the process of exploring new possibilities, developing a policy framework, and taking ownership of it.”

Fishers, he says, naturally fear a break with “age-old traditions” which gave them free range on the fishing grounds with success determined by how much and how fast they could fish in competition with others, under whatever restrictions government established to limit the overall catch.

With property rights set through individual quotas, often called Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs), the race to fish is eliminated since fishers “own” a preset share of the catch. Fishers’ incentives shift from grabbing a larger piece of the pie to increasing the value of their share, through such things as improved quality. Fishers soon discover property rights work to their advantage, and they often become strong supporters of research and conservation measures, since a healthy fish stock increases the value of their share of the catch.

Pearse discusses perceived difficulties in moving to property rights, and shows how these problems are usually less onerous than they seem. He notes that property rights lead to the greatest gains when they are strongest and most secure so that the fishers themselves reap the rewards of improvements to the fishery.

More information on the international experience with property rights in the fishery is available in the proceedings of the recent AIMS fishery conference, Rising Tide? Rights-Based Fishing on the Atlantic Coast and the AIMS’ book, Taking Ownership: Property Rights and Fishery Management on the Atlantic Coast, which features contributions from some of the world’s leading fishery experts.

“We’re striving to bring as much information as possible to the attention of the public and those in the fishing industry,” AIMS President Brian Lee Crowley says. “We need an open and active debate if the Atlantic fishery is ever to get out of its rut of repeated economic and ecological crises, and live up to its potential to be a strong contributor to the economic growth of Atlantic Canada.”

Lexicom Ltd.1999