March 17, 2006

Marine resources and property rights

These are excerpts from a "policy forum" paper in Science by F. Berkes and 14 other authors (Globalization, Roving Bandits, and Marine Resources):
In Maine, the green sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) proliferated after the loss of its fish predators in the mid-1980s, itself in turn becoming a fishery for sushi markets. Spurred by demand from the Japanese market, an unregulated harvest began in 1987. The state of Maine was unprepared to deal with the explosive growth of the fishery, and stocks were rapidly depleted.

There have been few effective responses to this kind of exploitation, because the emergence of specialized export markets for hitherto unexploited stocks is almost always a surprise to managers. In the case of small or highly localized stocks, the resource may vanish even before the problem is noted.

Appropriate restraining institutions must be in place before the resource is at risk. [...] Most important, [is] the development of resource rights that align individual self-interest with the long-term health of the resource.

Common property theory predicts that the establishment of property rights and/or comanagement regimes counters the tragedy of the commons. Individual or community property rights over resources can internalize costs and benefits to create incentives for local protection and monitoring.

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