July 19, 2006

Sell the seas

James A. Wilson writes about fisheries management in Ecology and Society. The paper is written in Resilience (or Complex Adaptive Systems) English, which I do not master. I will try to translate it into Subsistence English, which I master, and shamelessly distort it to fit my own purposes. To begin with, I will translate its title, Matching social and ecological systems in complex ocean fisheries, as Privatize the seas.

The problem of open-access fisheries is that fishermen have little incentive to restrain their present fishing in order to boost long-term profitability, because others are more likely to reap the benefits of that restraint. Fishermen could harvest more efficiently if they individually owned fish populations.

Private ownership of fisheries would in principle work better than open access. But problems remain, and Wilson correctly identifies them. First, what you do with your fish population or portion of a population affects other populations or subpopulations of the same species. This leads to inefficient harvesting - you harvest too much because much of the costs of your harvesting are paid by others, not by you. Second, what you do with your fish population affects other components of the ecosystem your fish belong to, including other coexisting species of fish.

So, what you do affects other parts of the ecosystem and other areas. This mismatch between the scale of ownership and the different scales of ecological effects generates problems of efficiency ("sustainability"). To correct this mismatch Wilson suggests creating "multiscale institutions whose organization mirrors the spatial organization of the ecosystem." An obvious feature of these institutions is that they should be tied to space and not to fish populations, and thus should manage everything contained within that space. This is called "ecosystem management" in Resilience English.

Now, what should those institutions look like? I suggest that private agents could own and manage large areas of the seas. Perhaps they would contract specialized firms or individuals to conduct smaller-scale operations, but that would be up to them. Obviously, there would be no ecological or spatial externalities within their bounds.

Keywords: adaptive governance, complex adaptive systems, resilience, ecosystem management, spatio-temporal congruence, information impactedness, flexible multiscale institutions, polycentric networks, sustainability, nonlinear dynamics, social-ecological systems, information feed-back, connectedness dissipation, metapopulation, regime shifts, alternative stable states, near-decomposability, self-contained organizational hierarchy, leaky systems, cross-boundary communication, halibut fillets with teriyaki sauce.

1 comment:

  1. Here is another, less sophisticated, approach to figuring out how to manage fisheries,