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Rognvaldur Hannesson
The Norwegian School of Economics
and Business Administration
Bergen, Norway


Fish stocks are renewable resources. Such resources can be exploited forever, provided that care is taken not to destroy their capability for self-renewal. This requires resource management; that is, the amount harvested must be kept within the limits of what the resource base is capable of sustaining in the long run.

A prerequisite for the management of any particular resource is that somebody has the right and the means to control the access to it. Clearly defined property rights to resources, ultimately enforced through the legal and judiciary framework of the state, is the usual way in which this is accomplished. In this regard, fish stocks have been a notorious exception. Most fish stocks have traditionally been common property which anyone has been free to exploit. In such situation, no one has a clear incentive to keep the harvest with in sustainable limits; a fish spared to day is likely to be somebody else's catch tomorrow1.

1.1 The New Law of the Sea: New Opportunities

The main reason why property rights to fish stocks did not emerge, in contrast to some other renewable resources such as forests, was undoubtedly the fact that most fish stocks inhabited waters beyond the jurisdiction of any state. Any attempt to limit fishing in international waters had to be based on the principles of international law, which in fact meant mutual consent of all interested states. However, the new Law of the Sea, providing for national jurisdiction over the resources in 200 mile economic zones, has radically altered the international aspect of fisheries management. Many fish stocks are not confined to the economic zone of a single state, while others migrate between the zones of a limited number of states. Stocks which straddle what is left as international bodies of water are the exception, but an important one (salmon, tuna).

1 Although there are few examples of common property fish stocks that have become extinct as a result of uncontrolled exploitation, this is not a refutation of our statement. What has saved such stocks from extinction is that the cost per unit harvested rises so much as stocks are depleted that an ultimate and irreversible depletion becomes unprofitable even when future harvests are ignored. Extinction of common property animal stocks has in fact occurred, or appears to have been close to occurring, in some cases where harvesting costs were not sensitive to stock depletion. The last bird of the species Pinguinus impennis (a sea bird unable to fly) was caught off Iceland late last century. The Antarctic blue whale and the Atlanto-Scandian herring had been depleted to extremely low levels when their exploitation was brought to a halt.

Any particular sovereign coastal state has much the same power over fish resources that are fully contained within its economic zone, or fishing limits, as it has over other resources within its boundaries1. Fish stocks that migrate between the economic zones of two or more sovereign states are a different matter; each state has only partial control over such stocks and must at the very least take into account how others might respond to its unilateral actions. Both cases represent an important break with the past, however, with respect to the feasibility of controlling the use of fish resources. When fish stocks migrate between the economic zones of a limited number of sovereign states, their management is a matter for agreement between those states only. By contrast, all nations that have access to the sea are free to exploit fish stocks located outside national boundaries. This clearly makes it difficult to reach agreements on the use of such stocks; any agreement reached among actual users of a particular stock will always be under threat from other potential users. This was one reason, but not necessarily the only one, why international fisheries agreements prior to the new Law of the Sea were rather ineffectual.

1.2 Fisheries Management: By Whom and How?

Economic zones and international agreements on shared fish stocks are merely a legal framework however. That framework must be filled in with the necessary measures if fisheries management is to be at all successful. The measures taken so far have often been inappropriate. More seriously, what the appropriate measures in fact are is a matter of an ongoing and sometimes heated debate. One issue in this debate is to what extent governments should be directly engaged in the management of fisheries, and to what extent this should be allocated to the private sector. This clearly involves some highly controversial ideological issues. It is not our purpose here to contribute to an ideological discussion, except to point out that forms of ownership and economic organization need not be seen as purely ideological matters. They also have their practical sides, as some forms of ownership and economic organization appear more appropriate than others for achieving given social ends.

Obviously there are many ways in which the tasks of fisheries management can be shared by the private and the public sector. One possibility is public ownership of the resources and central planning of the harvesting process. Decisions about how much to fish, where, when and how would then be taken centrally by some government agency set up for this purpose. At the opposite extreme, fish resources could be privatized. This is not an unrealistic proposition , even if property rights defined in space seldom amount to property rights over fish. Instead property rights in fish resources can be defined as rights to harvest. Such rights can be defined either as rights to harvest a certain amount (catch quotas), or rights to engage in harvesting (fishing licences). These rights could be given away, sold or rented out, as deemed appropriate in each particular case, and the rents generated in the fishery could be taxed directly or through public auctions, as is done with respect to many other natural resources (oil, for example). But even in cases where fish resources would be privatized in this way, it is likely that some basic management decisions, such as how much to harvest each year, would need to be taken at the government level, because this often involves negotiations with other nations as well as for other reasons.

1 The Law of the Sea Treaty requires each coastal state to define a total allowable catch of each fish species within its economic zone, and to allow other countries to take that part of this catch which the coastal state cannot take itself. The coastal state appears to be sovereign, however, in defining the total allowable catch and how much thereof it can take. Hence, any sharing of fish resources within the economic zone is at the coastal state's discretion.

Giving fishermen's organizations specific roles in fisheries management is a way of delegating management decisions and one that appeals to many people. Solutions of this kind are beginning to be discussed in the ongoing debate on the appropriate ends and means of fisheries management. So far these ideas are rather vague, however. The reason why these ideas are vague may very well be that there is presently little evidence available from such collective management, particularly in large-scale fisheries for widely dispersed and migratory species. The purpose of this present study is to survey the literature for any evidence that such management has been tried, how it has arisen, and what lessons can be learned from it.

1.3 Resource Management: What Is to Be Achieved?

To put this survey into an appropriate perspective, let us consider why it might be desirable to give formal or informal organizations of fishermen a special role in fisheries management. The first question to be asked is what do governments wish to achieve by managing fish resources, or any other resources for that matter? To answer that question in detail would obviously require a very comprehensive treatise ; governments differ in their objectives, as do circumstances from place to place. There are, however, certain principles that would appear to be common to all governments concerned about the economic well-being of their people. Two principles are fundamental in this regard: an efficient allocation of resources in production, and an equitable distribution of the result. This is often illustrated by the pie metaphor; efficiency means getting the largest possible pie from any given input and effort, while equity means cutting it up as justly as possible1.

While the conditions for efficiency may in principle be derived in an objective manner, as any elementary course in economics purports to show, this is not so with respect to equity. The principles of justice depend on value judgements, on which there are likely to be divergent opinions. The fundamental dilemma of welfare economic policy is that equity in distribution and efficiency in allocation cannot be pursued independently of one another. To return to the pie metaphor, the diligence with which one sets out to bake the pie is likely to be related to the size of the piece one expects to get in return. The fact that some are better at baking that others is a potential argument for not dividing the pie equally. Some trade-off between efficiency and equity is therefore likely to be desirable but the terms of such a tradeoff are again a matter of value judgement, like the principles of equity themselves.

1 We are adopting the traditional welfare economic view that governments are impartial guardians of the public interest. While this view is useful as a standard against which to measure how well governments perform, it must be recognized that the governments of the real world often do not appear to come close to this ideal. To explain the actual behaviour of governments, it may indeed be more useful to regard them as consisting of individuals trying to promote their own personal interests, as the so-called “public choice” literature attempts to do. It is by no means obvious that such pursuits would lead towards the twin goals of efficiency and equity.

1.4 Fishermen's Organizations: A Special Role?

There are both efficiency and equity reasons why governments might want fishermen's organizations to be responsible for certain tasks in fisheries management. The main efficiency reason has to do with decentralization of decision-making, which promotes efficiency in two ways. First, gathering and processing all the information necessary to enable a central management authority to take informed decisions is a demanding task. This can be avoided by letting those who possess the information in the first place take the decisions themselves. Secondly, individuals are indeed likely to act in their own interest. Directives from above, and which run against the interests of those who are supposed to carry them out, are likely either to be sabotaged or to be interpreted contrary to their purpose. A better way to pursue centrally framed objectives would be to construct, or to build upon, a system of incentives that makes individual interests compatible with those objectives.

Decentralization may, however, be achieved by delegating decision-making to individuals or firms rather than to organizations. Indeed, delegating such powers to organizations is a more timid step towards decentralization. One reason for taking only that timid step could be that decisions are better coordinated within an organization of fishermen than if they are taken by individual fishermen or fishing firms. Both everyday experience and economic theory tell us, however, that an appropriate system of prices and markets is capable of achieving such coordination. It seems likely, therefore, that reasons of equity rather than efficiency would favour delegating decision-making to fishermen's organizations rather than to individual fishermen or fishing firms.

Why, then, would decision-making by fishermen's organizations lead to more equitable results than decision-making by individual fishermen or fishing firms? The distribution of income and wealth in a system based on market transactions and private property rights to resources is “incidental”; that is, depends on the prices that emerge from these transactions and the distribution of ownership to resources (including, of course, human resources). Even if competitive markets produce efficient use of resources under ideal circumstances, they have no inherent equitable qualities. Giving fishermen's organizations the power to decide how fish stocks are utilized may be a way to avoid the inequities associated with inequitable distributions of skills and property among fishermen.

There is reason to believe that decisions on fisheries management issues taken collectively by fishermen will imply an equitable distribution of the benefits of fishing; indeed, if the decisions are taken within democratic organizations, it can be argued that they are equitable as a matter of definition. It is, however, a different question whether fishermen should be the principal beneficiaries of the resources they harvest. Some fish resources are capable of yielding a considerable rent, akin to other natural resources of greater fame or notoriety (oil, for example), which typically are considered the wealth of the nation at large and taxed in that capacity.

1.5 Public Policy and Fishermen's Goals: Conflicting or Compatible?

In general, the desirability of delegating fisheries management to fishermen's organizations depends on to what degree the goals pursued by such organizations are compatible with social goals. The purpose of fishermen's organizations, like the organizations of all other occupational groups, is to promote the interests of their members. It is by no means certain that such interests will be compatible with the public interest. A strong tradition in economic theory sees interest organizations as conspiracies against the public interest , but competitive markets are ensuring greater compatibility of private and public interests. This suggests that the general economic organization and institutions in any particular case are of crucial importance for whether or to what extent fisheries should be managed by fishermen's organizations. To give a preliminary answer in this vein, the more fishermen's organizations are exposed to competitive markets the better are such arrangements likely to work.

Provided that fishermen's organizations are unable to corner markets or to skim subsidies from public funds, there are strong reasons to expect that they will be interested in economic efficiency. Keeping costs down and improving product quality will then be the most obvious way to achieve a better return for fishermen's endeavours. A fishermen's organization will also have a clear incentive to take into account the implications of present day overfishing for future catches, provided that it incorporates at least a critical mass of the fishermen who harvest a given stock; even if a fish spared today will be lost to the individual fisherman, this is not so for the collective of fishermen.

There is, nevertheless, some presumption that such organizations will seek economically inefficient outcomes. This is particularly likely to happen with respect to technological innovations. Such innovations are usually introduced by a small minority, and those who do so are better rewarded than others. This is likely to arouse envy and apprehension among the rest, particularly if the innovation is envisaged as being labour saving. The majority may then see their interests as being threatened by the new technology, and hence use their organizational power to have the new technology banned. There are many stories of fishermen resenting the introduction of new and efficient fishing gear and asking governments to ban such innovations, sometimes successfully. This is unfortunate, because labour-saving innovations release manpower to be used for other purposes and alleviate the burden of production in general. It must, however, be acknowledged that such changes often are harmful to some individuals and all the more beneficial for others. Technological improvements thus constitute a challenge for society with regard to redistributing resources in such a way that everybody may share in their benefits1.

1 Fisheries management through fishermen's organizations would appear to bear some resemblence to organizing production through labour managed firms. There exists a comprehensive literature on labour managed firms (for an excellent review, see Ireland and Law, 1982), which ought to be of relevance for the question which can be expected on fishermen's organizations as resource managers. The conclusions in this literature are not unanimous with regard to whether labour managed firms can be expected to perform more or less efficiently than ordinary capitalist enterprises. Much will depend on the economic environment; that is, whether the firm operates in a competitive market economy and to what extent workers are mobile and able to establish new business firms.

1.6 Ways of Involving Fishermen's Organizations

How, then, should fishermen's organizations be involved in fisheries management? What precise roles should be assigned to them? Here many options are open, ranging from building an autonomous management system based on fishermen's organizations to a system where all powers are reserved for a central authority and fishermen's organizations have only a subservient, consultative role to play. The most extreme variety of the first case would be to endow fishermen's organizations with formal property rights to fish resources. In the second case, the role of fishermen's organizations is not much different from what it would ordinarily be; that is, trying to influence those who make the decisions to do so in fishermen's favour.

In between these extremes there are many possible arrangements. Annual catch quotas could be set by fishermen's organizations and distributed among gear types, vessels, areas, etc. Another possibility is to let annual quotas be set by a central management authority, with fishermen's organizations allocating the quota between gear types, vessels, etc. Still less power would be given to fishermen's organizations by having catch quotas fixed and distributed by a central management authority, while fishermen's organizations would determine the distribution of fishing areas between different gear types, season openings, etc. Finally, fishermen's organizations could be assigned the role merely to provide information for a central authority. This is not likely to be successful, however, unless those organizations are given an incentive to provide the desired information in an unbiased way.

1.7 The Outline of This Study

What, then, is the experience of fishermen's collective efforts at managing fisheries? There is, in fact, only limited evidence of such undertakings. In the following chapters we discuss our findings from a survey of the academic and technical literature dealing with this subject, some of it very peripherally. The discussion is organized as follows. First (Chapter 2) we discuss cases where fishermen hold formal or informal property rights to fishing spots or areas, individually or collectively. Then (Chapter 3) we consider harvest rights and the role fishermen's organizations have had in establishing such rights, which are a rather recent innovation in fisheries management techniques. Lastly (Chapter 4) we discuss fishermen's collective efforts to promote their interests. These efforts have mainly been directed at controlling markets and influencing decision-makers, while resource management has hardly been attempted at all. In this context we discuss the consultations on fisheries management that some governments have entered into with fishermen's organizations. A short, final chapter (Chapter 5) summarizes our findings and conclusions.


In this chapter we shall consider fish resource management systems based on property rights held by fishermen, collectively or individually. Here we may distinguish between formal and informal rights. By formal rights we mean rights that are recognized and codified by the legal system, while by informal rights we mean rights that have come to be recognized and respected by fishermen, without being backed by the legal system and the coercive power of the state.

There are rather few examples of formal property rights to fish resources; the most extensive one is the Japanese system of fishing rights. By contrast, informal property rights, particularly territorial use rights, occur in small-scale fisheries in various parts of the world. The development and continued existence of these informal rights accords well with the economic theory of property rights, which explains the origin of property rights by the mutual benefits of regulating the use of resources through clearly defined property rights. We shall begin this chapter with a brief discussion of the economic theory of property rights, and then move on to discussing the nature and role of informal territorial use rights in fisheries. The last part of the chapter deals with the Japanese system of fishing rights, in which fishermen's organizations have been assigned a special role.

2.1 The Origin and Role of Property Rights

Economic theory emphasizes the role of property rights in promoting efficient use of resources. One of its better known results is that common property resources tend to be overexploited because no one is assured of reaping the benefits of restraint , cultivation or other measures enhancing the yield of resources over which he or she has little or no command. This leads on to the hypothesis that property rights arise from increased scarcity of resources. A theory of property rights put forward by some economists thus sees property rights as developing in response to increased benefits of enforcing such rights, either because the resource becomes more valuable or because property rights become easier to enforce (for a summary and references, see Anderson and Hill, 1977)1.

An important element in the economic theory of property rights is the fact that the establishment of such rights is not a zero sum game in which one person's gain is simply another's loss. The improved husbandry of resources that property rights make possible generates a surplus in which all previous users may share, so that no one need lose anything in the process. Property rights might thus come about through mutual consent among those involved. Some of the literature on the economic theory of property rights seems to imply this; to quote Demsetz (1967),“…the emergence of new property rights takes place in response to the desires of the interacting persons for adjustment to new benefit-cost possibilities”.

There may indeed by cases in which property rights became established through mutual consent among parties involved. This, however, appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Examples abound of common property having been appropriated through coercion, through one social class dispossessing another and arrogating to itself all the benefits of a better resource management. The enclosure movement in Britain is a particularly well known example. When the price of wool rose in Elizabethan England, landlords drove away peasants from their land and thereby increased the number of beggars to such an extent that a system of poor relief was initiated (Clough, 1959). Later enclosures (1700–1850), although brought about by coercion, seem to have affected displaced peasants much less adversely. Some of them were able to share in the benefits of enhanced yield from the land through becoming employed by the landlords, while others were absorbed as wage labourers by the industrial revolution.

1 Demsetz (1967) cites the example of Indian trappers in Quebec who, in response to increased demand for furs, divided communal hunting grounds into private plots. Anderson and Hill (1977) discuss how increased pressure on grassland in the American West led to the development of extra-legal range rights. Cattle owners in the West formed stock growers' associations to enforce these rights and to restrict entry to common grassland. An example of easier enforcement leading to the development of property rights is also given by Anderson and Hill (1977); the introduction of barbed wire, which made it profitable to fence in the wide ranges of the American West.

Still more at odds with the economic theory of property rights, such rights need not arise in response to scarcity at all. Rather, property rights may arise from the monopolization of political power by a certain class, to be used as an instrument for exploiting other classes. Slavery is an obvious example. Another example of property rights being used for appropriating the fruits of other people's work, and a particularly interesting one in this present context, is the Japanese system of territorial sea rights. Today these rights belong to local fishermen's associations but their historical roots can be traced back to feudal times (Asada, Hirasawa and Nagasaki, 1983; Ruddle, 1984; Ruddle and Akimichi, 1984).

Apparently, the feudal lords of ancient Japan introduced these rights for the purpose of taxing the villagers on their fief. Certain villages were designated as fishing villages, while others were forbidden to engage in any fishing at all. This served two purposes. First the lords, who were primarily interested in agricultural produce (rice), wanted to limit activities other than farming. Secondly, they wanted to secure for themselves some of the fishermen's catch. A limited number of villages were therefore designated as fishing villages and were given sole rights to the fishing grounds, against paying a fee to the lord. In parts of Japan proper, this system is thought to have played a role in conserving fish stocks, while in other places (e.g., the Ryukyu Islands) it served solely the purpose of taxation, fish resources being plentiful but underexploited (Ruddle, 1984).

2.2 Informal Fishing Rights

Despite the Japanese fishing rights system and similar systems elsewhere (Korea), common property is still the dominant form of ownership of fish resources. Fish cannot be fenced or herded-in like cattle, and so the enforcement of property rights to fish requires policing the sea area within which they roam. Typically, the areas involved are so large that such undertakings are beyond the capability of individuals or firms. More importantly, the legal framework for private property rights in fish stocks was until recently absent, as sovereign states did not claim exclusive jurisdiction over sea areas large enough to enclose fish stocks. In terms of the economic theory of property rights, the reason for this is likely to have been high costs of enforcing national jurisdiction over large sea areas, compared with the benefits of doing so. No less importantly, the countries calling the tune in international relations (the UK in particular) saw their interests as being better served through free access to the sea, both for navigation and for fishing.

An exception to this are the territorial use rights that exist in many inshore and lake fisheries the world over. There is a voluminous, mainly anthropological literature on this subject, some of which is summed up in McGoodwin (1983). Christy (1982) and Panayotou (1983) have recently discussed the economic implications of such use rights. These rights vary in extension, from a spot to set a lobster trap to a sea area such as a lagoon or a reef. The rights may be held individually or communally. They may even be in part individual and in part communal, as in the Maine lobster fishery where fishermen from a given harbour deny “from away” fishermen access to nearby grounds, and each “local” fisherman in turn has his own site for his traps (Acheson, 1979). The development of such rights is consistent with the economic theory of property rights. These rights are informal in character and depend on mutual acceptance among fishermen. They appear to have developed and survived because of their instrumentality in avoiding wasteful territorial conflicts over where to set the fishing gear, a point stressed by Polunin (1984).

Territorial use rights based on voluntary agreement or respect among fishermen are most frequently encountered in small-scale, traditional fisheries. Such rights typically have taken time to evolve, and they are often embedded in cultural tradition, the origin long since lost in the mist of unrecorded history. There are cases, however, of voluntary agreements on fishery regulation of a more recent origin. Berkes (1986) cites some interesting Turkish examples. In some cases the Turkish fishermen have responded to increasing pressures on fishing space by devising allocation systems which ration fishing spots in an equitable and mutually acceptable manner. One particular system involves an initial assignment of fishing spots through a lottery and then rotating these among the fishermen in a predetermined manner. All fishermen thus get a chance to fish, and all get a chance to fish in the best spots. This system apparently developed spontaneously a few years ago, as the number of fishermen outgrew the number of suitable spots to set nets. The system is back soley through internal policing by the fishermen themselves.

There are also examples of fishermen's self-regulation being authorized by the Turkish government. Lagoon fisheries in Turkey are leased by the government to private companies or fishermen's cooperatives. Berkes (1986) gives two examples of successful lagoon fisheries being regulated by fishermen's cooperatives. He also mentions cases in which fishermen's attempts at self-management have been unsuccessful and attributes this to conflicts among different groups of fishermen (trawlermen, purse seiners, sports fishermen). On the basis of the Turkish experience, Berkes emphasizes homogeneity of fishermen and ability to control the resource base as being important requirements for collective management by fishermen to be viable and effective.

What are the implications of territorial use rights for resource ownership and management? Some of the anthropological literature gives the impression that fish stocks in areas where such rights apply are not common property. This is wrong. The extent to which territorial use rights imply property rights in fish depends on the migratory habits of the fish. If the fish migrate widely enough, exclusive access rights to patches of their habitat do not amount to an ability to control their number. Why, then, would fishermen find it worthwhile to claim exclusive access to certain fishing areas? This can be explained in two ways. First, exclusivity of access avoids gear conflicts in congested fisheries. Secondly, the fish may be more easily accessible in some places than in others, even if they migrate freely over a much larger area. Fishing areas may therefore have a scarcity value, even if exclusive access to such areas does not imply control over the resource being exploited.

To the extent, however, that territorial use rights limit the quantity of fish being harvested, some incidental protection of fish stocks will result. Attempts at analysing whether in fact this occurs are conspicuously absent from the literature. Among the few examples is a paper by Wilson (1977) comparing two adjacent lobster fishing areas in Maine. In one area territorial use rights are enforced by fishermen, while in the other free access prevails. Wilson found that territorial use rights had some positive effect on the lobster fishery; there was less crowding of fishing gear, less seasonality in the catches, and the lobsters being caught were larger on the average in the area with territorial rights.

2.3 The Japanese Fishing Rights

Japan's system of fishing rights is unique in that there exist legally defined and protected territorial rights to fishing in the inshore area (a similar system exists in Korea and possibly elsewhere, but information on this is scarce). This area varies in width according to local circumstances, but is about 1 km on the average (Asaka, Hirasawa and Nagasaki, 1983). There are three types of fishing rights: joint fishing rights, demarcated fishing rights, and large-scale set-net fishing rights. The joint fishing rights belong exclusively to the Fishermen's Cooperative Associations. These rights are specified in terms of species harvested and fishing gear used; the species are benthic species such as shellfish and seaweed, while the gear is small scale such as beach seines, unmotorized trawls, and fish shelters. The demarcated fishing rights are allocated both to the Fishermen's Cooperative Associations and to individuals, for the purpose of fish culture and for a limited period of time. The large-scale set-net fishing rights are allocated to the Fishermen's Associations, private companies and individuals.

The fishing rights are comparable to ownership of land; if a developer wants to build on or otherwise utilize a sea area in which there exist fishing rights, he can only do so with the permission of those who hold the rights. This would normally involve buying the rights, just as agricultural land is bought for such purposes. Being confined to the inshore area, the fishing rights system covers only about 20 percent of Japan's total catch of fish. The system is described in various publications in English: for example, Asada, Hirasawa and Nagasaki (1983), Asia Kyokai (1957), Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency (1967), Hirasawa (1980), Ruddle (1984), and Ruddle and Akimichi (1984).

The most important management function of the fishing rights system seems to be prevention of spatial conflicts among fishermen. Conflicts over fishing space appear to have been the main reason why the fishing rights system was set up in its modern form in the beginning of this century (cf. Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency, 1967). Asada, Hirasawa and Nagasaki (1983) mention disputes over fishing grounds as having been the major problem before resource management became a serious concern. The impression one gets from the literature is that the system works well with respect to resolving or avoiding conflicts between fishermen within the same association. Coherence among co-villagers, kinship and local tradition all play a role in this.

Things are not quite so harmonious with respect to relations between fishermen belonging to different associations; there are reports in the literature on clashes between fishermen from different geographical areas over boundaries at sea and historical rights in “distant” waters (Matsuda and Kaneda, 1984). These disputes are somewhat reminiscent of the territorial disputes and “cod wars” accompanying the establishment of fishing limits and economic zones in the seventies, and have occasionally involved loss of lives.

What, then, are the implications of the fishing rights system with respect to the conservation of resources? A priori one would expect that the system promotes conservation of seaweed and sedentary species confined to an area controlled by one particular fishermen's association. For fish that do not straddle too widely, the system might also work well, as agreements on resource use are more easily accomplished when only a few parties are involved. For migratory species such agreements would be more difficult. Some authors refer to overfishing of migratory species as being a problem (Cordell, 1984; Ruddle and Akimichi, 1984).

There is some evidence in the literature confirming this expectation. One case of successful conservation and stock enhancement is reported in some detail in Akiyama (1980). In Yubetsu in Hokkaido harvesting of scallops by simple, unpowered boats exceeded 10 000 tons per year in the twenties. The introduction of motorized vessels caused heavy overfishing, and catches declined below 1 000 tons per year. In 1958 the Yubetsu Fishermen's Cooperative Association limited scallop fishing and, when this proved insufficient, banned scallop fishing altogether in 1970. The recovery of the scallop fishery accelerated, however, when the association obliged its members to gather scallop seedlings from an inshore lake and plant them in the area covered by its scallop fishing rights. By 1978 the fishery had again attained a catch level of 10 000 tons per year.

As to the other aspects of efficiency than conservation and conflicts over fishing space, one finds in the literature here and there remarks to the effect that the Japanese fishermen's associations retard technological progress (e.g., Kada, 1984). Why and how they do this is not further elaborated. Asada, Hirasawa and Nagasaki (1983, p.25) are concerned that restraints on fishing gear and methods may delay or prohibit technological advance. Ruddle (1984) describes the local community control through the fishermen's associations as being anachronistic and one that is governed by an enclave mentality. Matsuda and Keneda (1984) mention corruption and short sightedness of the Fishermen's Cooperative Associations as being a problem.

2.4 Why Fishermen's Associations?

It appears that the fishing rights were assigned to the Fishermen's Cooperative Associations rather than to private individuals and companies for reasons of equity and not efficiency. The present intention behind the system seems to be that active fishermen should be the beneficiaries of the fish resources in inshore waters. Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency (1967) describes briefly how the fishing rights system was reformed after the Second World War, involving among other things a redistribution of fishing rights in favour of active fishermen and the cancellation of rights owned by “big capitalists”. While some fishing rights are held by private companies and individuals (cf. above), the law stipulates that fishermen's cooperative associations or other organizations of fishermen are to be favoured. The allocation of these non-cooperative rights is done through the Fishery Coordination Committees, on which fishermen are represented.

The fairness of letting fishermen's associations manage fisheries depends in no small way on how rights and benefits are allocated within each association. The literature suggests that rules applied by the Japanese associations reflect the principles of fairness and seniority. Asada, Hirasawa and Nagasaki (1983) refer to places to put small set-nets being allocated by a lottery. The recovery of the scallop fishery in Yubetsu (cf. above) was accomplished through the efforts of the local fishermen's association, and the fishery became very profitable. The number of those who are allowed to participate in the scallop fishery in Yubetsu is limited by requiring that they catch a certain minimum of other species, that they have contributed a certain amount to the capital stock of the association, and that they have participated in the stock enhancement programme (transplantation of seedlings) for the last three years (Akiyama, 1980).

2.5 The Fishing Rights System: An Example to Follow?

Does the Japanese fishing rights sytem provide an example of fisheries management to be followed elsewhere? It is difficult to give a definite answer to this question, on the basis of the existing literature on the subject. The system undoubtedly is profoundly Japanese, building on Japanese traditions, customs and ways to resolve conflicts. This does not mean that it cannot be applied elsewhere when due account is taken of local customs and traditions. Access rights to fish resources that amount to command over those resources provide incentives for orderly fishing, long-term planning and resource conservation, but it goes without saying that these incentives may be of no consequence if the economic framework is in other ways inadequate.

Apart from cultural and institutional factors, the generality of the experience with the fishing rights system is in other ways limited. Within Japan itself this system applies mainly to sedentary species and small-scale gear. It remains conjectural whether this system could be copied for large-scale, offshore fisheries conducted by a variety of vessel and gear types, possibly in conflict with small-scale, inshore fisheries using a common resource base. In Japan itself the fishing rights system has not been extended ton cover this case.


The fishing rights discussed in the previous chapter, both the formal rights found in Japanese coastal waters and the informal ones, are defined as rights of access to a certain part of the sea. As discussed above, such rights are effective for controlling fish stocks that are relatively stationary. To control fish stocks that are fugitive and widely dispersed, territorial use rights would have to stretch over so large areas as to be impractical or even impossible, as in cases where fish stocks are shared between two or more sovereign states. While conflicts over scarce fishing space might under such circumstances still be resolved through territorial use rights, the control of fish stocks would have to rely on other methods, rights based or not.

3.1 Harvesting Rights as Property Rights

An alternative method of basing fish resource management on property rights is to define rights to harvest a particular fish stock. This can be done in two ways: rights to harvest a certain quantity of fish, or rights to use particular fishing equipment, typically boats with certain characteristics, to harvest from a particular stock. These two methods are conveniently referred to as catch quotas and boat licences, respectively. Each has its own merits: while catch quotas provide incentives to catch the fish in the most efficient manner, boat licences are likely to be easier to monitor. Experience from various parts of the world with management systems of this kind are discussed, inter alia, in Mollett (1986).

The use of catch quotas and boat licences has been increasing partly as a result of the increasing pressure on fish resources, partly as a result of efforts to devise systems that promote economic efficiency. These management schemes are not necessarily property rights systems, however. Harvesting rights, such as catch quotas and boat licences, can be and have been issued in a variety of ways with respect to the length and certainty of tenure, transferability, etc. At one extreme, boat licences or catch quotas are issued on a temporary basis, for one year or one fishing season at a time, and entirely at the managing authority's discretion. At the other extreme, a person or a firm is given a licence to own and operate a fishing boat, or to catch a certain amount of fish, for a long period of time, perhaps indefinitely. In some cases it is strictly forbidden to transfer or sell quotas or licences, while in other cases this is permitted, often on certain conditions.

When licences or catch quotas are permanent and freely saleable, they are much like any other property conferring certain transferable rights on the property owner, like a farm, a building lot, or a house. Management systems that provide for this are rightly termed property rights based systems. Such systems have been implemented here and there, most notably in the fisheries of New Zealand. The argument for making harvesting rights permanent and transferable from the very beginning is that this provides an incentive for economically efficient harvesting. Those who are able to use these rights in the most profitable manner will end up holding them. Furthermore, rights to catch quotas provide an incentive to use a cost-efficient fishing technology.

Sometimes catch quota or boat licence schemes have developed into property rights systems by default, as it were. If at all successful, such management schemes generate fishing rents that are reflected in scarcity values of quotas or boat licences. Fishermen who have got boat licences or catch quotas, sometimes for free, thus find themselves with assets valuable only in fishing. Not surprisingly, they want to turn such assets into cash when leaving the fishery and find ready buyers among those who want to get into the fishing industry. Even if policy makers and officials often seem to resent such transactions, they do not always bother to prevent them, or are unable to do so.

3.2 Role of Fishermen's Organizations in Harvesting Rights Systems

What role, if any, do fishermen's organizations play in these schemes? Did the initiative come from fishermen, through their organizations or otherwise, with governments responding passively, or did the policy makers take the initiative, perhaps assigning a role to fishermen's organizations in implementing these schemes? The evidence is somewhat mixed. In all cases of which we are aware, governments have either initiated boat licences or quota systems, or at least been favourably disposed to such systems. In many cases fishermen have been either reluctant or opposed to such systems, and sometimes even able to prevent them from being implemented at all.

This negative attitude on behalf of fishermen seems to be quite pervasive; there is evidence of this in many countries, particularly in fisheries where there is large excessive fleet capacity and overfishing of stocks. The reasons could quite possibly be that the schemes proposed for restructuring the industry have lacked provisions for ensuring that no one need come out worse than otherwise. Demanding such outcomes is not a utopian wish but a simple reflection of the fact that, if it is at all worthwhile to rebuild depleted fish stocks and restructure the fishing industry, benefits generated must be larger than the cost of doing so. This is simple enough in principle; the challenges lie in the implementation. Furthermore, the uncertainty inherent in such schemes is a valid enough reason for scepticism on behalf of the fishermen. The benefits of a stock-rebuilding scheme take time to materialize and are uncertain, and it is of course quite ligitimate not to believe in a proposed share of an expected net benefit.

New Zealand and Australia seem to provide the clearest examples of fishermen's organizations showing a positive attitude towards licensing or catch quota schemes. The fact that the fishing industries of these countries did not suffer from the malaise of gross overcapacity and serious depletion of stocks is probably an important reason for this. Rather than being measures to deal with endemic overcapacity and stock depletion, these schemes came into being as devices to prevent the development of such situations. An economic framework conducive to this type of management probably played a role as well, as will be discussed below.

3.3 The Quota Scheme in New Zealand

The New Zealand Federation of Fishermen proposed a licensing scheme for the rock lobster fishery in the seventies. In 1980 such a scheme was put into effect (Annala, 1983). The purpose of this scheme was to improve the profitability of the fishery. The scheme gives preference to full-time fishermen and owner-operated boats in the allocation of fishing licences, due probably to the influence of the Federation. More importantly, the Federation endorsed the comprehensive individual transferable quota system in the inshore fishery (cf. Campbell, 1985).

To the best of our knowledge, the New Zealand system is the most far reaching rights based management system of fisheries that exists in the world today. The system is based on individual transferable quotas, and applies to practically all of New Zealand's fisheries. The general economic conditions under which this system came into being deserve some comments, as they go far towards explaining why this innovation was not obstructed by fishermen, as similar plans have been in other parts of the world. The government clearly stated its position that the fishing industry would have to stand on its own feet, so that government subsidies would not be the answer to the economic problems of the industry. The fishermen were then offered a catch quota equal to their average catch over the previous three years, and the government offered to buy back a part of these quotas at prices tendered by fishermen. This was a response to the challenge of ensuring that no one loses from rebuilding depleted fish stocks; those who gave up fishing did so in return for compensations stated by themselves, while those who remained in the fishery could go on fishing as they had done previously, with the prospect of getting larger quotas in the future in case the stocks recovered as expected (on the New Zealand system, see Duncan, 1985, and Clark, 1985).

3.4 Quotas and Licences in Australia

New Zealand's neighbour, Australia, has also introduced licensing schemes and individual quota systems in some of her fisheries. An exchange between Chatterton and Chatterton (1981; 1982), Olsen (1982), and Walkerden (1982) traces the development of the licence limitation scheme in South Australia's coastal fisheries since its introduction around 1970, as well as giving divergent opinions on some aspects thereof. Originally the licences were not meant to be saleable, but gradually they acquired a scarcity value and became saleable de facto. The government opposed this at first, but fishermen were strongly in favour of saleability. Chatterton and Chatterton (1982) maintain that the fishermen successfully appealed to the media in this regard, cashing in on a public sentiment favourably disposed to capitalistic enterprise.

The high licence premiums that did emerge in the fisheries of South Australia have had two major consequences. First, entry has become expensive. This is really a measure of how successful this management effort has been; the value of the licence merely reflects the present value of the expected future profits from being in the industry. Since the licences were originally handed out for free, the scarcity value of the licences has been transferred to the first generation of licence holders. Secondly, absentee ownership has developed in response to the rising cost of entry, presumably because it is easier for firms and individuals with assets at their disposal to raise a loan to buy a licence than the case is for somebody who just aspires to becoming a fisherman.

While fishermen's interests and government policy do appear to have been at loggerheads from time to time, the former Director of Fisheries in South Australia describes the initial attitude of fishermen to fisheries management and licence limitation as cooperative (Olsen, 1982). Fishermen were in a majority on the committee preparing the regulation of the lobster fishery. While the Spencer Gulf prawn fishery was being developed, the prawn fishermen's association undertook experimental survey trawling and made other contributions to marine research at no cost for the government. Such trawl surveys, carried out by biologist sand fishermen in collaboration, are presently the basis for the management of this very profitable fishery. A similar collaboration started in 1983–84 in the northern prawn fishery in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

3.5 The Quota Scheme in Iceland

In 1984 a system of transferable catch quotas was introduced in Iceland. This is not a permanent system, however. The quotas are valid only for a short period of time (at present two years), but the system may perhaps be becoming entrenched; it has already been extended once.

The proposals framed by the Government of Iceland were considered by the Federation of Fishermen and amended on the basis of the fishermen's objections before being passed by the Icelandic Parliament. Opinions of fishermen were divided, but in the end those who supported the quota system prevailed. The great majority of fishermen regarded the scheme as a solution of a temporary crisis brought about by depletion of the demersal stocks. Whether transferable quotas come to be seen as a permanent solution by the Icelandic fishermen and policy makers remains to be seen (on the Icelandic quota scheme, see Arnason, 1986).

3.6 Harvesting Rights: A Role for Fishermen's Organizations?

What role might fishermen's organizations play in harvesting rights systems of the kind discussed above? In the cases we have discussed, which represent a selection and do not cover all such systems in use worldwide, the role of such organizations is a minor one. Possibly it is greatest in Iceland; fishermen's organizations in Iceland are consulted with regard to the prolongation of the system, and the transfer of quotas between vessels in different towns is subject to a recommendation by the local organization of fishermen.

Rather than allocating harvesting rights to individuals or firms, these rights could be allocated to fishermen collectively. This is likely to make such systems more acceptable to fishermen, as well as preventing some perceived in equities, such as absentee ownership. In the light of our previous discussion, little would be gained, however, in terms of efficiency. Another possibility would be to use individual quotas, leaving it to fishermen to decide collectively about the total amount to be harvested. Some authors have hinted at this kind of solution (Mauldon and Sturgess, 1984; Macdonald, 1979; Pearse, 1982).


Occasionally one encounters the notion that fishermen are rugged individualists, incapable of undertaking collective efforts to promote their interests as a group. Rugged individualists they may be, but certainly not universally incapable of an organized effort to promote their interests. There are many examples of fishermen forming organizations for such purposes. In Western Europe and North America this process has many features in common with the labour movement or the cooperative movement, and was no doubt often inspired by the formation and success of producers' cooperatives and labour unions.

However, very seldom, if ever, have the efforts of fishermen's interest organizations been directed towards furthering a better management of fish stocks. Earlier on, the reasons for ignoring such matters were valid enough; other problems affecting the well-being of fishermen were simply much more pressing. Evidence of depletion of fish stocks did not really emerge until the years between the two world wars, and then only for the most intensely utilized stocks, such as the North Sea stocks. Furthermore, the fact that most fish stocks were international common property until the seventies did not encourage efforts to regulate the harvest. Finally, it must be acknowledged that estimates of the size, growth rate, and other vital parameters of fish stocks are often so imprecise that the return on sacrificing catches in the near term in order to improve future yields is perceived to be highly uncertain.

Traditionally, the efforts of fishermen's organizations at improving the lot of their members have taken the form of strengthening their position in the market place, or of seeking government support. In cases where fishermen are self-employed, or the division between boat owners and hired hands is not sharp, these efforts have been directed at forming sales cooperatives, or cooperatives for buying the equipment necessary for fishing. Examples of this can be found in many countries; cases in point are Denmark, Norway, Britain and Canada (see Barback, 1976; Mourier and Sorensen, 1976; FAO, 1971).

In other cases fishermen's organizations have operated more like traditional labour unions, negotiating wage settlements, conditions of work, etc. This is typical of fisheries conducted with large, ocean-going vessels, owned by companies or individuals who seldom are fishermen themselves. The fact that hired fishermen on such vessels usually have no chance of becoming owners, partly or wholly, of such vessels has cemented the division between boat owners and labourers and prepared the ground for the traditional boss-union relationship. Examples of such organizations can be found in most industrialized countries with fleets of large ocean-going vessels, such as Britain, Iceland and Norway. Organizations of “smallholders' cooperatives” and “fishermen's unions” thus exist side by side in many countries, and sometimes they cooperate extensively despite their somewhat different character.

We shall begin our discussion below by considering cases in which fishermen's organizations have been assigned consultative roles in fisheries policy. We will focus on how well this process accords with the goals of public policy, or with social goals in a broader context. The examples we discuss are taken from Norway and Canada, but there are, needless to say, many more examples from other countries; the choice here is dictated by limits set by personal knowledge and the literature available. The last part of this chapter deals with cases in which fishermen have on their own initiative attempted to control catches in order to affect market prices. While these cases involve conservation of fish stocks only peripherally, they are interesting insofar as they indicate a willingness on behalf of fishermen to control catches in cases where this is perceived as being in their interest.

4.1 The Norwegian Experience

In Norway the government policy has for a long time been one of cooperating quite closely with fishermen's organizations. This involves all aspects of fisheries policy, even if the influence and responsibility of fishermen's organizations is not equally strong for all kinds of issues. Below we shall discuss the Norwegian experience in this regard. This discussion is in part based on an earlier paper on Norway's fisheries policy (Hannesson, 1985).

The cooperation between the government and fishermen's interest organizations started in the period between the world wars. Norwegian fishermen made great political and organizational gains in this period, partly as a result of the advance of the Labour Party and the labour movement. In 1938 fishermen's sales organizations were by law given an exclusive right to sell raw fish, a right which they still have. The purpose of this was to strengthen fishermen's market position vis-a-vis fish buyers, in order to ensure higher ex-vessel prices.

In the early sixties the fishermen's organizations made new advances. Norway's fishing industry had at that time been lagging further and further behind other industries in terms of profitability, and government subsidies to the fishing industry were increasing year by year. A treaty, later ratified by the Norwegian Parliament, was concluded in 1964 between the government and the Fishermen's Association, laying down general rules for government support of the fishing industry. The essence of this treaty is that fishermen have a right to an income similar to that of “comparable” occupations (meaning, in practice, average income of industrial workers). This was supposed to be achieved over a period of five years through restructuring the industry.

The treaty explicitly gives the Fishermen's Association a right to demand negotiations with the government concerning financial support of the fishing industry, in case fishermen's incomes fall behind the incomes of “comparable” occupational groups. A secretariat for gathering and processing accounts from the fishing industry in order to provide the factual material for such negotiations was established as a consequence of the treaty. Another interesting consequence was that the treaty, in effect, made one particular organization of fishermen, “The Norwegian Fishermen's Association” (Norges Fiskarlag), the sole representative of Norway's fishermen by giving this organization the status of the government's only counterpart in negotiations about financial support to the fishing industry. The effect has been that other interest organizations of Norwegian fishermen and boat owners have become sub-divisions of the Fishermen's Association.

The most remarkable aspect of this treaty is that it, in effect, makes the government the ultimate guarantor of fishermen's incomes. It is very unusual to find such arrangements with respect to any particular industry in economies where the allocation of resources is based on prices and markets. If carried to extreme, such arrangements would hinder the re-allocation of resources that otherwise would occur in response to changes in profitability; workers' incentives to leave unprofitable industries are weakened, and investment in production capacity in such industries may even continue to take place. The implications for economic efficiency and growth are obvious. With respect to the fishing industry, it may be argued that such arrangements are particularly ill conceived. If entry is not controlled, the industry will overexpand to the point where all economic rent (except skill rent and quasi-rent of capital) is dissipated through excessive costs. Subsidizing the fishing industry will further aggravate this expansion and possibly set in motion a vicious circle of expansion, temporary losses, increased subsidies, further expansion, etc.

The Norwegian experience is entirely consistent with this scenario. The catch capacity of the fishing fleet in Norway's major fisheries has expanded to the point of being up to twice as large as needed to maximize economic rent. The financial support of the fishing industry increased over time until 1987 when it fell drastically to a level which, in real terms, is comparable to what it was in the mid-sixties. Whether this latest development is a consequence of new insights on behalf of policy makers into the economics of fishing or the drastic fall in government revenue due to the drop in oil prices is a point which will not be further elaborated here.

The conclusion to be drawn at this point is not that the influence of fishermen's organizations on fisheries policy is necessarily bad, but rather that the framework provided by the policy makers has been inadequate. Interest organizations cannot be blamed for soliciting favours from governments rather than increase the profitability of their industries, in case such a policy is demonstrably successful. There is no doubt that profitability of the fishing industry has played a subordinate role in Norway's fisheries policy. The reason usually given for this is that other objectives, particularly preventing the depopulation of certain areas, are more important. It can be argued, however, that such policy formulation is mistaken. Subsidies to industry in general, investment in infrastructure, income tax rebates, etc. are better suited to stimulate activities in areas in need of such stimuli than measures leading to excessive investment in one particular industry, much of it in areas that in no way are threatened by out-migration.

The involvement of Norwegian fishermen in fish stock management is a very indirect one. Together with government officials, they are represented in an advisory committee making proposals about catch quotas and their allocation, and other management measures1. To judge from the record, the fishermen's role in this process has not been overly constructive; most often their representatives have pressed for larger catch quotas than proposed by the officials and their experts. Sometimes the fishermen have had a point; the officials' proposals are usually devoid of any economic content and based on purely biological criteria, such as the MSY criterion. An uncritical use of this criterion often implies ridiculously low catch quotas in the short term, when account is taken of the discount rate, the need to maintain established markets, and the need to avoid short-term dislocation of labour and run down of processing capacity that, in the longer term, will be needed. More often, however, the pressure for larger immediate catch quotas has served short-term interests only and has meant either a slower recovery of depleted stocks (Arcto-Norwegian cod) or a precipitation of a (temporary?) collapse (Barents Sea capelin).

1 Consultative committees with a similar representation have been set up in Denmark, one for giving advice at the EEC level in the negotiations of catch quotas, and another which deals with domestic regulations.

4.2 The Canadian Experience

In Canada attempts have also been made to involve fishermen and their oganizations in fisheries management. The most far reaching, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to do this occurred in the Bay of Fundy herring fishery. In the sixties and early seventies this fishery went through the boom and bust development cycle so typical for fisheries based on pelagic species. When the herring fishermen asked for financial support, the government decided to develop a management scheme based on cooperation with and self-policing by the fishermen. Earlier management had involved a total allowable catch quota, bringing the fishery to an abrupt halt when the quota had been reached. This led to a race for getting a largest possible share of the quota, an unequal division of the catch among the vessels, and a shortening of the fishing season. The new scheme was based on individual vessel quotas, the size and distribution of which was agreed with the fishermen. The fishermen formed a cooperative which marketed the fish and, in effect, policed the quota regime.

For three years or so, this new management regime was a sucess, in the sense that the quotas were adhered to. After that the regime broke down. Some fishermen were dissatisfied with the quotas they got, as well as with selling their fish through the cooperative, and broke with the cooperative. Fishing in excess of the allocated vessel quotas was reported to have taken place on a grand scale. Policing of the quotas apparently is a major problem in this fishery (see Peacock and MacFarlane, 1986). The fishery is now being managed by transferable vessel quotas, but trading in quotas apparently has not led to as much restructuring of the fishing fleet as expected, owing to the ease by which extra quotas can be freely obtained through cheating (see Peacock and MacFarlane, 1986). The experience with transferable quotas in this fishery is a warning signal that enforcement may indeed be a serious problem in a management system based on transferable quotas.

The reports of the two task forces set up in the early 1980s to review the management of the Canadian fisheries are both rather critical of how the Canadian Government conducts its consultations with fishermen. Pearse (1982, ch. 17) characterizes the consultation process as being ad hoc, haphazard and unstructured, while Kirby (1983) complains that fishermen are a fragmented group and characterizes their organizations as “notoriously unable to analyse, consult and advise on behalf of their sector”. The remedies proposed by Pearse and Kirby are somewhat different. Pearse advocates establishing advisory boards composed of knowledgeable individuals in that capacity and not as representatives of interest organizations, as this would minimize the self-serving advice that may be expected to emerge from such representatives. Kirby, on the other hand, advocates “organization of fishermen generally, as well as umbrella groupings that can represent the fishermen's viewpoint on region-wide and Atlantic-wide issues” (Kirby, 1983), in order to make fishermen's organizations more accountable and to ensure that fishermen's representatives truly are representative.

4.3 Should Fishermen Be Consulted, and if So, How?

The two solutions advocated by Pearse and Kirby represent two different philosophies of industrial regulation. One could be described as enlightened regulation from above, proceeding on the basis of advice given by disinterested and knowledgeable individuals. The other is more akin to regulation by consensus, based on advice from representatives of the interest groups involved. Such advice will unavoidably reflect the interests of the groups being represented. Regulations based on that kind of advice will therefore stand a good chance of being accepted by those who are most directly affected. This is not necessarily a more democratic way of governing, however; those who are being consulted are likely to be the ones most directly involved, while the great majority with indirect but not necessarily less important interests will not be heard at all.

To what extent regulation based on consulting the interest groups most directly affected is compatible with the public interest depends to a large extent on the general economic framework within which the interest organizations operate. In a generally competitive environment where government regulation is mostly indirect, the interests of such organizations are likely to be compatible with the general public interest. For example, fishermen operating in an environment where government subsidies are ruled out are more likely than otherwise to associate their interests with a profitable fishing industry which is not being based on overfishing of stocks. Since management by consensus is more palatable and less divisive than enlightened management from above, a major effort should be put into fostering a generally competitive environment, in order to make it as unlikely as possible that interest organizations will be able to secure benefits for themselves through government handouts and privileges.

4.4 Market Regulations by Fishermen's Organizations

In Sweden and the EEC the role of fishermen's organizations in regulating raw fish markets is somewhat similar to that in Norway. While fishermen's sales organizations do not have monopoly rights to sell raw fish, they nevertheless dominate the market in some places. In both the EEC and Sweden the fishermen's organizations, called “Producers' Organizations” in the EEC, are empowered to withdraw fish from the market if the price falls below a certain level, and to pay compensations which, in part, are financed from public funds to their members for the fish so withdrawn. Membership in the Producers' Organizations is voluntary, but the EEC Commission has encouraged and subsidized the formation of such organizations in places where fishermen have been poorly organized, such as France and Italy1.

Even if the Producers' Organizations can be regarded in part as instruments of fisheries policy with respect to market regulations, this is hardly so, as far as resource management is concerned. Resource management is the prerogative of the central EEC authorities, which set annual catch quotas on the basis of negotiations with non-EEC countries with which the fish stocks are shared. The EEC quota is then divided among the member countries, each in turn deciding the allocation of its own quota. Cases in which the Producers' Organizations apparently are involved in the management of national catch quotas show that this is done for the purpose of market regulation and not for managing the fish stocks. The Dutch Producers' Organization can recall boats from the grounds when landings appear to be becoming excessive (cf.Anon., 1985). The Scottish Producers' Organization allocates the Scottish quota among its members, but this concerns short-term allocation only (within a single week or so) for the purpose of securing high and stable market prices (cf. Wray, 1985). This resembles efforts by some American fishermen to regulate market prices through controlling the supply of fish, to which we now turn.

1 On the EEC system, see Leigh (1983), pp. 32–35 and 110–115, and Wise (1984), pp. 213–214. On the Swedish system, see SOU (Sveriges Officiella Utredningar)(1977), pp. 91–92.

4.5 Illicit Manipulation of Markets Through Catch Control

There are cases reported in the literature in which fishermen regulate catches on an informal basis for their own benefit. Even if the purpose of such regulations is to maintain high prices through limiting the quantity supplied, such cases are important from the point of view of resource management. Presumably fishermen would be willing to limit catches for the purpose of conserving fish stocks, if only they had sufficient control over the fish stocks and the future benefits of such actions were certain enough.

Two interesting cases of this kind are reported from the eastern seaboard of the United States. McCay (1980) describes a fishermen's cooperative in the New York Bight region which is involved in this type of activity. The cooperative enjoys a locational advantage; it owns the best dock site and landing facilities along a long stretch of the shoreline, and newcomers would find it difficult to establish themselves because land is scarce and expensive. The cooperative also is less dependent than its nearest competitors on the weather with regard to access to the fishing banks. The cooperative is restrictive about admitting new members. Whiting is one of the species caught by members of the cooperative. The price of this species in the local market is extremely variable and sensitive to small changes in supply. The cooperative has discovered that it is able to influence the price of whiting in its favour by limiting the supply of fish. To this end the cooperative occasionally imposes catch quotas on its members. An interesting method of enforcing the quota is that those who exceed their quota are obliged to share the proceeds of the excess quota with other members of the cooperative.

White (1954) describes how the Atlantic Fishermen's Union in New England periodically limited the supply of fish by either imposing a vessel quota or limiting fishing effort. The purpose of this was to obtain a better price of fish at the auction, fishermen's incomes being determined largely by the ex-vessel price through the share system. Conservation of fish stocks was not, however, the primary objective and the measures taken to limit the supply were indeed wasteful in this respect, involving the dumping of fish at sea. Nevertheless the union argued, in a court case where it was accused by the State of Massachusetts of conspiring against consumers, that limiting catches was beneficial to conservation. The union was also more receptive than the boat owners to conservation measures such as wider meshes in trawls, etc., recommended by fisheries biologists. The union did not try, however, to make conservation an issue in its collective bargaining with boat owners, and so it may be argued that its support of conservation was only half-hearted and incidental. The Massachusetts Superior Court, in any case, was not impressed by the conservation element in the union's policy and found its limitation of catches illegal, due to the intended effect on fish prices (White, 1954).

The verdict of the Massachusetts Supreme Court is not unique. Fishermen's organizations in Scotland did at one time operate various schemes of restrictions on fishing for the purpose of raising the price of fish. These practices were declared illegal by the Scottish Restrictive Practices Court (Barback, 1976).

No doubt Scottish and American fishermen, and fishermen elsewhere who may have attempted the same, restricted their catches in order to raise fish prices and thereby their incomes. Possibly their conservation arguments were vicarious and rightly so identified by the courts. To the extent, however, that these restrictive practices did limit catches, they must have contributed to conservation of fish stocks. It appears that the illegality of these activities was determined through perceiving an analogy between the fishing industry and manufacturing industries which do not utilize any common property resources. If such industries cause no costs that are not accounted for (pollution of the environment, for example), it is against the social interest to restrain their production capacity compared with what would result in a competitive market. A general hostility in the courts towards all restrictive practices in the fishing industry, for right or wrong reasons, is bound to have discouraged any actions among fishermen to conserve fish stocks through limiting catches and could be one reason why there are so few cases of such efforts being attempted by fishermen.


The academic and technical literature provides little evidence of collective fisheries management by fishermen. There is some evidence of spontaneous and often extra-legal effort to establish spatial rights in fisheries, particularly in small-scale, inshore fisheries in less developed and pre-industrial societies. Such rights appear instrumental in solving conflicts over limited fishing space, while the conservation effect is incidental and depends on the migratory habits of the fish.

Some cases are reported in which fishermen control the landings of fish. This occurs both through formal and informal organization, and sometimes against the law. The purpose is to regulate markets, not to conserve fish stocks. The reason why market regulation takes precedence over conservation seems obvious enough. Market prices fluctuate from day to day or even within a day, so that the benefits to fishermen of regulating market prices are immediate and certain. The benefits of conserving fish, on the other hand, are long term, uncertain, and often shared with fishermen who do not belong to a particular organization, be it formal or informal. The reason why fishermen have been so little engaged in fish stock conservation may thus be attributed to a weak incentive to do so, but certainly not their lack of capability to undertake organized effort.

In some cases governments have assigned special management tasks to fishermen's organizations. The most far-reaching example of this kind is the Japanese fishing rights system. In Britain the Producers' Organizations have been given the task of managing the British share of the annual EEC quota, but this falls far short of fish conservation as such. In yet other countries, fishermen's organizations are consulted extensively on matters of fisheries policy. This consultative process may be informal or highly formalized, as is the case in Norway, and the degree of influence that fishermen have on fisheries policy likewise differs widely from one country to another.

One conclusion that we wish to stress is that the outcome of giving fishermen's organizations a say in fisheries management depends crucially on the economic framework and philosophy prevailing in each country. The experience of New Zealand and Norway are in many ways at opposite ends in this regard. The New Zealand fishermen generally supported the introduction of the individual transferable quota system, which is designed to improve economic efficiency in the fishery and was introduced in an apparently equitable manner. Norway's fishermen have mainly directed their efforts at soliciting favours from the government, with the result that overcapacity in the fishing fleet is endemic and the need for subsidies to make ends meet for fishermen ever growing.

Is there, then, a case for fisheries management through fishermen's organizations? In theory the case for this type of solution is not entirely convincing. The arguments for collective solutions of the common property problem are arguments of equity and social justice rather than efficiency, while pseudo-market solutions based on transferable catch quotas or fishing licences held by individuals or firms seem more likely to promote efficiency. Allocating quotas or licences to fishermen's organizations is not the only way to deal with perceived inequities of such systems; a concentration of profits in fishing may be prevented through leasing or taxing fishing licences or quotas, and absentee ownership, or concentration of ownership, may be avoided by making transferability subject to certain conditions.


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