Thursday, January 31, 2013

Deja Vu, All Over Again

That's the feeling one gets reading today's news about northeastern fisheries.  This year's story is much like the stories from other recent years, and those stories are quite similar to the twenty-year-old stories in the natural resources casebook I use.  Fisheries regulators set limits.  Fishermen complain that the limits are unjuustified and will be economically devastating.  Regulators and environmental advocates point out that the reason these limits have to be stringent is that the limits of previous years weren't stringent enough (in their public statements, they're usually polite enough to not point out that those limits weren't sufficiently stringent partly because fishermen and their supporters resisted argued that lower limits would be economically devastating).  Northeastern politicians ask for disaster relief (only this year, they don't get it).

One hopeful sign is that this isn't the story for all U.S. fisheries.  Many are actually stable or improving, and legal innovations like catch share programs are part of that positive story.  And another somewhat hopeful sign is that some species in the waters off New England actually are doing well.  Unfortunately, it's hard to catch those species without also catching cod, which aren't doing well at all.  And that means, as today's news unfortunately reminds us, that the northeastern fisheries remain stuck in the same vicious cycle.

-Dave Owen

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