First Woman Recipient of Nobel Prize for Economics, A Key Player in Ending the Race for Fish

Elinor Ostrom, who shares this year's Nobel Prize for Economics, laid much of the intellectual foundation for EDF's current work with fishery cooperatives. Catch shares evolved from common property theory and empirical observations that, under certain conditions, resources such as fish, water, or pasture land tend to be overexploited when property rights are not clearly delineated. Ostrom's research shows that resource users can develop cooperative methods to avoid overexploiting resources and dissipating wealth through competition. 

While some say that this idea "challenges" the conventional wisdom, research conducted by EDF's Ocean Innovations suggests that competitive and cooperative dynamics depend on scale and the attributes of the communities themselves. Our results will soon be published in the Bulletin of Marine Science. This research and our experience with fishermen on the water motivates our work with the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association and the Morro Bay Community Based Fishing Association, two pioneering efforts to cooperatively manage fisheries. 

We believe that cooperative approaches can complement catch shares, which often apply at larger scales and to more industrial, less socially cohesive fishing communities. Such approaches are also broadly applicable in many developing countries, where social values are emphasized over individualism and economic gain, and where legal and political structures facilitate the delegation of resource use privileges to groups.

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8 Comments

  1. Nathalie Graham
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    "Ostrom also has researched fisheries worldwide to discover that the most sustainable way to manage fish stocks is to let the fisheries determine how to share the resources. She found that privatizing public resources — allowing one body to make decisions about the use of resources — is inferior to letting a diverse group of bodies (such as a group of fishermen) make collective decisions." Quote from Sarah Gilbert, Daily Finance

    Aren't catch shares going to do just this – allow one body to make decisions about the use of resources?

  2. Meg
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Hate to break it to you Rod, Ostrom does anything but support catch shares.

    Her award-winning research found that privatization of our fisheries is inferior to cooperative management. In other words: she highlights every thing that's wrong with the policy you promote.

    Catch shares are the epitome of resource privatization. Our oceans have been devastated by the same corporations that are being given control of our fisheries through catch share programs. Using factory trawlers that crush not only the fish that they target, but everything in their path, these corporations have done nothing to preserve this public resource, instead profiting off destruction.

    Meanwhile, our small-scale fishermen, the heart of our coastal communities, who use sustainable technologies and are historic stewards of our fisheries, are losing their livelihood. There is nothing cooperative about catch shares, in fact they have deliberately alienated people across the country.

    In the Gulf, 70% of fishermen were excluded from the decision to implement catch shares.

    In New England, this weeks Fisheries Management Council meeting is reportedly "not intended for the public."

    In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, 1,150 crew members lost their jobs when catch shares cut 162 boats from the red king crab fishery.

    And of course, we can't forget the UN Human Rights Committee ruling that catch shares violate international law by requiring citizens to pay a privileged group (i.e. corporations) to use what should be a public resource.

    Ostrom's research supports an inclusive approach to fisheries management, not one that puts corporations before people.

    Nice try spinning the issue, but it doesn't change the facts: Catch shares don't work.

  3. Montauk
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    The only thing privatization has going for it is momentum. Just like the resistance to statehood in Alaska. Doesn't mean it is right. The canneries in Alaska simply wanted the fullest value of the resources to flow to their out-of-state headquarters. This has been the result of fish privatization in Alaska as well. There was just a brief time of prosperity in the communities in Alaska post Territorial days and pre-catch shares and limited entry.

    And the way these programs got their start in the dining rooms of Juneau, where pay-offs were rampant, would curl a social reformer's hair. You can't ignore the manner in which privatization gained momentum. And in support of Elinor Ostrom, and not detract from her work like some are now doing, the communities have the right to have a say in how fish stocks are allocated. This is the right of collective bargaining that President Franklin Roosevelt initiated and was a real boon to blue collar workers.

    Elinor Ostrom broke the silence in a way only a national figure could, and fishing communities now have a chance to prove broad-based decision making is better mousetrap. The alternative is betting the entire farm on a theory that is being proven false continually. Especially now as industry insiders speak up in the alternative media on the abuses of the caretaking opportunity and responsibility given to catch-share holders.

  4. Posted October 16, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Boiling down this conversation to "catch shares work" or "catch shares don't work" is an oversimplification that blurs the fact that there is a lot of common ground among people and organizations concerned with fisheries management:

    * We want to see an abundance of fish in the ocean.

    * We want to see communities thrive and benefit from that abundance—through good, safe, well-paying jobs and fresh, locally-caught seafood.

    * We want regulations to work to prevent overfishing and other environmental damage while allowing fishermen to fish as profitably as possible.

    One misperception I see playing out in this dialogue is the idea that catch shares are nothing more and nothing less than individual tradable quotas with no policy overlays to protect socioeconomic values. Just as free market capitalism in countries like the United States has been tempered by child labor, environmental and anti-discrimination laws to protect a wide range of public values, so have catch shares increasingly been designed to support a range of community goals. Catch shares include:

    * Community Quota Entity programs in the Gulf of Alaska. CQEs are a new group of non-profit entities that can hold halibut and sablefish quota on behalf of residents of specific rural communities so that IFQ quota shares stay in small rural communities.

    * Groundfish sectors in New England. Sectors are fishing cooperative-based catch shares that have been specifically designed to try to support small-scale fishermen and fishing communities. We are working with several sectors on business plans that help fishermen profit by working together to provide quality, year-round fresh fish.

    * Area-based catch shares called TURFs (territorial use rights for fishing), which can allow individuals, cooperatives or communities to sustainably manage less mobile species such as shellfish. This model appears to be very similar to the approach described by Meg above.

    Regardless of the type of catch share used, there are a number of policy overlays—such as consolidation caps, limits on ownership and use and share holdbacks or redistributions that further support the community goals held by many concerned with America's fisheries. Taking potshots at each other doesn't bring back the fish. Rather, we need to be working together on common goals so that both our fisheries and our fishing communities thrive well into the future.

  5. marybethdepoutiloff
    Posted October 16, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    YOUR "SPIN" ON ELINOR OSTROM'S WORK IS BOGUS. "CATCH SHARES" IS ABOUT SELLING RESOURCES TO THE HIGHEST BIDDERS. UNFORTUNATELY, FISHERMEN DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO LARGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY. NON-FISHERMEN WILL END UP WITH THE QUOTA. REAL FISHERMEN WILL BE NOTHING MORE THAN CROP-SHARERS. HOW DOES THIS INCREASE ACCOUNTABILITY? HOW WILL "CATCH SHARES" DECREASE OVERFISHING? IT WILL INCREASE HIGH-GRADING & THE COSTS FOR 100% OBSERVERS WILL ADD TO THE PRICE OF FISH. ALASKA CRAB ITQ'S HAVE NOT MADE THAT FISHERY ANY SAFER. "CATCH SHARES" MEANS PRIVATIZING THE INDUSTRY. A PUBLIC RESOURCE WILL BE OWNED BY THE LIKES OF WALL STREET. SECTORS IN GROUNDFISHING WAS 51% SECTORS AND 49% COMMON POOL. STOP SUGAR COATING ITQ'S IT WILL BE THE END OF FISHING COMMUNITIES. IF YOU HAD ANY CONCERNS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, YOU WOULD NOT BE ON THIS BANDWAGON. CORPORATIONS ARE ABOUT PROFIT AT ANY COST, PERIOD. SMALL SCALE FISHERMEN ARE CONCERNED WITH THEIR LOCAL COMMUNITY & FUTURE GENERATIONS. WHY ARE YOU IGNORING THE STUDIES OF ECOTRUST, BC CANADA? "CATCH SHARES" EQUAL RE-DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH. IT IS CONSIDERED A FAILURE IN EUROPE, CANADA & ALASKA. COURSE IF YOU ASK THE 20% HOLDING THE QUOTA, THEY LOVE "CATCH SHARES" THE 80% THAT LOSE JOBS & MONEY LOST IN THE COMMUNITY, IT'S DEVASTATING. FOR YOU TO INSINUATE THAT THERE WILL BE MORE FISH BECAUSE OF ITQ'S IS AN OUTRAGEOUS LIE.

  6. peter halmay
    Posted October 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    As a commoner who has worked in the sea urchin gardens for the past 39 years, I understood clearly what the recognition of Elinor Ostrom by the Nobel judges meant.

    It meant that we commoners, if allowed and organized,would make better decisions than the central government geniuses or the NGOs advocating catch,share, and release,regarding the management of renewable common property resources.

    "Conservatives used the tragedy of the commons to argue for property rights, and efficiency was achieved as people were thrown off the commons,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University, a Nobel laureate in economics himself. “But the effects of throwing a lot of people out of their livelihood were enormous. What Ostrom has demonstrated is the existence of social control mechanisms that regulate the use of commons without having to resort to property rights.”

    This recognition of the work of Elinor Ostrom may be the catalyst that encourages us commoners to organize and run the NGO property rights people out of our fishing communities and to make co-management arrangements with the resource managers .

    Rod understands this and as the old adage says" when you are being run out of town stands tall and straight and pretend you are leading the parade"

  7. Montauk
    Posted October 19, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    You can't argue with these NGO types, just exclude them from the conservation. Remember the old admonition against arguing with fools, otherwise they will turn and rend you like wild boars? And don't expect fishermen to ever be polite about the half truths. There comes a time when folks just need to be thrown out of the temple. NGO spin reminds me of the folks in my eye care office last week. They wanted to sell me all these expensive lens features that I was getting by fine without. So they trot out the argument that I'm 'resisting Doctor's orders' and that 'they just have my best interests at heart.' They don't think I have my best interests at heart? And read "Doctor's orders" as "who are you to think you know better about your eye health, and slow down our cash flow?"

    Doctors are supposed to be our PARTNERS in our health care, just like fishery managers SHOULD be our partners in fish and economic health care. The book 'Tragedy of the Commons' helped privatizers nail the coffin shut on fishing communities that people like Ayan Rand started. Remember how she virulently stated that religion and altruism had no place at all in capitalism! And she was Alan Greenspan's mentor! Does that sound like fishing communities' overall economic health has been in these folks best interests? Especially, the best interests of NGOs with connections to highly profitable oil companies? NOT.

  8. Rod Fujita
    Posted December 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Hi Nathalie, thanks for your comment. Catch shares can be designed to allow individuals to make decisions pertaining to their individual share, or they can be designed to allow groups to make collective decisions. This insight is the key to understanding the dialogue in response to my post. The Territorial Use Rights for Fishing (TURF) systems in use by Chile and other countries (TURFs have been used for hundreds of years throughout the world, quite successfully resulting in sustainable fisheries), sector quotas (in which catch shares are allocated to sectors), cooperatives that hold quota, and community development quotas are all examples of catch share systems that strengthen rights and privileges of groups that can then make collective decisions about how to manage their fishing. This is one of several attributes that Ostrom and others point out are important pre-conditions for successful collective decision making. Alaska's CDQs and our work in Morro Bay (where fishermen and environmentalists make collective decisions regarding shares of groundfish catch that are managed by a community-based fishing association)show that catch share systems that allocate catch privileges to groups can work in the U.S. as well.

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