By Donald R. Leal
In coastal areas of the United States and Canada, fish populations continue to decline, in spite of government regulations. Communities whose mainstay is fishing appear powerless to control the tragedy of destructive overfishing.
But in a new policy paper, PERC Senior Associate Donald R. Leal argues that such a tragedy is not inevitable.
presents case after case of communities that have effectively protected their fishing territories and preserved fish for the future. Leal's paper reviews fisheries from a wide expanse of time and place, from early native Alaskan salmon fisheries to today's ZECs (zones of controlled exploitation) in Quebec. Leal finds that fishing areas can be protected from overfishing with minimal government involvement.
"Community-run fisheries challenge the notion that fishers will always be locked into the tragedy of the commons unless there is state control," says Leal. "They offer hope for many coastal fishing areas around the world." He suggests that they offer lessons for offshore fishing areas, as well.
The key is to figure out what makes these community-run fisheries "work." Leal cites the work of political economist Elinor Ostrom. Her studies of well-managed, commonly-owned property show that well-defined boundaries, a strong community tradition, and absence of government interference can preserve resources.