Q&A with Michael Arbuckle on Global Fisheries Challenges

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Michael Arbuckle, a senior fisheries specialist at the World Bank, is visiting PERC this week to attend our workshop on "Tackling the Global Fisheries Challenges." Arbuckle is working with PERC's Donald Leal on rights-based fisheries reform in developing countries with an emphasis on artisanal fisheries. Watch the video interview above or read a more detailed interview below. For more PERC Q&As, visit the series archive.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing global fisheries?

A: It’s a tragedy that worldwide the wealth of fish is being squandered. More than 200 million people in developing countries depend on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihood, and fish account for 50 percent of the protein needs for the 400 million poorest people.

Each year, poor governance costs the fishing industry at least $50 billion. Yet more than $100 billion of market gains are possible when sustainable net benefits are considered.

This is bad for American markets, but it is an even greater tragedy for developing countries where wealth is needed most. The global challenge is to help recover the lost wealth in developing country fisheries and reinvest it.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the PERC workshop on global fisheries challenges?

A: Forms of property rights are not well recognized in most developing countries. Furthermore, the capacity of governance or the rule of law is often weak or non-existent.

So Donald Leal and I have not just been looking into whether we need property rights or what are the characteristics of these property rights, but how do you introduce them. The development of property right institutions must come from the bottom up. The importance of property rights are further emphasized in this manner because they empower users to manage their resources responsibly.

Q: What are a few lessons we can learn from the bottom-up management approach to some of the fisheries you have been examining in the developing world?

A: Often bottom-up property right institutions are the only entry point for reform in such countries. We are seeing a growing list of examples including Mexico, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Chile, etc., where bottom-up property right arrangements have helped develop more stable fisheries.  

We are learning more and more about the characteristics of such systems. We now know it’s dangerous and often counter productive to invest in value chain improvements without reliable property rights, but we also know that if property rights are established a variety of gains are possible.

In addition, we know that one size does not fit all and the particular arrangement of property rights is unique. This is something that must be considered as we take away lessons from successful property rights regimes—the misalignment of property rights to the political economy of the country can easily undermine the rights that are being established.

Q: What is your vision for the future of fisheries and aquaculture?

A: Looking to the future, the supply of fish will be dominated by aquaculture and this will be up for meeting future demand. It will be critical, therefore, to not see fisheries as an end in itself, but also as a foundation for aquaculture development.

An important objective for the World Bank and PERC is to help identify and implement the property right institutions that will enable such innovations in the oceans.

The PERC workshop on "Tackling the Global Fisheries Challenges" is a good opportunity to examine high seas property rights issues from a clean platform, without thinking about the current constraints of the institutions in place. The workshop gives the participants a chance to think about fisheries from a theoretical perspective, consider some specific examples, and think innovatively about how to move forward.

Huggins is a research fellow and former director of outreach with PERC as well as a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Her association with PERC goes back several years, although she has recently embarked on a new venture as the manager of economic initiatives for the American Prairie Reserve. Huggins coauthored...
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