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LealWealthInFisheriesNew - Fishing for Wealth in Coastal...

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Fishing for Wealth in Coastal Fisheries By Donald R. Leal Senior Fellow, PERC U.S. commercial fisheries figure prominently in both the national and regional economies. In 2003, commercial fishermen harvested 4.3 million metric tons of fish valued dockside at $3.3 billion, an increase of 108.3 million pounds (up one percent) and $249.9 million (up eight percent) compared with 2002 (NMFS 2004a). By producing and marketing a variety of fishery products for domestic and foreign markets, U.S. commercial fisheries contributed $31.5 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2003. Alaska led all states in dockside value of landings with $989.8 million, followed by Louisiana, $294 million; Massachusetts, $291.6 million; Maine, $283.8 million; and Washington, $170.2 million. That said many fisheries face formidable challenges in terms of their own sustainability and their ability to co-exist with the growing demands from recreational fishermen, 1 marine eco-tourists (e.g., whale watching and reef diving), and ocean ecologists. Since 1999, seven species of groundfish off Washington, Oregon, and California have been declared overfished by the National Marine Fisheries Service. So have several crab fisheries off Alaska’s Bering Sea, and the federal government is embarking on a $100 million vessel buy-out program to reduce the size of the crab fleet. Red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico have suffered enormous waste under a management- induced fishing derby since 1990. In addition, conflicts between fishing interests and 1
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other ocean groups have intensified in recent years. Calls for expanding marine protected areas (MPAs) in which fishing is restricted or eliminated have been met with heavy resistance from fishermen. Right-to-fish laws are now being proposed in state legislatures and in Congress (e.g., Rogers 2003 and The Recreational Fishing Alliance 2003). This paper argues that institutional change based on more fully delineated property rights in coastal fisheries can reverse the secular trend of wealth dissipation. In addition, such a change should be structured to allow for recognition of growing demands for ocean amenities. Government Regulation: Largely a Failure Nearly thirty years have elapsed since the United States extended its territorial limits to 200 miles from shore. Since then, U.S. commercial fisheries have been managed under a host of government regulations in an effort to counter the tendency for ocean fish stocks to be overfished under the classic “tragedy of the commons.” 2 These include restrictions on the size and power of fishing vessels, the types of fishing gear (e.g., net mesh size), the area where fishing is allowed, the length of the fishing season, the amount of fish a vessel is allowed to keep per fishing trip, the number of fishing trips a vessel can take in a season, and the landing size for fish. Although fishing restrictions are designed to prevent depletion of fish stocks, its
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LealWealthInFisheriesNew - Fishing for Wealth in Coastal...

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