On Fisheries management, output quotas, paua fishery

Sabrina shared A sobering NZ Geographic article:
“A Tragedy Of The Ocean Commons: Land is owned, but the sea is shared. And we haven’t been sharing very well.”

[ 11/January/22 ]

This really is over-simplistic to the point of creating more risk than reward.

We have mixed systems of ownership both on land and at sea.

Commercial fisheries in NZ are managed by a system of output quotas (similar in many aspects to land ownership), and while there have been more than a few mistakes made, the system is for the most part working.

Back in the early 80s, when commercial fisheries were in trouble for a wide variety of reasons, it was clear that input controls were failing, and something else was required. NZ was the first country to use widespread output controls (quotas – property rights), and it has generally worked much better than the alternatives (and there are many different classes of issues present, and the current instantiation of the system is far from perfect, and it is better than most of the alternatives used elsewhere on the planet).

Recreational “rights” are a hard political issue.

Increasing populations, and increasing technologies, make it easier for people to catch fish, and harder for fish to survive.

It is a very complex set of topics, and we need to be far more responsible, generally, than many have been. There are not enough paua on the Kaikoura coast for the population of the upper South Island to take 1 daily bag limit of 5 paua (that would remove every paua from the water). So the idea that most people have that they are entitled to the “daily bag limit” is an utter nonsense.

Daily bag limits only work to the degree that they do because most people never take them. Historically they have worked because most people were incompetent, and catching fish was a skilled activity. Technology is changing that.

So it is deeply more complex than “property rights”.

Biology is often deeply complex, and two reasonably simple things often act as “rate limiting” steps in the productivity of any system.

1/ is the capture of energy into the system. Are there enough algae present to capture enough sunlight and turn it into “edible” molecules. Anything that reduces light impacts productivity – like sediment, or cloud, or volcanic ash.

2/ is nutrient availability. What are we taking out, and is enough being replaced? Anything that limits plankton growth reduces productivity, like lack of nutrients (because we extracted them and didn’t replace them) or too many things eating the algae (like high concentrations of mussels in restricted water bodies), etc.

Few people realise that most of the ocean, once you get a few miles offshore, is essentially a nutrient limited desert. Things like dustfall from desert winds going out to sea, or outfalls from major river floods, actually have major influences on ocean productivity.

Things are much more complex than most people want to think about.

Our brains are (necessarily) biased to prefer simplicity over complexity, and in our modern complex technological age, those biases do not serve us well.

Everyone taking 5 paua a day is not sustainable, never was, never could be.

Even 5% of the population taking 5 paua once a year vastly exceeds the set recreational allowance.

That advice was given to government by the guardians, but seems not to have made it all the way through bureaucratic systems, for a range of reasons.

We all need to accept that we are in a time of rapid change, and that we all have responsibilities, and that we are all going to make mistakes. The key to learning from mistakes is actually recognising that we have made one.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) with reasonable security, tools, resources and degrees of freedom, and reasonable examples of the natural environment; and that is going to demand responsibility from all of us - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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