Dontcha just love nef?

Their report on fishing.

They note that overfishing is a dreadful waste of resources.

They are correct.

They note that certain parts of the world have overcome this problem.

They are correct.

They note that the EU has not because it\’s all run by idiot bureaucrats and politicians.

They are correct.

Their solution? More bureaucrats and politicians.

They fail to note that those places which have solved this problem have done so by insisting upon private ownership of the right to fish a particular stock. Essentially, moving fishing from being a form of hunting to being a form of farming.

It\’s a classic Commons Problem one solved by, as Hardin said they could be, allocation of private property rights. But this being the nef they\’d never actually say that because, well, you know, property is theft, innit?

Some people really would have best been left as stains on the bedsheet.

29 comments on “Dontcha just love nef?

  1. “They fail to note that those places which have solved this problem have done so by insisting upon private ownership of the right to fish a particular stock. Essentially, moving fishing from being a form of hunting to being a form of farming.”

    If people have rights over a particular stock, what happens if they catch something that’s not the stock they have the rights over?

  2. Richard A,

    It’s not like all the cod is all together and all the haddock is all together, is it? What’s a cod fisherman going to do if he gets some haddock?

  3. What is the EU doing wrong? The property-rights solution is, in practice, for the government to create new property rights and allocate them to itself; then the government sells a set number of tradable permits each year.

    Isn’t the EU doing this in some form? Quotas and all that? Aren’t “idiot bureaucrats and politicians” and “property rights” the same thing in this case?

    Also, I am led to understand, when fishermen overfish their quota, they tend to throw the excess away, dead.

    Question: why would a fisherman knowingly overfish his quota?

    Tim adds: You don’t want the permits for each year. Fisheries are multi-year operations. You need long term ownership.

    In fact, you could do without quotas at all if you had that long term, inheritable, ownership. Because it taikes less time (and fuel etc) to fish in plentiful seas the maximally profitable level of a fishery is well above the minimally sustainable level.

  4. I don’t think they are even being that sensible. I think their argument boils down to:

    1. Our politicians keep saying that we need to do something quite drastic.
    2. Between the politicians and the bureaucrats, we always end up with an inadequate fudge.
    3. We think we need to do something quite drastic.
    4. Therefore we should encourage our politicians to say we need to do something quite drastic.

    I agree with point 3, by the way. My solution would upset the Spanish quite a lot.

    Question: why would a fisherman knowingly overfish his quota?

    Because quotas are set by type and size of fish not just by tonnage. If you catch the wrong sort of fish or the wrong size of the right sort of fish, what would you do? Take it back, have it confiscated and destroyed and take the fine.

    Or bin it at sea? Incentives matter …

  5. So they should just be set by tonnage? Any problems with this approach? Why isn’t it done already?

    SE, what’s your solution?

  6. Nah, there’s a very simple solution to this. Open outcry. Get representatives of all the various claimants into a room and have them all shout “FISH” as loud as they can all together. The one who shouts loudest gets the fishing rights. Simples.

  7. @Richard A and @Hugo:

    The model that works: A corner shop owner (with property rights) collects a trolley full of loaves and rolls from a Cash and Carry each morning, and sells them to the public. If he accidentally adds some chocolate to the trolley, he sells it as well.

    The EU model: The corner shop owner may visit lots of Cash and Carry warehouses, but is forced to do it with eyes shut. He/she is allowed to fill one trolley – by touch alone, but once outside the doors he’s required to throw away anything that isn’t bread and rolls. If he’s got time he’s allowed to go back inside again and repeat the process until he’s got a trolley full of bread and rolls.

    Try to defend the EU model if you like. I’ll get popcorn and watch.

  8. Hugo –

    The property-rights solution is, in practice, for the government to create new property rights and allocate them to itself; then the government sells a set number of tradable permits each year.

    Is it? Why?

    Why not grant the rights directly to the fishermen? Treat them exactly like land rights for farmers.

  9. “Because quotas are set by type and size of fish not just by tonnage.”

    I read an article which pointed out that by setting a minimum size of fish, we were effectively selecting for smaller fish. Another example of the law of unintended consequences.

  10. Philip Scott Thomas –

    Okay, sure. I was talking about what happens in practice. Either would be Coase efficient. Actually a private company would be better: they won’t have electoral considerations so will be better able to reduce short-term consumption to increase long-term consumption.

    What I’m asking, since I’m too lazy to read the report, is what is wrong with the EU system. Is it just quotas by size and type, rather than quotas by tonnage? Or are there other things wrong with it too? Like the total quota being too high? And the permits being issued in a political way rather than just auctioned off?

    Could someone please describe the EU system, and their ideal system?

    Here’s my guess at an ideal approach:

    The property that will be created is the right to fish in a geographic area. It could be owned by the govt or by a private company. The area will have to be fairly big, because fish move about. Ideally the waters around a country, including international waters closer to you than anyone else. No need to be on an EU scale at all. The area should be owned by one organisation. Then the owner will want to allow other fishermen to fish the area: he won’t want to do it himself, just to extract the rent and outsource the actual fishing. So he will auction permits for a certain tonnage of anything.

    Tim: “You don’t want the permits for each year. Fisheries are multi-year operations. You need long term ownership.”
    Good point. But you also want to regulate the production to prevent overfishing. So the permit should say something like “20-year fishing permit: no more than x tonnes per year”.

  11. SE, what’s your solution?

    Taking the Irish advice, I wouldn’t start from here but given where we are it has to be worked on maximum number of days fished based on boat tonnage. Any “you can’t catch this” rules have to be enforced primarily by equipment restrictions rather than sales restrictions.

    Oh, and let the Portuguese (west) and Gibraltarians (east) enforce it on the Spanish.

  12. What I’m asking, since I’m too lazy to read the report, is what is wrong with the EU system.

    Sorry, you were expecting that level of useful information in a nef report?

    There are 3 pages of 2/3rds width text. 4 “tables” with a total of 5 data lines and one figure. And a nice picture of a fishing boat.

  13. What is wrong with the EU system. Pretty much the same as is wrong with the rest of the EU systems.

    1. The experts pretty much agree what needs to be done (it doesn’t matter whether this is actually correct – there is one of these fabled ‘consensus’ things.)

    2. What needs to be done is mammothly politically acceptable in at least one major EU country – possibly because the system has been engineered to give that country a disproportionate benefit as the consequence of years of EU bribes to get them to agree to other shitty deals.

    3. They won’t accept anything like the pain necessary (and QMV does not apply), so the only thing that can be done is they pretty much get away with status quo, at which point the pain disproportionately impacts on the smaller but still vocal groups in the other affected countries. Who demand, probably reasonably, “fair treatment”.

    4. So, regardless of what needs to be done, it is limited to the maximum that can be forced on the least rational member state. Given that nearly every state is wholly irrational about at least one bit of EU business …

    5. Rinse and repeat for 20 years.

  14. But you also want to regulate the production to prevent overfishing.

    Sorry to bang on about this, but again, why? Do we grant farmers limited licenses to farm their land? We don’t set limits for crop production (OK, I know there are milk quotas and such, but they are also iniquitous). If a farmer overproduces to the extent he makes his land unproductive, he is a bad farmer. Why not the same for fishermen?

    And why could they not join up in a co-operative (voluntarily, of course), agree to pool their resources and hire an academic to provide guidance on target production levels necessary to maintain fish stocks? Or not. But basically, turn the resource over to those who will use it, at which point its continued ability to provide them with a livelihood is their responsibility.

  15. In NZ, bycatch (fish landed that the fishers don’t have quota for), is sold to the government at a rate that the government tries to set at the sweet spot between incentives to land the fish given that it was bycatch & lack of incentives to go fishing for “by catch” directly. This is not a perfect solution.

  16. @Philip , perhaps a closer analogy is a river running through a farmers land. We may allow the farmer to make use of the river, but decide that the farmer does not have the right to damn the river, or use all of it for his own purposes (eg irrigation ) because this would affect the property rights of those downstream.

    Fish, like a river, but unlike either crops or dairy animals – do not stay in one place. It’s one thing to give the owners of fish stocks exclusive right to fish in their waters, its another to allow them to overfish to the extent that other waters are then deprived of fish.

  17. Ooops. In addition to not sending the river to heel, we may decide the farmer doesn’t have the right to Dam the river either.

  18. @ChrisM –

    Point taken. Water rights, and perhaps oil rights, are a better analogy than farming.

    But that problem too is easily dealt with without the need to resort to government intervention. The fishermen band together to form a co-operative and take advice on maintainable stocks from a tame academic. As a co-operative body they can give their stamp of approval to those who fish according to their sustainability plan. They make a big song and dance of it and encourage punters to buy only from suppliers who carry their seal of approval.

    There are plenty of people already who are conscious of buying only from “sustainable fish stocks”. It wouldn’t be difficult to get them on side.

  19. Agreed. Private rights for public benefits.
    The problem with the EU quotas is that they are annual. Whoever heard of a land lease for (say) forestry which was annual?

    BTW (and maybe off topic) times change. Admiral Nelson visited the Forest of Dean and recommended it should be grubbed up and replanted with oak in order to supply timber for 64-gun ships of the line for a war expected to commence in 1940.

  20. Pingback: Quotas beat bureaucrats « Homepaddock

  21. I know what we could do to best protect the fish and yet still exert maximum annoyance for the nice people at nef.

    We can give the fish to the local gentry in the nearest land. Fishermen would have to ask them for permission to fish and negotiate a catch. It would be nice to see the Lords of the Isles back (that is, not Prince Charles, but some Scottish MacDonald I suppose) and making a nice living. As long as he is resident in said isles.

    The aristocracy have done, far and away, the best job of protecting Europe’s wild life. Far better than any government bureaucracy. See the European bison for instance.

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