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Former commercial crab Fisherman and present Fisheries expert, Seth Macinko, finds it hard to see the point in giving away natural resources to private enterprises and Fishermen.
FORFEITURE. A headline in the 17 February edition of the New York Times reads “Congress Will Auction Public Airwaves to Pay for Benefits.” Pricing access to valuable public natural resources for public benefits is hardly a radical idea — for example, we don’t simply give away oil, or natural gas, or timber.
So, one wonders, how long the present trend of giving away public natural resource wealth will continue to be the lavour of the day in fisheries policy.
Take Europe, for example. In these times of extreme, and in some cases mandatory, austerity measures, is this the time for mandatory forfeiture of national wealth? Yet the call in the current proposal to reform the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) for mandatory “individual transferable concessions” is exactly that, a call for mandatory forfeiture of national wealth into private hands. And this forfeiture is completely unnecessary.
The evidence is clear from around the world where similar schemes, involving tradeble assigned catch allocations, have been implemented.
Many, if not most, of the actual operations catching fish on the water are leasing some or all of their catch allocations.
That is, fishermen are paying to fish.
But note that they are paying those lucky enough to have been given the allocations in the first place from governments. The scale of these lease payments needs to be understood in these difficult economic times.
In Alaska, in two quite different fisheries, lease rates have reached 80 percent.
That’s 80 percent of the sales value of the raw catch is paid to the holder of the catch allocation. This is a textbook example of a “resource rent” payment. Why not have the payments go directly to the public owners of the fishery resource?
Management or gift shop?
Remember, under these schemes, fishermen will be paying to fish; the only question is, to whom will their money go? Note that assigned catch allocations are assumed and the only variable is to whom a lease payment is made. This seems to be a broad public policy question and not just a matter of fishery management.
This is an important point, because fishery management is the exclusive competence of the Commission. But surely a mandate that member states forfeit their resource wealth goes beyond fishery management.
It’s hard to believe that mandatory wealth forfeiture can withstand the tests of proportionality and subsidiarity under the EU treaties. In this light, the use of a new term in the lexicon of fisheries management is noteworthy. Similar schemes are known as individual transferable quotas, or more simply, catch shares. Recognizing the wealth forfeiture involved in just giving the shares away makes the choice of the word “concessions” interesting. The public is being asked to concede quite a lot indeed.
Associate Professor in the Department of Marine Affairs, University of Rhode Island. PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
Prior to coming to URI, he worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
He serves on a large number of scientific boards and committees on fisheries policy.
He participated in the commercial crab fisheries off Alaska before pursuing his academic studies.