Sustainability

Fish stocks should be managed in the public interest

April 17, 2015

Europe

April 17, 2015

Europe
Griffin Carpenter
Contributor, The Economist Intelligence Unit

Griffin Carpenter is an economic modeller at the New Economics Foundation. His work demonstrates that sustainable management of natural resources delivers economic and social benefits, with projects covering fisheries, climate change and agriculture. Prior work in environmental consulting includes input-output modelling, product footprinting and environmental accounting in the agriculture, mining, forestry and chemical manufacturing sectors.

European fisheries policy has the unfortunate habit of accepting the industry as it has operated rather than how it could operate

There is now widespread acknowledgement that overfishing in Europe has created weakened fish stocks and undersized fish. This has had a significant impact on the supply chain as nearly half our fish consumption is now imported. How this recognition can revive the fishing industry is a policy debate currently underway, but some necessary clarity can be found by re-establishing the purpose of the fisheries sector.

The fisheries sector should be managed in a way that guarantees high social value with a low environmental impact. This concept extends beyond a narrow sense of economic efficiency as it is not just the production of fish that is of interest. Over and above the quantity and value of landings (fish catch brought to shore for sale), management of fisheries should also focus on the environmental damages associated with how that fish is caught and recognise that economic activity has direct impacts in the social sphere.

Applying a framework of high social value with low environmental impact would ensure, first and foremost, that fish stocks are managed to provide their maximum sustainable yield so as to provide the greatest possible potential from the fish stocks. As depleted stocks grow, landings in a sustainable equilibrium will be higher than current landings.

For fishers and coastal communities this means more profits, more jobs, higher wages and—all importantly—long term security. While this should be an uncontroversial proposal, the grasp of short-termism is powerful and annual fishing quotas are routinely set above scientific advice.

Even with a given level of quota we can go further to unlock opportunities. Fisheries policy has the unfortunate habit of accepting the industry as it has operated rather than how it could operate. The allocation of quota amongst fleets follows patterns of historic share.

Historic share is an important consideration, no doubt, as there should be a degree of stability for the fishing industry to plan its future operations. But there are many additional considerations that could serve as management objectives.

We might think about minimising environmental harm; be that through direct damages to the marine ecosystem or the emission of greenhouse gases. We might think about the benefits of local economies and the contribution to coastal communities of smaller, inshore vessels. Or we might think about the potential to create jobs, raise wages or create profit.

Recent blogs on Economist Insights have discussed managing the blue economy with big data and unlocking blue growth with new financial tools like eco taxes or a global ocean trust fund. These are very worthy initiatives but they should be approached as part of a larger vision. The creation of high social value with low environmental impact can serve as a framework from which to build new programmes and rebuild our fisheries sector.

The New Economics Foundation has developed a bio-economic model to help illustrate the potential benefits of rebuilding fish stocks and reallocating fishing quota.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited (EIU) or any other member of The Economist Group. The Economist Group (including the EIU) cannot accept any responsibility or liability for reliance by any person on this article or any of the information, opinions or conclusions set out in the article.

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