An Environmental Success: Property Rights to Fisheries

Creating property rights has helped protect fisheries while making the fishing industry more efficient, according to a nice blog post by Eric Pooley of the Environmental Defense Fund (ht: Dick Thaler). Writing at the Harvard Business Review, Pooley notes the success of the “catch share” approach to fisheries management:

The Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery, for example, was on the brink of collapse in the early part of the last decade. Fishermen were limited to 52-day seasons that were getting shorter every year. The shortened seasons, an attempt to counter overfishing, hurt fishermen economically and created unsafe “derbies” that often forced them to race into storms like the boats in The Deadliest Catch.

This short window also meant that all of the red snapper were being caught and brought to market at the same time, creating a glut that crashed prices. Many fishermen couldn’t even cover the cost of their trip to sea after selling their fish.

A decade ago, the Environmental Defense Fund began working with a group of commercial red snapper fishermen on a new and better way of doing business. Together, we set out to propose a catch share management system for snapper.

Simply put, fishermen would be allocated shares based on their catch history (the average amount of fish in pounds they landed each year) of the scientifically determined amount of fish allowed for catch each year (the catch limit). Fishermen could then fish within their shares, or quota, all year long, giving them the flexibility they needed to run their businesses.

This meant no more fishing in dangerously bad weather and no more market gluts. For the consumer, it meant fresh red snapper all year long.

After five years of catch share management, the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery is growing because fishermen are staying within the scientific limits. Boats that once suffered from ever-shortening seasons have seen a 60% increase in the amount of fish they are allowed to catch. Having a percentage share of the fishery means fishermen have a built-in incentive to husband the resource, so it will continue to grow.

Please read the rest of his piece for additional examples in the United States and around the world. Catch shares don’t deserve all the credit for fishery rebounds (catch limits presumably played a significant role), but they appear to be a much better way to manage limited stocks.

One small quibble: Pooley refers to catch shares as an example of behavioral economics in action. That must be a sign of just how fashionable behavioral economics–the integration of psychology into economics–has become. In this case, though, the story is straight-up economics: incentives and property rights.

For another fun take on property rights and fish, with a very different slant, consider the fight against the invasive lionfish.

Can Markets Encourage Wildlife Conservation?

Bluefin tuna are swift, gigantic, tasty, and increasingly endangered.* Those last two items go together, of course, with tuna’s high market value encouraging over-exploitation of many populations.

But markets can also encourage creative efforts to preserve threatened species. Jason Kottke points to one example: bluefin farming in Japan. This 5-minute video raises a host of important questions, including the source of baby bluefin and the resource costs of their food. And, full warning, it doesn’t shy away from the bloody reality of bluefin harvesting:

On a closely related note, Felicity Barringer of the New York Times News Service writes about Utah’s market in hunting licenses for deer, elk, moose, and pronghorn.

The auction or sale of scarce licenses inevitably means that some will to well-heeled hunters, often from out-of-state, rather than typical residents. For some, that raises concerns about the marketplace intruding on what was once a natural resource held in public trust. On the other hand, by allocating some licenses to landowners who provide habitat, the program encourages conservation:

Here is how it works: The state has enticed ranchers with an allotment of vouchers for lucrative hunting licenses that they can sell for thousands of dollars as part of a private hunt on their land. Many used to complain bitterly to state officials about elk and other game eating forage meant for their cattle.

The vouchers for hunting licenses, handed out for more than 10 years now, give them ample economic incentive to nurture big game on their land and not get frustrated with ranching and sell their land to developers.

Both the video and the article are great fodder for a discussion of markets and wildlife conservation.

* Note for tuna enthusiasts: There are three species of bluefin (Atlantic, Pacific, and southern) that differ in size and degree of endangerment; see Wikipedia).

Shortfin Mako

I probably ought to be blogging about the latest GDP data or how Twitter taught McDonald’s about the Congressional Budget Office (here and here; Mickey D’s is promoting its Cheddar Bacon Onion). But the heck with that. Instead, let’s celebrate Friday with this stunning photo of a shortfin mako by Sam Cahir as published in the Mail Online (ht: Rick MacPherson):

What a beautiful creature (click to enlarge).

At this point, I usually would encourage you to read the accompanying article. In this case, though, caveat lector – parts are incredibly overwrought. But the other photos are lovely, including one of the mako with a great white.

One Idea from Rio+20: Investing in Green Infrastructure

Twenty years ago, world leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro to grapple with climate change, biological diversity, and other environmental challenges. Today they are back again, but with much less fanfare. If my Twitter feed is any indication, Rio+20 is getting much less attention that the original Earth Summit.

One item that deserves attention is greater emphasis on getting business involved in protecting the environment. For example, two dozen leading businesses–from Alcoa to Xerox–teamed up with The Nature Conservancy on a vision for The New Business Imperative: Valuing Natural Capital (interactive, pdf).

The report lays out the business case that natural resources have real economic value, even if they aren’t traded in markets, and that protecting them can sometimes reduce costs, maintain supplies, soften the blow of future regulation, and build goodwill with customers, communities, and workers. All kind of obvious, at one level, but nonetheless useful to see in print with examples and commitments.

One item that caught my eye is the potential for “green” infrastructure to replace “gray”:

Strong, reliable manmade (“gray”) infrastructure undergirds a healthy marketplace, and most companies depend heavily on it to operate effectively and efficiently. Yet increasingly, companies are seeing the enormous potential for “natural infrastructure” in the form of wetlands and forests, watersheds and coastal habitats to perform many of the same tasks as gray infrastructure — sometimes better and more cheaply.

For instance, investing in protection of coral reefs and mangroves can provide a stronger barrier to protect coastal operations against flooding and storm surge during extreme weather, while inland flooding can be reduced by strategic investments in catchment forests, vegetation and marshes. Forests are also crucial for maintaining usable freshwater sources, as well as for naturally regulating water flow.

Putting funds into maintaining a wetland near a processing or manufacturing plant can be a more cost- effective way of meeting regulatory requirements than building a wastewater treatment facility, as evidenced by the Dow Chemical Seadrift, Texas facility, where a 110-acre constructed wetland provides tertiary wastewater treatment of five million gallons a day. While the cost of a traditional “gray”treatment installation averages >$40 million, Dow’s up-front costs were just $1.4 million.

For companies reliant on agricultural systems, improved land management of forests and ecosystems along field edges and streams, along with the introduction of more diversified and resilient sustainable agriculture systems, can minimize dependency on external inputs like artificial fertilizers, pesticides and blue irrigation water.

To encourage such investments, where they make sense, lawmakers and regulators need to focus on performance–is the wastewater getting clean?–rather than the use of specific technologies or construction.

The World’s Most Traveled Bird?

B95, aka Moonbird, has again touched down in New Jersey. After refueling, he will head north to the Canadian arctic for at least his 20th breeding season. Remarkable for a four-ounce red knot whose normal lifespan is just four or five years and whose annual migration begins and ends way down in Tierra del Fuego.

B95 has logged at least 320,000 miles over the years, probably more. That’s enough to go to the moon and halfway back, hence his nickname.

He’s even got a biography coming out this summer.

The Greatest Insect Story Ever

A couple of regular readers (ht David and Wendy) recently noted that it’s been a while since I’ve done a “critter post”. (The one on the ivory-billed woodpecker is more of a statistics one.)

Well here’s a doozy for you. Over at NPR, Robert Krulwich recounts the greatest insect story ever.

It has everything: Giant stick insects, 12 cm long, affectionately known as tree lobsters. Driven to extinction when humans bring rats to their home in the South Pacific. But then a handful are rediscovered on a ridiculously precarious island nearby. Living under a single bush.

Well-meaning scientists collect four of the remaining 24 critters for captive breeding. Two perish. Which brings everything down to Adam and Eve at the Melbourne Zoo.

But Eve gets desperately sick. Krulwick then quotes Jane Goodall (yes, that Jane Goodall) on what happened next:

“Eve became very, very sick. Patrick [a scientist] … worked every night for a month desperately trying to cure her. … Eventually, based on gut instinct, Patrick concocted a mixture that included calcium and nectar and fed it to his patient, drop by drop, as she lay curled up in his hand.”

Thanks to that TLC, Eve recovers, and the world’s zoos start filling with new giant sticks. And what happens to Adam and Eve? Well, again according to Goodall: “they sleep at night, …, the male with three of his legs protectively over the female beside him.”

So there you have it. Giant, pair-bonding, spooning insects back from extinction. Well worth a read.