Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Give an economist a fishery, and he’ll eat all the fishermen.
A recent piece for The Standard-Times in New Bedford, Massachusetts, glowingly describes how the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a long time champion of catch shares fisheries management, is providing some New England fishermen with business consultants and economic modeling in order to help them survive the transition to catch shares. The article fails to recognize that this sort of extraordinary intervention to keep fishermen from going out of business should never be required in the first place.
At Food & Water Watch, we talk a lot about the dangerous impulse to degrade our natural resources by selling, trading and speculating on them in the market. This exploitation of our natural resources threatens our basic access to food, water and fish, and jeopardizes the progress we have made cleaning up and preventing pollution.
Catch shares are one of these privatization schemes. These programs create markets for trading access to fish, and are often economically devastating to traditional, small-scale fishermen and the communities that depend upon them. In New England, just one year of catch shares management has caused significant job loss, industry consolidation, and hardship.
It shouldn’t require a degree in economics to catch fish. But under catch shares, our fishermen are forced to buy access to fish from the private individuals who control it. Buying at the wrong time in this shadowy stock market can mean bankruptcy, particularly for smaller scale fishermen.
Our fishermen have generations of experience in their business, but now the rules have changed completely. Under catch shares, our fish are going to be caught by the best economists, not the best fishermen.
We can’t patch over the fundamental flaws of catch shares by importing the same methods and values that have turned our financial markets into such a disaster. Catch shares, and resource commodification in general, only create more problems than they solve. We shouldn’t be gambling with the livelihoods of our fishermen and the sustainability of our fisheries to exploit a public resource for private profit. Fishing isn’t an economic trend or school of thought; it’s an important job that provides food for consumers.