After decades of mercilessly laying waste to the East Coast cod fisheries, the federal government is poised to shut them down. The government has no choice: There is nothing left to plunder. It didn’t have to end like this.
A speech prepared for Property Rights, Economics & Environment: Marine Resources, an international conference organised by the Centre d’Analyse Economique and The International Centre for Research on Environmental Issues. The conference took place in Aix-en-Provence, France, on June 21-23, 2000.
By any reasonable measure the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy, the sickly sibling of its ailing Common Agricultural Policy, has failed. Created in 1971 to increase productivity, promote technical progress, open up access for European fishermen to all Community fishing grounds and "promote a fair standard of living" for fisherman, the CFP has netted the opposite result: Too many fishermen chase too few fish, fishing villages are as poor as inner-city slums, and competition from overseas markets is increasing due to technological advances in fish storage and shipping.
A chapter from Political Environmentalism: Going behind the Green Curtain, a collection of essays edited by Terry Anderson exploring the ways in which politics and environmentalism mix to produce perverse results. In this chapter, Elizabeth Brubaker documents the ways in which politicians, pursuing their short-term interest in putting voters to work, subsidized the expansion of the cod fishery and set catch levels exceeding those recommended by their own scientists.
I am writing to ask for your help in saving our endangered species. Over the last 200 years, we have lost at least 27 species or subspecies of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, molluscs, butterflies, and plants. The Queen Charlotte Islands no longer support a woodland caribou population; grizzly bears and black-footed ferrets no longer roam the Prairies; Ontario has lost the longjaw cisco and the blue walleye; the great auk and sea mink have disappeared from eastern Canada; and the Atlantic walrus and gray whale have abandoned the northwest Atlantic Ocean.
I’m feeling a little nostalgic. It’s the tenth anniversary of Environment Probe’s founding, and as I look back over my time here, I find my mind wanders less to the small victories we’ve had from time to time, and more to the rewarding comments I’ve received from supporters over the years, comments that touched and inspired me and led me to squirrel them away in a special file. I’d like to share several of them with you.
On July 2, 1992, Canada’s fisheries minister banned cod fishing off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and off the southern half of Labrador. The northern cod stock, once one of the richest in the world, had collapsed. The moratorium on northern cod marked an unprecedented disaster for virtually all of Canada’s Atlantic groundfisheries – the fisheries for species that feed near the ocean floor.
Politics – not science – drives far too many decisions at the government department in charge of Canada’s fisheries. The extent to which the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has become politicized, and the tragic results, have been made frighteningly clear over the course of the past year.
This summer, we received a letter from an Australian lobster fisher. He had just met a Canadian fisher, who had given him a photocopy of an Environment Probe chapter from a book about the crisis in our Atlantic fisheries. Excited about our ideas, he invited us to speak at a conference of fishers, fisheries managers, and scientists from Australia and New Zealand.
How do fishermen behave? When holding clear rights, do they exploit fisheries recklessly or manage them sustainably? Can we trust them? Such questions are at the heart of the debate over the wisdom of establishing property rights in fish.
How do fishers behave? When holding clear rights, do they exploit fisheries recklessly or manage them sustainably? Can we trust them?
In an article in the Ottawa Citizen, David Lavigne takes issue with Environment Probe’s proposal to establish property rights in fisheries. Continue reading
The current debate over West Coast salmon, focusing on who should catch how many fish, has obscured another threat to salmon: habitat destruction.
This paper, by Evadne Liuson, reviews the agencies and instruments regulating recreational, Aboriginal, and commercial fishing on the Canadian Great Lakes, with a focus on the Individual Transferable Quotas governing Ontario’s commercial fisheries. Continue reading
Part One of this paper by Martin Nantel reviews the ecological transformation that occurred in Lake Ontario after 1750 and the factors – including overfishing, habitat destruction, and the introduction of exotic species – that contributed to it. Part Two examines the institutions – including the open access regime and “progressive” fisheries management – responsible for the transformation. The paper concludes by arguing for new, locally appropriate institutional arrangements that will set Lake Ontario and its fisheries on an ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable course. Continue reading
Writing in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, Philip Lee cites Elizabeth Brubaker’s work on the economic and ecological benefits of establishing property rights in fisheries. Continue reading
An interview, for CBC Radio’s Ideas program, with Patricia Adams, Elizabeth Brubaker, and Lawrence Solomon. A discussion of the environmental, economic, and social harm wrought in the name of the public good, both in Canada and in the Third World, and of the counterbalancing protections offered by traditional property rights regimes.
Presentation to Managing a Wasting Resource: Would Quotas Solve the Problems Facing the West Coast Salmon Fishery?, a conference held in Vancouver, BC, in May 1996.
A chapter from Fish or Cut Bait! The Case for Individual Transferable Quotas in the Salmon Fishery of British Columbia, a collection of essays edited by Laura Jones and Michael Walker discussing tradeable fishing rights and their role in solving the West Coast salmon crisis. This chapter, by Elizabeth Brubaker, documents a century of mismanagement of the Pacific salmon fishery and analyses governments’ incentives to encourage the overfishing and pollution that threaten stocks. It examines alternative regimes that give fisheries owners both the reasons and the authority to conserve stocks and to protect the habitat on which they depend, and suggests that quotas are only the first step in the evolution of stronger property rights to protect and conserve fisheries.
Quebec’s bureaucrats don’t appreciate our findings. They complain that our recent study of sewage pollution in Quebec makes them look like they’re incompetent, or not doing their jobs. And no wonder. The study, by Environment Probe researcher Martin Nantel, points out that although Quebec has made considerable progress since the 1970s (when wastewater treatment facilities served less than two per cent of the population), 376 municipalities, representing 1.5 million people, still flush their sewage directly into lakes and rivers. When we released the study early this year, media interest created great consternation in government ranks. The Environment Minister is now demanding explanations from senior bureaucrats, who berate our uncompromising positions.