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.
In this final bid to shed light on the issue of privatizing fish resources, it is left for me to propose an alternative. After all, critics may interpret my opposition to private property rights in the fishery as inferring that I support the current system of heavy-handed federal control of the vast resource off our coast. Far from it.
Over the years, British Columbia’s public forest managers have promoted increasing timber yields from public forests in the belief that more timber volume means more processing, more jobs and therefore greater benefit to society. Timber yields have increased manifold over the years, as new techniques and economies have opened up virtually all of British Columbia’s crown forests to industrial forest management. But a large proportion of the present allowable annual cut (AAC) makes no economic or technical sense. As much as one-fifth of BC’s AAC occurs by government fiat. A central tenet of this policy is utilization standards.
The objective of this study is to determine the cost to society of preserving the Carmanah Creek watershed in its natural state. The cost of preserving the valley is viewed as the cost of forgoing the opportunity to harvest the timber. A complete cost-benefit analysis would compare the economic benefit of logging with the benefit from preserving the timber. Only if the benefits from logging exceed those from preserving should the timber be harvested. But due to the difficulty of measuring intangible non-timber benefits, the cost of the forgone opportunity to harvest the timber is the best measure of the cost of preservation. If the cost of preservation (the benefit of harvesting) is relatively low, then intangible non-timber value are more likely to exceed timber values—the prudent decision would obviously be not to harvest.