The Fishery as a Watery Commons: Lessons from the Experiences of Other Public Policy Areas for U.S. Fisheries Policy

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Environmental Law; Law and Economics; Natural Resources Law
article description
Open access, combined with modern technologies of fishing, has created serious problems of overfishing and threatens the sustainability of many U.S. fisheries. The common pool problem -- the ocean version of "the tragedy of the commons" -- is the root cause of the overfishing.The major regulatory policies of the past few decades that have tried to address overfishing -- restrictions on fishing methods and inputs (in essence, "command and control" regulation) -- have largely been failures. Indeed, they have often perversely exacerbated fisheries' overfishing problems by encouraging "fishing derbies" or "races for the fish".Fisheries are not alone in facing a common pool problem. Other areas of the U.S. economy have confronted similar problems, and public policies have developed to deal with them. This paper discusses seven of these other areas: the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, the control of sulfur dioxide emissions by electric utilities, grazing on public lands, forest logging on public lands, oil-gas-coal extraction from public lands and offshore waters, hard rock mineral (metal) mining, and surface water usage.Important lessons can be gleaned from the policies that have been developed in these other areas, and this paper applies those lessons to the design of U.S. fisheries policy.