Some ecologists (and economists?) are predicting that all fish populations will collapse by 2048 if we don't do something. Despite apparently being based on historical data, it doesn't take an ecologist to know that the prediction is absurd. In any event, the researchers' suggested solution is idiotic and based on non-economic principles -- hence my surprise at the alleged presence of economists on the research team (none of whom are named).
Clambakes, crabcakes, swordfish steaks and even humble fish sticks could be little more than a fond memory in a few decades. If current trends of overfishing and pollution continue, the populations of just about all seafood face collapse by 2048, a team of ecologists and economists warns in a report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
"Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world's ocean, we saw the same picture emerging. In losing species we lose the productivity and stability of entire ecosystems," said the lead author Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. ...
"At this point 29 percent of fish and seafood species have collapsed - that is, their catch has declined by 90 percent. It is a very clear trend, and it is accelerating," Worm said. "If the long-term trend continues, all fish and seafood species are projected to collapse within my lifetime - by 2048."
"It looks grim and the projection of the trend into the future looks even grimmer," he said. "But it's not too late to turn this around. It can be done, but it must be done soon. We need a shift from single species management to ecosystem management. It just requires a big chunk of political will to do it."
The researchers called for new marine reserves, better management to prevent overfishing and tighter controls on pollution.
The real solution to this perfect tragedy of the commons is not to heap on inefficient government regulation, but rather to remove the fish populations from the commons altogether. Fish populations should be sold directly to the highest bidders, and the seafood corporations that buy them will then have a financial interest in protecting their investment.
Sound crazy? It worked for the endangered Black Rhino populations in South Africa. No one bothered to protect "public property", instead poaching the animals nearly to extinction. But once they were sold to private reserves, the new owners took care of the animals, bred them, harvested them, and now the population is recovering.
More generally, "scientists" and the public need to be taught that government control isn't the first place to jump for every answer to every problem. Government power is an enormous sledge hammer that crushes everything in its path... sometimes that's better than the status quo, but usually it's still far short of ideal.
"It's just mind-boggling stupid," said Ray Hilborn, a University of Washington professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.
"I'm worried about some areas of the world — like Africa — but other areas of the world have figured out how to do effective fishery management."
For example, most of the harvests in the North Pacific off Alaska — where most Seattle fleets fish — are not in sharp decline.