Herewith Bob McDonald’s third instalment. As readers will note, I published the first instalment saying that at a superficial level Bob’s argument seemed interesting and indeed persuasive. Since then people who’ve taken a closer interest in the debate and the issues have been pretty vexed by Bob’s unpreparedness to really engage. Anyway, I rejected the first draft of this third post as it simply represented the last bit of his initially 2,500 word post and asked for some attempt to respond to comments on the first two pieces and to write something that also stood as something that could be read on its own (though of course references back to the earlier pieces would also be appropriate).
On a reading of this piece it doesn’t really seem to fit the bill, but I thought it simpler to just publish it and I don’t have the time to keep going editor. So I publish it for what it’s worth and along with my observation that this experiment seemed worth trying, but doesn’t seem to have been particularly successful.
Using a Fresh Economic Approach to get better Value from Fish Resources.
The Queensland election campaign has seen both Labour and the LibNats offer to buyout 200 fishing boats, half the coastal fleet – in a typical political ploy for the recreational fishing vote. But this buyout will again cause far greater economic pain and will have likelty have no impact on recreational fisheries, especially when compared to current and planned port development like that at Gladstone.
So why isn’t this political ‘belief’ that closing commercial fisheries make recreational fisheries been ‘better’ challenged? Market forces apply to marine science too. Marine scientists that identify overfishing, that reveal fish species ‘in trouble’, are rewarded financially with priority access to research funding. Those that do not are not. As economists have rightly pointed out, this kind of rational behaviour is a simply exercising self interest – but in this case possibly at a cost to society ‘subsidising’ outdated science and the increasingly expensive management derived from it.
There is to a very real problem with how commercial fisheries have been valued. Any additional values are called ‘multipliers’ and not seen as ‘credible’. Why not? They are easily measurable. Buy fish in a restaurant and its price is commonly $1-200 per kilo on the plate for species that sell for $8-25 per kilo to the fisherman.
The boat that the fishermen uses, equips maintains, fuels, management costs and labour is priced into the landed price of fish. The first sale is for processing and an additional value, then wholesale, then distribution to the retailer that doubles the price.
When the supply highest value fresh fish is cut, jobs are lost processing and the fish price increases – dragging up the price of imported fish for the public. Australia likely has the most expensive fresh fish in the world already – a classic management failure.
It is time to revisit Australian fisheries economics and break the shackles of current limited scientific and economic orthodoxy with its myriad of assumptions first made in other places for other fisheries – to look beyond most of marine science that is blurred by marine conservation advocacy through its professional organisations that act as ?unions?.
We need economists to revisit these economic assumptions and test them with Australian research. This will highlight greater opportunities to generate more wealth from better integrated management. If it costs industry to invest in habitat management relace the costs of catch management – to grow what they catch – then it is an investment for the fishing industry.
The diverse a fishing industry post WW2 was built by competition between fishermen, fish regionally, their markets, processors, retailers and with conditional licenses to publicly owned fish resources. These markets then rewarded enterprise and innovation by this ‘fishing sector’.
By replacing allocated quota with public licenses, where costs are way too high to the public and industry with realistic tonnages of quota to license for a specific region – limited initially at least to per quota license numbers – private enterprise efficiency can be restored. The size of the boats and markets, weather, tides and the need to get fresh fish landed in 7 days and the limited number of buyers for the fresh fish fisheries caps the catch.
If these license were tradable ‘once only’ the overcapitalisation that has plagued modern fisheries management can be addressed. Corporate players who want to maintain a number of licenses can also remain. Area rights provide a more legally secure and defensible property right that the instability of species by species catch allocations.
The threat of ‘overfishing’ is removed by fishing a small portion of the range of commercial species – and the costs of management greatly reduced. The fleet would then self regulate too – sharing a common region and common rules they watch each other – and other environmental threats to their income as now demonstrated by fishermen from Gladstone www.gladstonefishingresearchfund.org.au
When fish are abundant in a given area the price goes down, the fishing efficiency per boat optimises and the price to the public reduces. Clearly the incentives are then to invest in production and defend fish grounds without relying on government. We need better economic analysis rather than trying managing fisheries to ‘conserve fish species’.