Overfishing: Last installment

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rational behaviour is a simply exercising self interest – but in this case possibly at a cost to society ‘subsidising’ outdated science and the increasingly expensive management derived from it.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’.

 

 

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rog
rog
9 years ago

From available data the price of fish has gone down – apparently due to the increased competition within the export industry due to the increased dollar.

FDB
FDB
9 years ago

If licenses cover only a geographical range, with no per-species caps imposed, then the species commanding the highest price at market will be fished until they are all gone from that area.

You are a fool.

FDB
FDB
9 years ago

Further to rog’s comment, this brainfart:

Australia likely has the most expensive fresh fish in the world already

is spectacularly wrong.

Relying, Bob Macdonald-style, on unreferenced personal travel anecdotes alone, I can list five countries I have personally visited where fish prices – fresh, frozen, restaurant, supermarket, local AND imported – are significantly higher than ours.

FDB
FDB
9 years ago

Sorry Nick, and sorry Bob for the unnecessary name-calling.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
9 years ago

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.

Why not? The reason is simple. People’s eating habits wouldnt change much if there were no fish: they would eat as much and probably go to restaurants just as often. Restaurants would simply sell some other food; processors would clean other foods; wholesalers would sell other foods. If I were modelling this, I hence also wouldn’t add a multiplier to commercially captured fish just because there were downstream uses to the fish. Unlike the downstream uses of some natural resources, there are perfectly good substitutes for fish.

The 1200 AUS per kilo on the plate sounds outlandish to me. Caviar-territory, not any species I have ever ordered in a restaurant. Maybe a zero too many?

I would say the biggest problem with this series is that Bob writes unclearly.

FDB
FDB
9 years ago

Well Paul, I think that apart from the poor writing what he’s actually saying is blinkered and one-dimensional, and that he fails to engage with the substance of the comments he provokes.

But you’re right, the prose is simply dreadful.

Bruce White
Bruce White
9 years ago

Some clarification:

@ rog; from the page you linked:

The wild-catch sector caught
less and earned the same

That indicates the price of Australian Fish is increasing – I guess.

@ FDB: many of our licenced commercial fishers are already geographically constrained and with no species caps, yet we still have fish despite over 100 years of operation.

FYI – Gummy Shark cheapest option fish and chip shop (50g portion) = ~$90/kg (at least double for pub grub and double again for restaurant)

Auction Price at market (Victoria, Australia) = ~$9/kg (at least three steps, processing, transport & co-op, above landed price).

@ Paul Frijters: poor writing? – poor reading!

1200 AUS per kilo

? – where did you get that from?

$1-200 per kilo

= $100/kg to $200/kg – easier?

Sorry Bob – please continue – something about assumptions wasn’t it?

kelly liddle
9 years ago

The 1200 AUS per kilo

Paul it is $100 to $200 per kilo which is not all that much consider a restaurant meal for $25 that contains a 200 gram piece of fish.

The best way to guarantee fish stocks if it is possible is size limits where the species is well above breeding size.

Bob McDonald
Bob McDonald
9 years ago

Hi Nic,
Thanks for part 3 you asked me to participate and answer questions and supply research – I have it but as documents – not on the web with a neat link. My email address is parrot@jeack.com.au. If you or anyone else need a reference simply ask. I am sorry about the typos but I am hell busy right now – ironically working on fish habitat issues and research. I have been doing the best I can.

I totally underestimated to hostility of the reception. I was hoping for discussion – but again it is my fault for not understanding how narrow the economic focus on fisheries is in Australia and the weight you give overseas references and Australian science detrived from them. I was also amazed that someone could ask that fishermen should be restricted to a ‘living wage’.
The why not economists, academics, miners, foresters?I have heard people scream that at fishermen at meetings and bureucrats vistiot them at home and say they feel ill in a luxury home built on collapsing a fishstock.

I am surprised by the list having a universal; belief in overfishing. At some point each fishery must be able to fish within the range of the fish and their productivity.
The heartfelt green beliefs in regard to fishing are – that commercial fishermen are a threat etc. and cannot see how that is not contradicted by an almost deliberate lack of concern by other in regard to the impact of Port Development at Gladstone. That will take a while forn me to owrk out.I am wrapped that list knew of the Hexham fish habitat yrestoration and the early responses to the secon part – even if they did not fully agree – and could not understand my ‘expression, still did a fair job in summarising. I do not wish to offend anyone.

Anyway Nic thanks for putting up the final part and let me ask you a question in parts without assuming any common knowledge.

1. Seeing as Australian Commercial Fisheries have to make a reliable catch to pay the bills if there is a downturn in the fishery because to many are caught then fishing stops. You cannot go out to fish if there is not prospect of a catch to pay for licenses, fuel, crew and the boat.

2. Only when the fish are abundant again on your fishing grounds can you start fishing again – but if you go too long without fish you lose market share and buyers. This happened in the Barracouta fishery and the only reference I have is in a Book of interviews with fishermen called Craft and Craftsman of Australian Fishing by Gary Kerr – Mans’l Books Portland Victoria.

The barracouta, once the mainstay of southern fisheries, ‘disappeared’ in the early 1970’s and lost market. Now there are so few buyers the market price crashes if much more than 1 tonne per week goes onto the market. But no-one ever accused the fishermen of overfishing – uniquely. Everyone knew that using several sticks of gelignite ( have a reference for that in an Old Australian Fishing Magazine describing the sticks to fishermen incase they caught them.to blast for early siesmic testing was going to have some impact – and many that fished also worked in the early days of the oil industry. Whatever happened barracouta as a species are still here and will be forever with regular peaks of abundance around the cost and only occasionally in Port Phillip Bay which is too polluted – I think everyone can agree on that.

3 As this is true for all fresh fish fisheries why do they need government management – they are regulated ultimately by the market and the fisheries are no threat to other species – especially as they get smaller.

So can we agree on that – whty can’t the fishing industry be left to expand and contract on its ability to maintain reliable high quality supply to the market.

Bob McDonald
Bob McDonald
9 years ago

Nic, then why can’t commercial fisheries regulate themselves if they cannot make any species of fish extinct?

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
9 years ago

kelly,

yes, I agree thats another way to read the $1-200 per kilo line, i.e. as anything between 1 and 200 per kilo rather than what I went for (1200 per kilo). I would then love to know where I can find the restaurant that sells at 1 dollar per kilo on the plate though! Hence, either way, there is something fishy about that line.

Bob McDonald
Bob McDonald
9 years ago

Paul Frijters – the price of fish on the plate is $100 to $200 per kilo. So with processing and distribution worth as much as double the landed value of the catch would it be reasonable to say that the economic impact of closing fisheries has been underestimated and compensation to coastal communities inadequate?

In the fish and chip shop a piece of flake is meant to be 50g. @ 5.50 that is $110 per kilo and $7.50 (Melbourne price fior locally caught flake) $150 per kilo.

The plate price is a lot higher, depending and restaurant.

Abalone fresh frozen at Tullamarine Airport $120-150 per shellfish – double to triple that per kilo.

Flathead tails hamton fresh fish shop – $55 -65 per kilo

Fish and chips was once a poor persons feed – not it has become ’boutique’. For a family of 5 five pieces of flake, five potato cakes and 5 dim sims is typically worth (Victorian version of the names) is worth $50 to $60. Unemployment benefit that more than 1 million Australians live on is $240 per week and pension $340.

Fish and chip is not a nutritious cheap feed any longer – McDonald’s is and only possibly nutritious – depending on what is cheapest.

This high price is the current and ongoing subsidy to marine biological theory, over management and failure to regulate zealous marine conservation.

Bob McDonald
Bob McDonald
9 years ago

Hi Nic,
oh well, did my best and learnt heaps – you might too if you read this http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/SM5/fish.html. Bob