Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fisheries Policy and Consumer Choices

It was time for a lunch seminar again in University yesterday, about fisheries policy and consumer etichs.

Staffan Waldo from the AgriFood Economics Centre started with telling about the fisheries policies a little bit as, if I understood correctly, he has worked with them. So, as he has a PhD in economics he began by telling why the overfishing is an economic problem. 

Because fish is a shared resource between nations and fishermen, fish is not part in the market system therefore the problem arises of how to fish efficiently (create economic income) and not compete between the other fishermen as there is no price mechanism to allocate fish among fishermen. It's very hard to regulate as the incentives to overfish are present. Basically, as companies want to max their profit, they do not take other companies catching possibilities into account and this leads to excess capability (big fishing fleats for trolling are built to catch more fish than what can be caught) and overfishing.

Today globally:
53%  of fish stocks are fully exploited
32% are overexploited
15% are moderately/under exploited

To deal with the overfishing problem ITQ's (individual transferable quotas) were introduced. Basically ITQ's are granted to fisherman based on the different species total allowable catch (TAC). These quotas have shown some positive effects for example on cod in the Baltic Sea, but not for all stocks. Long lived species, for example sharks, are hard to manage because they move around big areas and have very slow population growth.

So what can a normal consumer do about the overfishing? Will the choices we make in the store have any effect?

Staffan Waldo presented three consumer actions 
1. Boycott
2. Labelling
3. Buy aquaculture product ("farmed fish")

The boycott can be difficult to follow because it is hard to know what fishes are sustainable or not in the store and even if WWF has a sustainable fish guide it is not the easiest to follow. Consumer boycott might not always work either because, as mentioned before, fish is not part of a regular market. So, for example, when Swedish consumers learned that it was bad to buy cod some years ago, the fishermen still fished the cod but sold it to other consumers for a cheaper price.

Labelling might work to some extent. However, the fishes that are labelled today are usually the fish stocks that belongs to the 15% that are under exploited. So it seems that regulation is a more important first step than labelling in this case even labelling does help the consumer make a better choice.
The most common label is MSC, Marine Stewardship Council and about 10% of world fisheries are labelled today. Unfortunately, the added price for the label stays at the food retail company level and does not gain the fishermen.

Aqua-culture produced fish is a bit different from an economic perspective as it is actually owned by someone, like cattle. Also it is possible to control the production; for example: date of delivery, species, regulation of fat in the fish etc. However, there is some problems as well, for example: diseases among the farmed fish that have spread to wild fish, the produced fish has sometimes escaped and therefore created, what biologists call, genetic contamination among free fish, and the producers will still need to fish for smaller fish for food for their fish. Also some fish/seafood cannot be farmed in a sustainable way, like the tiger shrimp.

So it seems that the policies and the labelling might be something to strive for to have growing fish populations and a sustainable fish future. Unfortunately, there is the issue of international waters where the quotas don't apply. Additionally, I wonder how the quotas are followed up...

Our etichs professor Per Sandin, also went into some consumer etichs and I have to say I liked the Lockean provisio idea. John Locke, a 17th century philosopher, had a thought about property from nature, that is not owned by anyone, which basically says: that you cannot take so that there is not anything left for others to take.

I think this would be a very important guideline in today's overexploited world and when it comes to fishing, I guess this is the goal the ITQ policy is trying to reach by not allowing the fishermen a higher quota than what is sustainable.


  1. Detta inlägg kom som på beställning. Jag satt nämligen idag och funderade över tonfisk och hur etiskt det är att äta det. Etiketter och olika märkningar skulle i alla fall hjälpa mig som konsument, men det årgärdar knappast helt och hållet grundproblemet: att vissa fisksorter överexploateras.

    1. Det var definitivt en intressant föreläsning, jag har ju vetat om att det finns någon sorts fishery policy men inte hur den i praktiken fungerar.