Continuing this serialisation based on my 'Free Radical' article 'Environmental Judo' - seven environmental policies that a genuine opposition party could adopt if they were serious about spontaneously shrinking the state, without any new coercion along the way.
Today, de-politicising the oceans:
6. A Fishy Story
NZ’s fisheries are at present what’s known as a “managed commons,” a system in which the tragedy of the commons is limited only by bureaucratic management of property effectively held in common by all those who own quotas. The quota system is simply a system of rationing by bureaucrat, with no incentive for the bureaucrats who set the level of rationing to get it right, nor for quota holders to maintain the resource.
The result has been politicisation of the fisheries, short term thinking from fishermen (rational in the circumstances), and pressure for even more government control of local fisheries.
I suggest we need a rethink. The best way to protect fish stocks and to protect the legitimate interests of fishermen is not through rationing but through property rights.
We know that when property is secure that property owners tend to look to their longer term interests: no reasonable property owner wants to destroy the goose that lays his golden eggs. When property rights are insecure however the situation is reversed: the greatest incentive with the short-term horizons created by insecure property rights is to grab what you can while the going is good.
Such has been the recent experience in NZ’s fishing industry where property rights are rationed by bureaucratic fiat, and we see claims of increasing bottom trawling and bycatch, and scary reports of decreasing fish stocks and a decimated fishery.
The answer is not more politicisation, but less.
Think about it for a moment. There are extinct native birds; there are decreasing fish stocks; but there is no immediate likelihood of dairy or beef cows becoming extinct. There’s a crucial difference here isn’t there: the difference is that farmers’ property in their cattle is protected. That’s the whole difference.
Farmers have historically protected their property in their stock with methods such as barbed wire, brands and enclosed paddocks. Obviously, none of these methods of protecting farmer’s property in their stock works with fish at present (except perhaps with shellfish, for which water rights and seabed rights are necessary), but giving fishermen the opportunity to show reason WHY their ownership in a fishery should be recognised should be seriously considered.
We can use the power of good law to promote the technological means by which law good law can be brought to bear on the problem. Think about the development of property rights in cattle, and how technology helped:
The use of cattle brands was the first simple method enabling cattlemen to define ownership of their stock, which it was the law’s job to protect, allowing them to plan and to grow their herds ‘sustainably’ in the full knowledge that their investment in the herd was protected. The better the legal protection, the longer term the investment and the planning that could be done. This is the reason that cattle rustling was treated so severely in the days when cattle still roamed the plains, and before barbed wire was invented.
The invention of barbed wire revolutionised farming, allowing farmers to protect and define both their stock and their land across huge areas, allowing them to plan ahead and to protect both their herd and their land ‘sustainably’ in the full knowledge that their investment in herd and land was protected.
Both inventions enabled the legal technology of property rights to be brought to bear to protect first the resource (by means of identifiable brands) and then the environment (by means of barbed wire).
What’s needed now is the same thing to happen with the fisheries. If fishermen’s own interests in fisheries and fish stocks are safeguarded, then every incentive exists for them to take the long term view.
What’s needed with the fisheries is the maritime equivalent of brands and barbed wire so that fish stocks and fisheries are protected by those who have the most interest in protecting them: the fishermen themselves. What’s needed is technology.
Political parties don’t invent technology. They can’t. But what they can do is offer the protection of property rights to those who do.
I suggest the best way to obtain what we want here is to invite the fishermen themselves over, say, a three year period to present methods either technological or otherwise by which their own interests in fish and fisheries may be objectively recognised and protected in law, and then commit to enact that protection.
I predict an explosion in fish stocks, the depoliticisation of the fisheries, and a big export market in the technology produced.
[Tomorrow, Part 7: A Kyoto Plan with a difference]
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THE SERIES SO FAR:
INTRO: 'What Would Party X Do?'
PART 1: 'Eco Un-taxes.'
Part 2: 'A Nuisance and a BOR.'
Part 3: 'Small Consents Tribunals'
Part 4: 'Privatisation: Iwi then Kiwi'
PART 5: 'A Very Special Carbon Tax'
THE SERIES IS BASED ON THE PRINCIPLE DEVELOPED HERE:
'Transitions to Freedom: Shall We Kill Them in Their Beds?'