Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Privatized fishing rights mean the industry has less economic benefit for coastal towns

A national push to make seafood more sustainable is forcing small and independent fishing operations to compete with wealthy investors and large corporations, Kai Ryssdal and Daisy Palacios report for the radio program Marketplace. The problem is that the U.S. policy of "catch share," which limits how many fish can come out of the ocean, has become privatized. That means that having deep pockets buys you the rights to more pounds of fish.

Ryssdal, host of Marketplace, interviewed Lee van der Voo, whose book, The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and Your Dinner Plate, details the issue. Van der Voo told Ryssdal, "The idea was give fishermen a stake in the ocean, and they'll become conservationists. But it was a bit of a gamble. It was like giving 100 people houses and betting everybody's going to cut their grass; you just don't really know. And the effect has been kind of mixed. Some people became the good stewards that conservationists envisioned when they pushed this policy in America, and a lot of people just became landlords."

Van der Voo told Ryssdal, "There are a lot of ways to enforce caps on the ocean, and I would say that private property rights have not been the best way to do it . . . It used to be, that if you were a fisherman and you wanted to grow in your industry, you would just get better at it. And you would, over time, be able to afford your own boat, afford your own equipment, afford the licenses to go fishing. Now you have to be able to afford the access to the ocean, which is tremendously expensive. And so, the next logical inheritor of the resource is no longer the fishermen, it’s investors, it’s corporations, it’s entities that are moving the economic benefits of fishing further and further away from coastal towns."

Van der Voo said, "People care about what they eat. Maybe not so much about the person that brings it to them, but maybe they should. You know, this is a pretty significant trend here in this nation. We've seen a lot in the last election, people talk an awful lot about what has happened to workers in the heartland, but we're not really talking about what's happening to workers in coastal communities. Right now, that halibut that's costing $28 to $30 a pound in the Whole Foods case, the guy that goes and catches that is paying up to 75 percent of the revenue of that trip to a landlord. That's a problem."

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