«Europe and the Tragedy of the Commons: A detailed analysis of the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) euryopa Institut européen de ...»
6 Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" amount of the earth's free gifts (natural resources), which includes all animal species as well as forests, land and so on but in our case, the fish.
For centuries these natural and free resources have had no prices attached to them and so hence nothing to impose restraint on their use. And for centuries, nothing harmful happened; such is the seemingly limitless bounty of the Earth6. But on a finite globe, the limits logically have to be reached at some stage. One example is the gradual disappearance of the herring in the North Sea, where herring fishing was eventually prohibited. Overexploitation of fish stock is not only a European problem. Fish resources all over the
world are in danger of extinction, the major risks being:
• An excessive fishing fleet capacity and fishing effort
• Depleted fish stock
• Low profitability (operating surpluses near zero)
• High inter-annual variability of stock size and catches
• Excessive risks of collapse of fish stocks7.
In order to be entirely politically correct in this matter, it should be noted that alongside these factors others such as water pollution, in particular with heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, nutrients from agriculture and oil, in marine and coastal areas have also played a decisive role in the reducing fish stocks8. The December 2004 oil tanker accident in the Alaskan waters, which is a marine reserve for many endangered species clearly demonstrates the ecological disaster for the marine environment. Furthermore, 6 Michael MCCARTHY, "Fishing industry falls victim of the tragedy of the commons", The Independent, 24.10.2002 and www.commondreams.org, 7 J.G. SHEPHERD, "Economic Aspects of Fisheries Management" in Sustainable Fisheries: Myth or Mirage?, a Memorandum prepared for the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, School of Ocean & Earth Science, University of Southampton, April 2003.
8 For further information please see "The State of Environment - Europe and Central Asia, Marine and coastal areas" in UNEP Global Environmental Outlook 2000, http://www.unep.org/geo2000/english/0079.htm Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" 7 this area is famous for hosting salmon aquaculture production, which suffered a great loss due to this accident. This scenario is often described as an environmental externality in economic theory9.
For nearly 500 years the Grand Banks off Newfoundland was a fishing paradise for every fisherman; until in the 20th century a sinister process began: the fishing effort began to outpace the ability of the fish stock to replace itself. It dwindled and dwindled, and then in 1989 it completely collapsed. As a result the fishery was formally closed in 1992, causing thousands of Canadian fishermen to become unemployed. It has not reopened and it seems unlikely that it will10.
Overfishing occurs over many years and can only be ended over many years. It is obvious that fishing pressure takes a long time to develop until it builds up to rates where the depletion of fish resources has become an inevitable result. Yet, the technological advancements in fishing gear and the discovery of resources in the last decades have also led to a short term increase in demand of fish. It is from vital importance that recovery plans and the current CFP reform are implemented now. Excessive and unnecessary delays in the enforcement procedure may otherwise jeopardize the recovery of fish resources. "The longer the delay before reducing fishing pressure and the slower the actual reduction occurs then the more severe the reductions in fishing in either quota or effort will be needed"11. In order to cushion the cuts made in fishing volume to fishermen and the concerned industries and protect them from financial ruin, immediate action and implementation are indispensable12. An additional time strain is the biological clock ticking for fish reproduction measures. Once fish stocks are below 9 Ayre L. HILLMAN, "Private Solutions for Externalities, Responsibilities and Limitations of Governments" op. cit., p. 231.
10 Michael MCCARTHY, "Fishing industry falls victim of the tragedy of the commons", op. cit.
11 WWF, Templates on fish resource recovery plan, www.wwf.de 12 ITQs which could cushion the financial hardship once fishermen have to
biological safe limits reproduction measures may be failing, too.
The term below biologically safe limits is used by scientists and does not just necessarily affect catching volume but also include the condition of reproduction potential of a concerned specie. The worst case scenario scientists imagine, unfortunately with justification, is that fish stocks will experience such an extreme pressure close to extinction to an extent that reproduction fails due to biologically insufficient livestock. Fish cannot be compared to other foodstuffs, let’s say corn which is sown and harvested each year on the fields. Their population dynamics are complex and depend on various factors such as the availability of fish aged capable of reproduction13. Thus, time pressure is substantial for swift reductions in fishing effort and fleet capacity to be imposed so as to increase the probability of procreation rather than slowly implemented rules jeopardizing this attempt.
Overfishing is certainly also subject to international demand which means there is always a market for fish. In Asian countries like Japan fish is the major dietary source for protein14. The total fish production of the European Union (including catches and aquaculture) accounts for 5% of the world’s fish production. With the accession of ten new Member States in May 2004, the total production of fishery products in the EU has increased by one tenth15. Denmark and Spain are the largest producers by volume 13 WWF, Fette Jahre – Magere Jahrzehnte, Kosten der Überfischung von Kabeljau und Drosch in Nord- und Ostsee, Frankfurt am Main, WWF, 2002.
14 The case of Japanese whale fishing can also be described as a tragedy of the commons. Whale fishing is only allowed for scientific research;
however the Japanese especially, seem to have a different interpretation for this term. Most of the time the meat ends up on the menus and in culinary dishes.
15 EUROPEAN COMMISSION, DG Fisheries, "Total production of world main producers in 2001" in EUROPEAN COMMISSION, Facts & Figures on the CFP, Basic Data on the Common Fisheries Policy, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg 2004, p. 1, accessible on the web http://.europa.eu.int/fisheries.
Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" 9 within the Union. In 2001, the 15 MS of the EU come third with nearly 7 million tonnes of fish after China with 51 005 810 tonnes and Peru with 8 001 024 tonnes of fish16. Japan, India, the US, Indonesia and Russia all follow the EU 15. Moreover, although the total catches in the EU as in the rest of the world is on a steady decrease due to fading fish stocks the EU remains the world’s largest fishing power after China and Peru. The main catching areas of the EU fleet are the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Black Sea.
The following numbers illustrate the total EU catches by major
fishing areas in 200117:
• Atlantic Northeast 74%
• Atlantic Northwest 0,68%
• Atlantic Southwest 1,9%
• Atlantic Eastern Central 8%
• Indian Ocean, Western 3,3%
• Mediterranean and Black Sea 9,2
• Other areas 2,7% The most requested species are pelagic species such as herring, sprat and mackerel18. According to the Commission, the EU exported nearly 5.4 million tonnes of fishery products in 2001 but in order to meet the demand of the EU internal fish markets a further 8.9 million tonnes had to be imported19. This reveals that the EU imports considerably more fishery products than it produces.
Furthermore the Commission states that "since 1993, the total volume of EU exports has increased by 45% while the value of these exports has doubled"20. With a total value of exports of € 23 902 806 billion and € 51 270 475 billion of imports in 2001, the importance of external trade in the fisheries sector to the EU 16 Here it has to be noted that this amount does not only result from fishing but also from aquaculture. EUROPEAN COMMISSON, DG Fisheries, "Total production of world main producers in 2001", op. cit., p. 1.
17 Ibid., p.4 18 Ibid, p. 4.
19 www.europa.eu.int/comm/ op. cit.
20 EUROPEAN COMMISSION, DG Fisheries, "External trade in 2001",
becomes clear. Moreover, the EUs processing sector which processes the imported goods relies heavily on these imports as employment numbers stand in no relation to direct employment in the catching sector of the EU. European imports and exports concentrate on fresh, chilled and frozen goods.
A successful solution in fish resource management needs to be found in order to guarantee a certain number of fishermen a workplace and a relatively stable source of income in the long run.
It is a sad but true reality that many fishermen will in the future need to undergo retraining programmes or be made redundant due to the overcapacity of the EU fishing fleet. According to many economists the ultimate long term solution to the tragedy of the commons could be found in the allocation of property or access rights21. Property rights based approaches attempt to eliminate the common property dilemma by establishing and allocating private property rights on existing fish stocks. Additionally, diverse alternatives to fishing activities ought to be discovered and examined such as the recently inaugurated project of mariculture.
Aquaculture is certainly not a new phenomenon but still seems to be a promising option and supplement in the relief on fishing pressure. It has to be noted that until now, aquaculture unfortunately also burdens fish resources because fish oil and fish flour are ingredients of fish feed used in aquaculture. At present, scientists are trying to develop a substitute based on plant products.
The situation of fish resources in EU waters is highly critical.
According to WWF 70% of fish stock in European waters suffer from the results of overfishing. The Commission published a study in which it stated that of many fish stocks in EU waters compared to figures of the 70s only a rate of 10% of the past resource level 21 Chapter 8.3 is dedicated entirely to the allocation of property and access rights.
Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" 11 are capable of reproduction22. Thereby it should also be noted that fish are not the sole group to have fallen victim to this phenomenon; the entire marine eco-system is in danger. Sea mammals and sea birds have similarly endured the destruction of their habitat caused by damaging and fraudulent fishing activities and techniques. The technological development is one inevitable factor, an unsuccessful fisheries policy with an erroneous subsidy system an unnecessary miscalculated management mistake.
Approximately € 1.4 billion of subsidies are annually paid on behalf of the EU into a fisheries sector that similarly loses millions of Euros per year due to the overexploitation of their fish resources23.
A study carried out by WWF on the stock condition of cod in the North and Baltic Sea confirms a drastic reduction in numbers.
Furthermore, the study demonstrates a loss of around € 400 million in 2001 due to stock reduction and the thereof resulting cuts in catching volume24. A sustainable resource management is imperative now in order to rebuild fish resources and guarantee a biologically safe number of stocks for the future. Many activists argue that a sustainable resource management is long overdue and should have been imposed at a much earlier stage. The economic and financial gains from a sustainable fisheries management prior to overexploitation would certainly lie below the hitherto obtained amounts; yet resources would have been more stable and the current situation of ecological and economic damages would not have arisen.
The depletion of fish stock and the loss of returns are not only ecological and economic problems but they also lead to social difficulties such as an increasing unemployment rate in the fisheries sector. Hence, the European total employment rate in the fisheries sector dropped by 21% in the years of 1990 to 1998, that is 66 000 22 WWF, Fette Jahre – Magere Jahrzehnte, Kosten der Überfischung von Kabeljau und Drosch in Nord- und Ostsee, Frankfurt am Mainz, 2002, p.
12 Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" workplaces lost25. The arsing social costs are to a certain extent carried by community tax payers which is the result of a double edged sword. At first, the EU is supporting overfishing with subsidies (i.e. community tax money) so as to maximise the economic benefits. The catch in this procedure is that benefits were unfortunately only short-lived and the resulting costs from it have to be raised by the tax payer. For years, many concerned parties have argued that consequent protection measures would endanger fisheries. The latest state of affaires unfortunately shows that this scenario is at present of relevance and of great concern. Yet, sustainable management and protection measures for fish resources are not to blame; on the contrary due to the absence of these measures many fisheries face an uncertain future, numerous are close to loosing their livelihoods. It is not astonishing that resources become scarce if a limitless amount is simply taken of them and no conservation measures are initiated to regenerate the latter.
Sufficient resources for the future are under these circumstances not assured. The recent CFP reform if strictly implemented and observed, may be the last opportunity to secure the marine ecosystem, stop the tragedy of the commons and guarantee a fisheries industry for future generations.