Sustainable by design: how to build better institutions for fisheries management in British Columbia




Mitchell, Darcy Anne

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The contemporary crisis in the world's fisheries has been both predictable and predicted for several decades, and has assumed a consistent pattern: as stocks are fished to commercial extinction, fishing effort is displaced to new, previously unvalued or undervalued stocks. Canada's Atlantic and, increasingly its Pacific, fisheries reflect this global trend. This study explores whether, and how, the development, implementation and enforcement of appropriate property regimes can slow or arrest the destruction of fisheries and the apparently relentless progression from one depleted fishery to another. To answer this question, empirical evidence is provided through the medium of three case studies of commercial fisheries in British Columbia: (1) the Area C Commercial Clam Fishery on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast; (2) the Heiltsuk Tribal Council Commercial Clam Fishery on B.C.'s Central Coast; and (3) the coast-wide fishery for geoduck clams (Panopea abrupta ). The former two projects represent management experiments in the general intertidal clam fishery, of which the main commercial species is the manila clam (Tapes philippinarum). The last is an example of a recently established, closely held fishery which has experienced dramatic increases in the value of landings. Institutional analysis of these three cases confirms many of the explanations and predictions that have been generated by the rapidly expanding body of empirical and theoretical literature concerning the successful application of collective property rights systems in the management of common pool resources. Research findings confirm the importance of rules defining resource boundaries and authorized users; the need to appropriately match resource benefits and costs, the significance of group size and heterogeneity for the magnitude and distribution of transaction costs incurred by and in the property regime; and, more generally, the critical need for property regimes to be context specific if they are to link human and natural systems in ways that achieve acceptable levels of ecological sustainability, economic efficiency, and social equity. Analysis of the case studies in the context of broader trends in fishery management reveals, as well, a pressing need for what might be termed “preventive” or “pre-emptive” institutional design. Rather than waiting (as is usual) for conservation concerns, financial crises, and acute distributional conflicts to compel institutional reform, it is recommended that governments and communities act to ensure that harvesting rights and corresponding responsibilities, including mechanisms for allocation and transfer, are established and understood in the early stages of fisheries development, thereby forestalling serious ecological, economic and social costs.



Public administration, Aquaculture, Fish production