Fish are valuable - intrinsically, as food, for recreation and as a source of wealth: and they belong to no one - they are "free common good" or "common property". Whilst fish are renewable resources they are limited and vulnerable. They are a public natural resource but there is no incentive for individuals to protect them so the community must act collectively to ensure its resource is not devalued. Without protection fish resources are mishandled by persons in search of food, recreation and wealth and indirectly by the degradation of the waters in which they live by the activities of other users of those waters.
"environmental and conservational considerations ... require that exploitation, particularly commercial exploitation, of limited public natural resources be carefully monitored and legislatively curtailed if their existence is to be preserved." Mason CJ, Deane J and Gaudron J, in Harper 1989 (High Court of Australia).
When Magna Carta had removed private rights to a fishery fishermen faced with problems(related to their rights to fish) could not seek redress or protection from the courts as they could in disputes over property. Thus, in the words of Scott -
"the onus was placed on politicians to deal with over-fishing, a problem which it did not fully recognise. The initial scientific evidence was weak and fishermen-voters' political participation was both weak and contradictory. So government did not act to create ocean fishing rights, either territorial or personal, instead, it gradually developed regimes of fisheries regulation."
British legal tradition protected the rights of all subjects of the Crown to fish in tidal waters and required the Crown as parens patrie to protect its subjects in their use of that right. The Crown could not carry out this role without also protecting the stocks of fish which supported the livelihood of fishermen.
The evolution of the theoretical basis of fisheries management.
From the mid nineteenth century scientific interest began to be taken in the impact of fishing on fish stocks in the sea. T H Huxley was foremost amongst British biologists expressing concern at the management of fisheries. Huxley's made two memorable comments in this regard -first in the 1863-5 Royal Commission
"all Acts of Parliament that profess to regulate or restrict the modes of fishing pursued in the open sea be repealed and that unrestricted freedom of fishing be permitted hereafter."
and secondly at the International Fisheries Exhibition.
"with the present forms of fishing the sea fisheries such as cod, herring and mackerel the stocks are inexhaustible "nothing we can do seriously affects the numbers of fish".
Huxley calculated that fishing caused less than 5% of all fish deaths and concluded that any attempt to regulate fisheries was therefore useless. This stimulated a major debate on whether or not fishing could deplete fish stocks and if so what role should the State play. In the USA depletion was accepted and the State should redress the action not by regulation but by restocking the sea from hatcheries. Devotion to restocking gained widespread acceptance and many hatcheries were established throughout the world including Australia.
In addition to the commitment to restocking the USA established the model for an integrated Government fisheries agency combining management, research, enforcement and extension that was adopted throughout the world over the next half a century. H G Maurice established the role for the British Fisheries Department in 1920.
The Role of Fisheries Science.
Whilst Maurice defined the role of government in England Michael Graham established fisheries science. When the fisheries, which had recovered during World War I, began to decline again, the British Government again responded with inquiries in 1932, 1934, and 1936. All revealed more distress amongst fishermen. From this experience, Michael Graham proclaimed his "Great Law of Fishing".
"Fisheries that are unlimited become unprofitable"
Graham also believed that fisheries stayed unprofitable so long as effort is free and urged on by competition.The "Great Law" heralded, and justified the modern era of fisheries management based on scientific research. Graham, W F Thompson through his work on halibut, and E S Russell through the use of mesh size regulations to achieve maximum sustainable yield were principle pioneers.
The application of mathematics and the development of models tended to transform fisheries science after 1955. The work of Beverton, Holt, Gulland, Ricker, Schaefer and established a numerical approach and an acceptance of maximum sustainable yield as an almost universal objective of fisheries management. Australian fisheries management adopted the quantitative approach under the tutelage of G. L. Kesteven in the 1960's. Kesteven's commitment reinforced the belief of fishermen in fisheries research established by Thompson and Fowler and created an expectation that for each fisheries problem there was a numerical answer.
Maximum sustainable yield proved to be unsatisfactory as a universal fisheries objective for three main reasons
- it is difficult to reliably estimate
- it fluctuates over time, sometimes widely between consecutive seasons
- the relatively high cost of taking the fish near the maximum
The application of bio-economic models to fisheries management dates from the mid 1950's with the work of Gordon and later Scott, Clark and Crutchfield. This work was based on the theories of Coase that declared that 'perfect' property rights, precisely defined, in all factors of production are a sufficient condition for achieving the maximum possible efficiency in economic production through market mechanisms. These economists began to speculate "about the remarkably persistent tendency of commercial fisheries, of all types and in all parts of the world, to produce very poor economic results" The catch cry of this movement was "the tragedy of the commons" - the solution was to better define property rights.(A fine historical exposition of the evolution of fishery access rights can be found in a paper by Anthony Scott to a 1989 seminar on Pacific fisheries.) Their concern for the inefficiency of maximising yields from a fishery built on the foundation of Graham's Great Law and eventually convinced fisheries managers to reduce the total fishing effort to a point where the ratio of costs to earnings from the fishery was maximised. The original bio-economic models were based on the biological models of Schaefer and, despite the deficiencies of the surplus production theory, gained ready acceptance of managers. Clark devised models based on the discount rate and showed that it is equivalent to the marginal productivity of the resource. Thus if the discount rate is high there is every reason to take the stock as quickly as possible, where it is zero the maximum economic yield may be taken steadily. The damaging impact of competition between fishermen has been stressed by economists and this leads to the prescription of individual catch quotas. Most economic models maximise profit when there is a sole owner of the fishery, in the words of Cushing if the phrase "social welfare" replaces "profit" most fisheries objectives can be encompassed by the sole owner model. Sole ownership of fisheries has not been an attractive option in Australia.
The ready availability of computers consolidated the role of numerical models in predicting the fate of fish stocks. The dependence on fisheries statistics became absolute. (Personal computers have given fisheries an even more flexible instrument on which various management scenarios can be examined.) Yet as research reveals more of the behaviour of fish populations under exploitation further problems are revealed. As limited entry failed to control either inputs or mortality supplementary input controls were applied - gear quotas, boat replacement policies etc. Fisheries biologists, disturbed by the failure of limited entry have given their support to management strategies that put an absolute ceiling on total catches, they seem less confident of reaching an ideal management strategy than they were in the 1960's.The international view of fisheries mangers now seems to rest more firmly on the work of Thompson and Graham and the simplistic idea that with the right collection of statistics all stocks could be managed with little trouble has been abandoned.
The development of fisheries management in Australia is discussed in the next section.