Handbook of Environmental and Resource Economics
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Handbook of Environmental and Resource Economics

Edited by Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh

This major reference book comprises specially commissioned surveys in environmental and resource economics written by an international team of experts. Authoritative yet accessible, each entry provides a state-of-the-art summary of key areas that will be invaluable to researchers, practitioners and advanced students.
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Chapter 8: Renewable Resources: Fisheries

C.W. Clark


Colin W Clark 1. Introduction Marine fisheries the world over are in trouble. Depletion of once-productive fish stocks, a sporadic occurrence earlier in the twentieth century, has progressively become a common event. The declaration of 200-mile fishing zones by most of the world’s coastal nations in the late 1970s, which was a reaction to overfishing by foreign fleets, has had limited success in terms of conservation. To name one extreme example, the Northern cod fishery in the Western Atlantic collapsed in 1992, in spite of intense management activity by the Canadian government. The collapse, caused by extreme overfishing (by Canadian fishers) has destroyed the economy of the Province of Newfoundland, throwing some 30000 fishers and plant workers on to the unemployment roster. Only limited signs of recovery of this historical fishery had appeared by 1999. The economic causes of overfishing are well understood for the case of unregulated, open-access fisheries. As explained more fully later, an unregulated fishery will tend to reach a bionomic equilibrium, in which revenues from fishing are exactly balanced by opportunity costs, and potential economic rents are entirely dissipated. This theory, due to Gordon (1954), predicts that depletion (that is, suboptimal fish stocks) will become more prevalent as demand increases and as fishing technology improves; it also predicts that fishermen will become and remain impoverished. These properties are characteristic of many marine fisheries - but there have been some notable exceptions. Understanding the depletion, not to mention collapse, of managed fisheries is more problematic. It will...

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