Public Fisheries

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There is almost universal agreement that the most effective solution to open-access natural resource problems lies in some form of ownership. Authors disagree on the secondary question of which ownership form, i.e., private, community, or government, will produce the most efficient or equitable results under particular conditions. There has been little attention paid to the fact that government ownership, that is, regulation, is certain to produce results that all interested subsets of the public will view as inefficient and inequitable. Dissatisfaction flows inevitably from the requirements and realities of democratic decision-making structures and constraints. In other words, a democracy puts more emphasis on fair process and the incorporation of competing values than on achieving any particular objective. Thus, although government ownership might solve open-access natural resource problems such as those that occur in fisheries insofar as it creates a peaceable forum for dispute resolution, it does not lead to what anyone might consider well-managed fisheries. For government ownership and well-managed fisheries to coexist, the most logical solution is to create a subset of government structures, the goals of which are aligned with the preferences of various interest groups such as commercial fishers, recreational fishers, and marine conservationists. This approach, which is used on U.S. public lands, ensures that, within at least some parts of the public domain, groups will view management as having succeeded. Greater interest-group satisfaction should lead to welfare gains because those groups will, for example, feel less need to expend resources participating in costly agency processes.


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