TRANSCRIPT - Richard Allen
Allen is a lobster fisherman in Point Judith, Rhode Island
and a former member of the New England Fisheries Management
In general terms can you describe how the fisheries are doing here?
I think the
lobster fishery, in particular, has been viewed as doing quite well;
theyre viewed as running opposite to the trend. Weve
had increase to the landing in the last twenty years or so - were
twice as high as what was estimated to be maximum sustainable yield.
And people say, great, we keep setting new records and landings
every year, the resource is healthy, were seeing a lot of
young lobsters coming along.
At the same
time, the scientists are telling us that were really pushing
this fishery very hard, and were running the risk of stock
collapse because we dont have enough females producing eggs
and not enough eggs, and so theres quite a bit of concern.
So while we have what is generally viewed as a healthy fishery,
we also have a lot of advice that we should be doing more to conserve
You put a lot of credence to what the scientists are saying, but
how about your colleagues out there, the lobster fishermen?
Well, I think
Ive had an opportunity, through my career and my involvement
in the fishery management process, to really get a lot closer to
the science and be a lot more involved in it and get a better understanding
of what it really is that the scientists are telling us. And the
fact that they say were over-fishing doesnt mean weve
depleted the fishery theyre saying were running
a high risk of pushing the fishery beyond what it can stand.
Whereas a lot
of the people in the fishing industry, when you tell them this fishery
is over-fished, they think they should be seeing low catches. And
when theyre seeing high catches and somebody tells them the
fishery is over-fished, it just doesnt add up to them; doesnt
make sense. So theres a lot of feeling that the scientists
just really dont know what they are talking about.
In my view its
that people dont really understand what the other person is
saying. And thats why the project that Im working on
is to try to overcome some of that misunder-standing by giving the
fishing community the same tools to work with as the scientists
have. And so if they can both use the same tools, and get a better
understanding of what the other side is saying, then I think well
make more progress in the long run.
If the lobster fishery were to collapse, what kind of impacts would
that have in this community?
Well, I think
people focus on the groundfish fishery as being a real catastrophe
in New England, and when you think about the impact that the decline
or collapse of the lobster fishery would have it would just make
the groundfish problem look like small potatoes. I mean, the lobster
fishery is so large its the single most valuable fishery
on the Atlantic coast; its worth 250 to 300 million dollars
dockside, plus the multiplier effect throughout the economy
that so many communities, so many people involved in the
lobster fishery, if it goes downhill, it would really be
devastating. And the recovery time would be so long that it would
just be one of those things that there would be no quick fix to
We hear a lot about the impacts of bottom trawling on essential
fish habitat. Does that affect the lobster, the health of the lobster
Nobody can really
say for sure what those impacts are. Theres a tremendous amount
of controversy. Its all the way from plowing the bottom and
stirring up nutrients and aerating it and making it healthier to
devastating it. And we have a pretty good relationship with the
trawlers in this area, and there tend to be certain grounds that
the lobstermen fish and certain grounds that the trawlers work.
And at times some of the most productive grounds where we catch
lobster are grounds that at other times of the year are where the
trawlers work. So I dont think theres a lot of feelings
here that its an overall bad situation.
How do we reduce the fishing effort? What is the solution to the
problem, in your point of view?
I think the
fundamental failure that weve seen in the fisheries management
systems has been that they try to push everybody down. Their restrictions
apply, usually across the board the catch has to be reduced,
the fishing effort has to be reduced. And so we push everybody down
to where its uneconomic to be fishing. Nobody has the ability
to say, Well I can see my future in this fishery as being
a good one; I can adjust to these changes. The attempt is
to just to make everybody go broke together is the way I see it.
And so the natural
reaction that the people have is that they have to fight against
that. So the short-term interest that the people accuse the industry
of is just a natural thing. They just dont see how they can
survive, given the restrictions that are proposed. The payoff in
terms of conservation is usually too far down the road for people
to say, Oh yeah, I can cut back and then things will be better
for me in the future.
And so until
we come up with a system that allows some people to make a choice
to do something else, and some people to still maintain a viable
fishing business, I think well continue to face these fishery
management failures. We need some kind of a system of transferable
fishing rights, where the people that are getting out can sell out
to the people who want to stay in. Instead of having two business
each going broke we might have one successful business and one thats
gone and done something else but has been compensated for doing
We are going all around the world; well be looking at community-based
fisheries in Papua New Guinea and all over the western Pacific where
traditional ways theyve managed their fishing for century
is no longer true. They are now in a money economy, now were
able to refrigerate fish and jet them all over the world. Global
economy is weighing in badly in areas where traditional fishing
rights and management used to sustain a fishery. Can you compare
this idea of individual fishing quotas to traditional methods that
have been used successfully elsewhere in the world?
claim to be an expert in world fisheries management systems. I do
think its interesting Ive heard a lot of people
say that there is no such thing as a successful fishery management
system anywhere in the world. I look at it as a challenge. Id
like to be able to go out and find out if there are really successful
fisheries management systems out there.
people do point to some traditional systems that, in my mind, had
a lot of attributes similar to something like transferable fishing
rights, where either the tribe or the clan or the chief allocated
the rights. And as you say, they werent necessarily in a money
economy so they werent transferable in the same way on the
free market that you might have today, but they were pretty well
defined exclusive fishing rights.
And I think
those systems are breaking down, because people are getting into
the industrialized economy and the free market. And so the global
economy is impacting even those systems that had been successful.
And what we need to do is to find a system that will work in the
free-market economy and thats what I see has happened in the
rest of our economy. The creation of property rights and the ability
to have transferable property rights is really the foundation that
our economy runs on.
And if we can
bring fisheries into that kind of a system I think well be
much more successful than trying to maintain a kind of command and
control system where the government tries to decide just how the
fisheries should operate and come up with all kinds of regulations
to divide up the catch and decide whos fishing and whos
not fishing and what kind of fishing businesses they can run and
what kind of gear they can use. It just hasnt worked and we
need a fundamentally different system.
Some say ITQs and property fishing rights might be an incentive
to fishermen, just like with houses, to fish in a cleaner way and
in a less hurried way, because therell be less competition,
and they can go at it in a more thoughtful manner. And the value
in their property, as the fishery recovers or as the fisheries thrive,
become more valuable. Do you see a way of promoting stewardship
of the fisheries?
There is no
question in my mind that when people have an ownership in a resource
they would want to improve that resource; if its not open
to everybody, if they make an improvement. I see it like you wouldnt
put your money in the bank if they were going to give out keys to
the bank to everybody that came along; if everybody could walk in
and take your money out you wouldnt put your money in the
Well, if you
invest in fishery conservation, which is really what conservation
requires, an investment somebody has to withhold catching
today in order to leave something in the water to grow and reproduce.
Now if they cant have that expectation of getting that return
when it comes, if somebody else could come and take it, well, theres
not a lot of interest in making that kind of an investment.
But if you say
to somebody, okay this is your resource and not one individual,
but as a group of resource owners if you say this is yours,
if you invest in it, conserve it, whatever payback comes you will
be able to share in that, I think that will turn the whole system
When you speak in favor of individual quotas that are transferable,
what do you say to all the fishermen that are afraid that basically
this will create vertical integration and consolidation and theyre
going to get closed out?
Well, the first
thing I say is: look at the alternatives. Youre getting constantly
pushed down and down and down. What kind of a future do you have
in the fishery the way its going now? Your flexibility is
getting eroded; you just dont have the opportunity to run
a good business; youve got to look for something different.
And when you
look at something like transferable fishing rights yes, there
is a great fear that large corporations, people with money, will
be in a better position to buy these out; concentrate the industry
there are many things that can be done to avoid that.
There are all
kinds of social engineering constraints that can be put on systems
of transferable fishing rights. You can put caps on the amount that
any one person can own; you can require the owner of the fishing
right be an active participant in the fishery; if its profit
thats attracting all this big money, then you can tax it away.
Im not really in favor of that myself Id like
to see things left in the private sector but that is one
way to do it.
So there are
a lot of ways you can avoid the industry being attractive to big
money and getting taken over. And the other thing is, too, that
any of the systems that we have, any of the alternatives, if we
accept that were going to have limits, that its not
going to be an open-access fishery, then most of those other systems
have the same potential to be taken over by big corporate interests,
the people with money.
have limited licenses or whether you have transferable effort units
traps, days at sea compared to quota they all have
that problem. And were gonna have one of those systems. If
were gonna have it with ITQs, were gonna have
it with other systems, and we have to deal with it which ever one
You said earlier that its better to have one endeavor that
can make it, rather than two endeavors that go broke.
interesting to me that economically the fishery would be better
off to be fishing on a much more conservative level. If you look
at the theoretical economic approach, a bio-economic approach, if
we allow the fishery to get out to a depleted stage, with a lot
of fishing effort, we can actually get rid of a tremendous amount
of that fishing effort, rebuild the biomass to a much higher level,
have a much healthier stock, be taking the same amount out, but
be making a lot more profit.
And so its
almost like one of these win/win situations that everybody strives
for you can cut back on the fishery after it settles out
again, you have a much healthier resource, you have people making
a lot more money, being a lot more profitable. You may not have
as many people; you could still have just as many people, just they
wouldnt be as efficient.
But you have
to have a system to bring that kind of change about; you cant
just let it go wild like weve done in the past.
I think that
one of the things most frustrating to me in my involvement in fishery
management is: it seems like we could have such a win/win situation.
But right now weve depleted stocks, we have a fishing industry
that isnt economically healthy, and if we can get the right
system thatll move that whole fishing effort back to a lower
level of fishing effort, well have healthier stocks producing
more fish, more fish now and in the future; well have nice,
sustainable fisheries and well have people making more money.
And so its a question of how do we get from here to there.
I think theres a clear way to do it, without a lot of pain,
but I think the system just has to be radically changed in order
to accomplish that objective.
Would you like to say anything else?
to get across this point: that there really are no trained fishery
managers around the world. There are very few, if any, schools that
train people in fisheries management. And its a highly complex
field. We have mostly biologists who have come up through the ranks
who are put into policy-making positions which involve much more
than biology and we have fishermen who are good at running fishing
businesses but arent necessarily able to step back and take
a look at the big picture of how a fishery operates.
We have a lot
of economists who have studied, and in my mind probably have some
of the best ideas on whats going on, because some of the economists
look at their field as studying human behavior, and thats
what weve got there is human behavior and incentives.
And what we really need is to get more people who are involved in
the study of fishery management as a field itself. And much more
dialogue with the industry.
So do you think that there is a flaw in the system, the way the
nine regional councils are set up?
just the regional councils, its the whole fishery management
system, from the state level to the federal system. I think the
fishery management traditionally was always looked at as a biological
problem. You had to study the fish, and you had to make changes
to do with the fish. And its only recently that people have
really realized that its an economic activity. A fishery is
really an economic activity and the way that you affect the fish
populations is much more through the economics of the business.
And you have to make the economic framework right before youll
get the biology right.
But when youve
got a system that was built on biologists, just getting that kind
of change in thinking and getting that kind of people that you need
and the emphasis other than biology I think is tremendously difficult.
If you look at a lot of the biological controversy and the
lobster fishery is a perfect example of this the whole system
is mired in controversy over the stock assessments and the biology.
The only reason theres all that controversy is because of
the economic implications of the biological advice.
And yet nobody
is looking at the economic situation that were in and trying
to say, well what is the field of economics tell us about dealing
with theses problems? The United States Marine Fisheries Commission
just came out with a list of research priorities. The first 28 are
all biologically oriented. Number 29 made some mention of socio-economics.
And the problem is really a socio-economic problem.
A lot of people are saying the biological data stock assessments
and understanding fish population dynamics and understanding the
whole ecosystem of fisheries is in its infancy. Therefore,
even with ITQs there has got to be a total allowable catch
and to arrive at that total allowable catch, the precautionary approach
might need to weigh in.
approach is one of those win/win situations. The maximum economic
yield from a fishery is usually realized at a point below the maximum
sustainable yield. And so if you manage to maximize the economic
returns from a fishery youll be operating in a precautionary
way; that youll keep the fishery below its maximum potential
physical production but youll maximize its economic productivity.
For most people,
thats really what theyre interested in getting
the most we can in economic terms out of the fishery. Whether we
get a few extra pounds of fish is not really critical. Both the
consumers benefit and the fishermen benefit if we operate the fishery
at maximum economic yield.
And so if we
could just find a way to move back weve gone beyond
maximum sustainable yield, weve gotten beyond maximum economic
yield. Now the goal in the law is to move to maximum sustainable
yield, better to move even further back in terms of healthy fish
stocks to maximum economic yield. And everyone would be better off,
including the fish stocks.
So in that sense, does supply ever really meet demand?
meets demand. In general terms youd be producing the same
amount of fish putting it into the market at the point of maximum
economic yield, as you are at the point where all the profits are
dissipated, the open access equilibrium, where you got far too much
fishing effort producing fish from a depleted fish stock; theyre
not producing as much as that stock could.
You could work
on the other side of this production curve and be working on a healthy
resource, taking the same amount out of a healthy resource as youre
taking out of a depleted resource and- but using far less effort.
So the cost of producing it is much less. Use a fraction of the
effort and a fraction of the production cost to produce the same
amount of fish, which means theres a lot of profit there.
what the economists term, economic rent. And whether
that rent stays in the fishery or whether the government collects
it doesnt matter to the fundamental question of where youre
going to operate the fishery. Its a kind of a political choice
of whether you think the government is better at spending money
than the private sector is.
Are you saying that if the stocks that are being depleted are allowed
to rebuild, then it becomes less costly to catch them, and therefore
the profit increases?
in a fishery thats an open-access fishery thats left
to run its course, is that as long as theres any profit
there, more and more people come into the fishery. So that eats
up all that profit. When it gets to the point where theres
essentially no profit, then it stabilizes. Usually thats to
the point where the resources started to decline, youve got
a lot of people just barely making it so theyre resistant
to new regulations coming in.
If you have
a system that gets rid of some of that fishing effort, that allows
the stocks to rebuild so you get a much healthier stock, youve
got less fishing effort, so what they call the "catch per unit"
effort is much higher. So fishermen are going out having a lot easier
time catching fish and they dont have all the competition
from the other people using up the costs of effort, so the profits
are higher, theyre producing the same amount of fish as before
with a lot healthier stock.
just amazing that people cant see the benefits of moving to
that kind of a management regime.
So the production levels remain the same?
levels will stabilize at comparable levels. In order to get the
stock rebuilt you have to have a period when the catches will go
down. Youve got to put some stock back into the fishery, let
it build up. So theres a period of time when you got to have
lower catches, but once you get the stock rebuilt youre going
to be taking out just as much but with a lot less effort going in.
So your cost
of production are much less, profits are higher, consumers are getting
the same amount of fish, usually with more size variability in the
catch than a lot of fisheries thats important. Like
in the lobster fishery you can get at least a dollar a pound more,
for say a two-pound lobster than you can for a one-pound lobster,
because theres scarcity. Consumers want more two-pound lobsters;
theyre willing to pay more for them. So the consumers benefit
if you create a fishery in which theyre getting more two-pound
lobsters. And the fishermen would benefit they get more money
for the catch. And the stock would be healthier because you got
more big lobsters producing more eggs.