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Catch-22 of the quota system

Publish date: 14 June 2011
Issue Number: 216
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Category: Marine

The SA fishing industry is a perfect example of the tragedy of the commons, writes Pierre Heistein, the convener of the UCT Applied Economics for Smart Decision Making short course, in the Cape Times.

He explains that this concept rests on the belief that, left uncontrolled, a limited resource will be plundered faster, as more players have access to it. Instead of combating the negative effects of the tragedy of the commons, policy in SA is inadvertently encouraging it, Heistein goes on to say, referring to the fact that the fishing industry here is managed under a quota system. Heistein is critical of fisheries management that, ignoring the fact that many of the larger fishing firms now boast black ownership of between 60% and 90%, has stuck to traditional transformation mandates of encouraging the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises. Quota is taken away from larger firms and spread across an array of smaller new comers. 'The transformation statistics look fantastic, but not only are these firms struggling to survive with little experience and insufficient funding, but they are changing the industry from a self-governed one to an industry where fishery management needs to be on the constant lookout for players exceeding their quota,' he says. He thinks that fisheries management has a tough job to do; with a given resource they need to maximise economic gains, promote social upliftment, and preserve the sustainability of the resource. But the environment cannot be regarded as a 'nice to have', he posits, averring that it is what the entire industry is based on. Without fish in the sea, there will be no jobs, no transformation, and any well-meaning goals will be redundant, he warns. Full Cape Times report (subscription needed)