CONCERN that the supply of fish is being depleted is by no...


April 14, 1994

CONCERN that the supply of fish is being depleted is by no means confined to the Chesapeake Bay. It's a world problem, notes The Economist in a lead article. The international fish harvest peaked five years ago and has been slipping since. Twice as many boats are chasing fewer fish.

"The saddest thing about overfishing is that it is self-defeating," The Economist notes. "Left to themselves, fishermen will go on fishing until the contents of the net are worth less than the cost of putting the net in the sea.

"That leads to small populations of fish, and small catches. But allow the population to grow by taking only a moderate catch, and you can take that catch again and again, year after year . . .

"Do not blame fishermen for overfishing. They are behaving rationally, as they have always done. A community, held together by ties of obligation and mutual self-interest, can manage a common resource on its own; but the world's fishing fleets are not a community.

"Fishermen are the last race of hunter-gatherers, out to snatch what they can, while they can.

"Blame instead those who have power over the fleets, and who have taken the sea into their custody: governments. Only 10 percent or so of the world's catch swims in international waters . . . Overfishing means that governments are wasting their peoples' resources."

The Economist's solution? Governments should stop subsidizing fishing. Instead they should charge fishermen higher license fees for the right to fish in national waters and restrict the size of catches.

Three guesses how that would play in Annapolis.

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