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The Pacific halibut fishery : success and failure under regulation, 1930-1960: the Canadian experience Desharnais, Craig


At the 1996 World Fisheries Congress, Donald A. McCaughran declared seventyfive years of regulatory success for the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The Commission's mandate was to reverse the precipitous decline in halibut stocks that had become apparent in the 1910's, and save this fishery from economic extinction. The biologists and fishermen who sat on the Commission assumed that the appropriate biological target was the one that yielded the maximum sustainable harvest. Using a bioeconomic model of the fishery and regression analysis, I argue the Commission's use of global quotas to achieve its biological goal of maximum sustained yield was most certainly an economic failure. I also argue its policies were very likely a biological failure, as well. While arguably accomplishing its biological goal of the maximum sustainable yield in 1960, dynamic bioeconomic theory indicates their policies probably destabilized the biological fishery. The paper will first sketch the historical background of the industry. Then the regulatory history will be discussed. Then the economic literature will be reviewed as it applies to the Pacific halibut industry. Finally, the historical data will be examined and the proposition that the regulatory management of the halibut fishery was a success will be tested. The period 1928 to 1960 is covered as it provides both reliable data and a continuous period of regulation, at the end of which the biological goal of maximum sustainable yields was apparently achieved. In conclusion, I find that statistically the fishermen were insensitive to the direct effects of the quota and the total quantity of fish available, and instead responded to the quota's indirect effects on the fishermen's costs, which induced the inflow of greater fishing capital than otherwise would have occurred.

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