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Enclosing the Fishery Commons

From Individuals to Communities

Bonnie J. McCay

November 2011, English

In this paper, Bonnie J. McCay explores the privatization trend in marine fisheries policy and its implications for communities of fishers. After briefly discussing the larger framework of spatial enclosure, exemplified by expanded national jurisdiction, marine protected areas, and territorial fishing rights, she focuses on the trend toward the creation of exclusive, transferable fishing rights, as exemplified in the Atlantic surf-clam fishery and individual transferable quotas (ITQs). ITQs have been promoted as tools not only for economic rationalization in overcapitalized fisheries, but also for enhanced stewardship.

McCay reviews the literature and selected cases to assess their performance in relation to economic, social, and conservation goals in marine fishery management. She finds that concerns about equity, as well as recognition that ITQs alone are generally incapable of achieving fishery conservation goals, are leading to increased interest in the place of “community” in marine fisheries. In the United States this has led to catch-share allocations to communities and community-oriented groups, such as cooperatives and fishing associations. McCay examines several cases of community-based allocations and considers their usefulness as a tool for equitable and sustainable management of the marine commons.

This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s conference entitled “Evolution of Property Rights Related to Land and Natural Resources” in 2010 and is Chapter 8 of the book Property in Land and Other Resources, edited by Daniel H. Cole and Elinor Ostrom.