Proposals to manage high seas fish stocks are evaluated from a property rights perspective — that any solution must accomplish the exclusion, enforcement and other tasks that a system of property rights achieves. The existing de jure solution, based on regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs), has met with limited success due to sovereignty issues, their voluntary nature and the ability of vessels to register under flags of convenience. Expanding national exclusive economic zones (EEZs) would reduce the number of nations involved in harvesting a given stock. This may ease the common pool problem, but it would face severe difficulties in implementation and would undoubtedly leave areas of the oceans as open access high seas. A proposal to establish high seas fishery management companies (HSFMCs) to ‘unitize’ management of high seas fish stocks would face daunting legal hurdles, as well as the thorny problem of dividing rents among participants. While these three alternatives may well be components of an eventual solution, sovereignty and other legal difficulties likely will limit their success. We propose considering an industry-led approach, based on the exercise of buyer power, in the market for catch in select circumstances. In principle, a single-buyer can control harvests and has an incentive to manage effort to maximize rent. Obvious problems with this approach include noncompetitive pricing, coordinating individual behavior when several buyers are involved and the likely inability to control access to all consumer markets. Nevertheless, this approach may achieve a partial solution despite these limitations and it is being attempted in practice, as examples described in the text illustrate.
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