Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) and Professor of Economics, Dr. Ralph Townsend, recently presented three invited talks on fisheries management in the United Kingdom. The first, “Lessons from International Experiences in Fisheries Self-governance” at the Future of Inshore Fisheries Conference in London, attracted 150 people from the fishing industry, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations involved in the U.K. inshore fisheries and was motivated, in part, by opportunities for the U.K. to reassert control over some of its fisheries if Brexit occurs. Dr. Townsend’s latter two presentations included “Fisheries Co-management, Self-governance and Transactions Costs” to staff at the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs in London and “Institutional Change, Transactions Costs and Fisheries Reform: Two Illustrations from New Zealand” at Seafish in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Throughout 2007-2010, Dr. Townsend was the Chief Economist for the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries. Over the course of his academic career, he studied many aspects of institutional change in fisheries governance, including a focus on fisheries self-governance. His three presentations drew from those experiences and argued that the fishing industry can, in some circumstances, design and implement fisheries management institutions that are superior to government-mandated management measures. However, the ability of the industry to engage in greater self-governance is limited by the transactions costs the industry must incur to find, implement, and enforce self-governed measures. Because these transactions costs increase exponentially with the number of participants, most international examples of fisheries self-governance have involved relatively small groups of fishers, often less than 15 or 20.

Dr. Townsend identified some specific steps that governments could take to reduce those transactions costs and thereby empower greater scope for self-governance. Unfortunately, governments often do the opposite and create additional barriers to the expansion of fisheries self-governance.

To learn more, see the “Institutional Change, Transactions Costs and Fisheries Reform: Two Illustrations from New Zealand” PowerPoint presentation or find further background in these two publications:

Ralph Townsend, Ross Shotton, and Hirotsugu Uchida. 2008. Case Studies in Fisheries Self-governance. FAO Technical Paper 504.

Ralph Townsend. 2010. “Transactions Costs as an Obstacle to Fisheries Self-governance in New Zealand.” Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 54: 301-320.