KAMPALA, Uganda – Imagine a giant field with lush, green grass growing all over. There are several herders in the area, and each brings his cow to graze in the field. It is in the best interest of each individual herder to acquire additional cows and bring those cows to the field to graze. However, the damage to the field, which increases with each additional cow, is shared by everyone. Eventually, the self-serving interests of the herders becomes too great as they continue to bring more cows to the field to graze, and the field’s resources are ultimately depleted entirely.
It’s a concept known as tragedy of the commons, first brought to light by Garrett Hardin in his 1968 article entitled “Tragedy of the Commons,” and it is has affected food supplies and resources all over the world for centuries. The dilemma occurs when multiple individuals, acting in their own self-interest, ultimately deplete a common shared resource, even when it is clearly no longer in anyone’s long-term interest to continue doing so. Today, this phenomenon continues in a different form: overfishing.
Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (commonly referred to as IUU fishing) occurs every day, all over the globe, and is significantly impairing the ability to effectively conserve and manage fish stocks in marine and inland waters. Additionally, this illegal fishing threatens the livelihood of those who rely on the fish for daily survival.
According to All Africa, IUU fishing is devastating the fishery in Lake Victoria, the lifeline to millions of people in the region. Fish Info & Services reports that Belize and Cambodia – with 20.5 percent and 41.3 percent poverty rates, respectively – are experiencing a comparable problem with illegal fishing.
Similar to the herders who continue to add cows to the field because it is to their direct benefit, IUU fishing is incentive driven as well. The more valuable the fishery resources are to the illegal fishers, the more likely the participants are to continue to engage in the illegal activity to acquire that resource. Unfortunately, this activity has the potential to cause irreparable damage to fisheries, significantly impairing the ability to restore depleted fish stocks.
Government regulation, while not a complete fix, is believed by many to be one of the few solutions to the problem presented by the tragedy of the commons. According to Somalilandpress, several countries in the Horn of Africa are considering the development of a task force to combat illegal fishing. On a similar note, the European Union (EU) is encouraging several countries, which appear to be uncooperative in the fight against IUU fishing, to develop legislation and sanctioning measures to help address concerns related to IUU fishing, Fish Info & Services reports.
Countries which do not make credible progress in addressing IUU fishing will be placed on a ban list by the EU, whereby any fishery products caught by vessels of the listed countries will be prohibited from entering the EU market. Conversely, EU vessels will not be permitted to fish in the waters of the banned countries. Countries that do not address IUU fishing can reasonably expect their economies to take a significant hit if they are prevented from exporting their fishery products to EU countries. This would be a serious problem for poor countries that already struggle to feed their citizens.
In order to protect the food supply and economies of poverty-stricken nations, countries that experience rampant IUU fishing should adopt regulations aimed at the effective monitoring, surveillance, and sanctioning of those who engage in this detrimental practice.
– Cavarrio Carter
Sources: Fish Info & Services, Somalilandpress, University of Michigan, All Africa, World Bank, CIA World FactBook