Economics research for sustainable fisheries

Senast ändrad: 20 februari 2023

Johan Blomquist.

Over the past decades, concerns regarding the state of world’s fisheries have been repeatedly voiced in research and in the policy debate. According to the latest FAO assessment, the fraction of marine fish stocks harvested at biologically unsustainable levels is over 30 percent, compared to around 10 percent in the mid-70’s. On the positive side, evidence from fisheries around the world shows that appropriate fisheries management reforms can dramatically improve fish stocks and the economic viability in the fisheries sector.

With the possible exception of subsistence-based economies, fishing is an economic activity. The species that fishers target, the areas of exploitation, and the gear that they use depend on the expected benefits and costs of these choices. Understanding the economics of fisheries is therefore key to implement effective fisheries management. The aim of my research is to get a better understanding of the complex relationships between fisheries management, seafood markets, fishing activities and economic outcomes. My research includes a diversity of topics including the effects of public subsidies to the fisheries sector, the potential of voluntary sustainability labels, price formation of seafood products and coastal fisheries interactions with marine mammals such as seals. A significant part of my research focuses on measuring the impacts of various policy and management actions on actors in the fisheries sector. In my presentation, I give examples of two challenges that I plan to tackle in future research.

First, a major challenge in policy evaluation is to isolate the impact of a specific policy on the outcome variable of interest (the “treatment effect”). Estimating causal treatment effects of fisheries policies is particularly difficult because it is rarely possible to conduct randomized controlled trials as is done in other disciplines. Drawing on examples from my own research, I show that careful empirical analysis is necessary to avoid inaccurate conclusions regarding the effects of new policies. I also argue that there is potential to improve the quality of empirical research on treatment effects in fisheries economics through more sophisticated econometric models and gathering of more detailed data.

Second, there is a need to be able to analyze fishing activities on detailed spatial scales. Regional fisheries management and modern planning of marine areas include exact locations of wind-power farms, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), zones closed for specific fishing gears, etc. For decision makers trying to find compromises between different stakeholders, an understanding of the costs and benefits of different fishing areas is critical. Most current economic models of fisheries tend to have low spatial resolution with focus on larger sea basins, and there exists few models appropriate for the fine-tuned spatial planning currently being developed in Sweden and internationally. Future research should focus on economic models of fishing activity defined on a fine spatial scale. Such models should be valuable for studying the effects of local management interventions such as MPAs and the use of marine space for other purposes than fishing.