||In the modern world, quota systems
of the kind discussed in this article, and similar market approaches
are increasingly adopted in response to environmental problems.
This applies, for instance, to wildlife in the Arctic, including
the Northwest Territories of Canada and to fishing in Iceland and
several other northern contexts. The arguments for such systems
are seductive and powerful in the modern world and there is no need
to reproduce them here. In several fisheries in different parts
of the world, fishing stocks are being turned into private property.
First, the resource is appropriated by regional or national authorities
and later on the total allowable catch for a season (TAC) is divided
among producers, often the owners of boats. At a still later stage,
such temporary privileges are turned into a marketable commodity.
Many scholars, however, have raised serious doubts and criticisms
with respect to the theory of privatization and the tragedy of the
commons as it raises central questions of ethics, politics, and
social theory (1,2,3,4).
Market approaches to resource management are often assumed to be
incompatible with egalitarian sensibilities and communitarian notions
of stewardship and responsibility. Social scientists -- including
anthropologists and economists -- should attempt to examine what
the rather loose reference to the 'market' entails (5,6,7).
Studies of ITQ systems in fisheries and their effects are still
in their infancy (8,9,10).
Changes in the actual distribution of ITQs as well as the direct
and indirect responses to such changes represent an important field
||This article focuses on the Icelandic
experience of quota systems and its implications. During the so-called
'cod wars' with Britain and West Germany in the 1970s, Iceland claimed
national ownership of the fishing stocks in coastal waters, a highly
valuable resource. The domestic fleet, however, continued to grow
and catches, relative to effort, continued to decline. By 1982 politicians
and interest groups were increasingly of the opinion that radical
measures would be needed to prevent the 'collapse' of the cod stock
and make fishing more economical. An individual transferable quota
(ITQ) system was introduced in 1984 to deal with the problem. This
system divided access to the resource among those who happened to
be boat owners when the system was introduced, largely on the basis
of their fishing record during the three years preceding the system.
While originally the system was presented as a short-term 'experiment',
with the fisheries laws passed by the Icelandic Parliament in 1990
it was reinforced and extended into the distant future.
||We have constructed a database (the
'Quotabase') with detailed information on all vessels that have
been allotted ITQs from the onset of the system. These data provide
an invaluable opportunity to examine changes in the distribution
of ITQs among boat owners, thereby shedding light on some of the
social repercussions of resource management under the ITQ system.
Our statistical findings show that fishing rights have been increasingly
concentrated in the hands of the biggest companies. Moreover, following
the expanded commoditization of fishing rights in 1990, the concentration
of ITQs has escalated. Meanwhile, public discontent with the concentration
of ITQs and the ensuing social repercussions of this process is
increasingly articulated in terms of feudal metaphors, including
those of 'tenancy' and the 'lords of the sea'.
||With ITQ systems, fishing is subjected
to stringent regulations and 'scientific' control. Generally, both
marine scientists and economists have presented the coastal ecosystem
as a predictable, domesticated domain. Other voices, however, are
also heard at times. Knowledge of the ecosystem, it is argued, especially
by fishermen, is too imperfect for making reliable forecasts. Since
many marine ecosystems are chaotic and fluctuating regimes, those
who are directly involved in resource use on a daily basis are likely
to have the most reliable information as to what goes on in the
system at any particular point in time. There may be good grounds
for exploring more closely how fishermen's knowledge differs from
the textual knowledge of professional biologists and to what extent
the former could be brought more systematically into the process
of resource management (11,12,13).