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Quota systems and resource management: Icelandic fishing
by Gísli Pálsson and Agnar Helgason
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  Our analysis of the Icelandic cod fishery, focusing on changes in the actual distribution of fishing quotas, indicates a growing inequality. Fishing rights have been increasingly concentrated in the hands of the biggest companies. With ITQs becoming fully divisible and independently transferable, their concentration has escalated. In 1994, only twenty six companies (the 'giants') owned about half of the national ITQs in the demersal fisheries. Distributional analysis seems to indicate that the increased concentration of ITQs in the hands of larger companies is intrinsic to the ITQ system; the rate of concentration and distributional inequality increases as a result of restrictions being lifted on permanent transactions with ITQs. However, while the ITQ system supplies the framework for such change certain 'externalities' to the system have also played an important role.
  The current scholarly emphasis on privatization is sometimes challenged on practical grounds. Some 'commons' regimes function rather well and, conversely, some privatized regimes are obvious failures (2). In some African pastoralist economies, for example, the thesis about the tragedy of the commons has been used by governments and companies when pressing for privatization of communal grazing areas and, in the process, earlier mechanisms for regulating access have sometimes been eliminated, with serious ecological consequences. Environmental degradation was not the consequence of the absence of property rights, but rather the result of the imposition of a privatized regime. There is some evidence for an erosion of responsibility in fisheries as a result of ITQ management. Discarding of small and immature fish during fishing operations and the 'high-grading' of the catch (the dumping of species of relatively low economic value) seem to be major problems in many fisheries, including the Icelandic one. In addition, privatization sometimes causes severe social inequalities and ethical problems, which escalate the problem of irresponsible resource-use. As we have shown, in Iceland public discontent with the privatization and concentration of ITQs, and the social and political repercussions thereof, is increasingly articulated in terms of heavily loaded metaphors of 'profiteering', 'tenancy', 'quota kings' and 'the lords of the sea'. While the distribution of ITQs and its moral evaluation by the people involved represent an important field of research, such concerns tend to be ignored in scholarly discourse on resource management (30). Before instituting programs of privatization and quota allocation, managers should be careful to examine the particularities of history and culture and the likely social and ecological consequences of their schemes.
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Quota systems and resource management: Icelandic fishing,
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