Global Taxes as a
Long Term Management Strategy

One of the greatest challenges presented by the current plight of worldwide fisheries is that of preventing overfishing. This prevention, if successful, will be the single greatest improvement over the current situation. However, as long as there is demand for fish, there will be motivation to fish and a risk of overfishing. The best possible solution to the problem of overfishing will therefore be the one which has the most probability of limiting catches to the maximum sustainable yield level.

The first step to limiting the catch to a level that can maintain the maximum sustainable yield is to define maximum sustainable yield, which can be found in our fisheries management section. The next step is to determine numerically what this level must be. Data collected through fish tracking, population surveys, and other methods and technology, some of which are in use today and some of which are new and are suggested in other parts of our report, will be used to estimate the total population and health of the oceanic ecosystems all over the global. The result will be location-specific information about the amount of fish that can be taken from any given area in the world to still maintain a sustainable fishery.

Once it is known at what level each fishery in the world can be fished while not exceeding the maximum sustainable yield level, we must ensure that fisheries are only fished up to that level. Quotas have been implemented over the last few decades in an attempt to achieve this goal. These quotas vary in type and specific purpose, but they all aim to set a limit on how much fish can be removed from a given fishery in order to prevent overfishing. Quotas are discussed in detail in other sections of this report, and they are a useful tool that we intend to continue using in a limited capacity. Yet, a quota-based system has failed to deliver the widespread halt in overfishing necessary to save the fish. Therefore, a novel approach, such as global taxation, is needed.

We recommend a tax-based fishery management system endorsed by economist William Wheaton. The tax's basis would be scientific knowledge. An international group of biologists would divide the ocean into perhaps twenty or thirty distinct regions.  Then, they would use fish population data to assess the ecological health of fisheries and determine the fisheries' relative risks of being overfished (W. Wheaton, personal communication, November 21, 2007). The findings would be reported to a group of economists who would use this information to set taxes.  The tax would be heavier for fish caught in regions and from populations containing depleted stocks and lighter for fish caught in areas where the populations are less at risk of being overfished, i.e. the level of fishing that can happen and still remain below or equal to the maximum sustainable yield is higher.

The goal of the tax is to make overfishing economically unsound for fishermen. If a fisherman catches very few fish, he generates very little revenue from selling the fish, but if he catches too many fish, the taxes he pays will largely detract from his revenue. There is a point in between the two extremes at which the fishermen will be making the maximum profit after he has paid his taxes, and the biologists and economists determining the tax will make this maximum profit point a number that will ensure the fisheries will be fished at a sustainable rate.

A tax on fishermen will drive up the price of fish for consumers, which will, in turn, decrease the quantity of fish demanded and thus the number of fish needed to meet this demand. A market-based control on fishing decreases the fisherman's incentive to overfish. The fisherman still has freedom to fish wherever he wants (within other constraints), but the tax will also encourage him to avoid fishing in areas that are in more danger of being overfished.

There have been no prior attempts to levy an international tax to curb environmental damage, but we believe that since fish are a common resource that travel between national borders, and fish from one fishery are often sold to consumers all over the world, this environmental crisis will require much dedication to international cooperation.

Given the metamorphic nature of fisheries and the environment in general, the level of taxes will need to be adjusted from time to time. Currently, data on fish populations is generally collected and reported every two years, meaning that this team of biologists and economists would adjust the tax at least every two years to account for changing conditions, and perhaps more often based on preliminary data, estimates, or sizable environmental changes (such as natural disasters). Alterations to the taxes at intervals would be necessary to keep them relevant and useful, since a permanent and static tax would simply encourage individuals to fish in areas that are lightly taxed, leading to overfishing and populations crashes.

In the case of subsistence fishing and sport fishing, we feel that quotas are still a better tool for maintaining a ceiling on the amount of fish caught for this purpose. Oftentimes subsistence fishermen have virtually no choice about the location in which they fish, and they should not be penalized for this. More important is the fact that subsistence fishing is not involved in the global fish market, since it never enters this market in the first place. Therefore a tax that decreases the demand by raising the price is irrelevant. However, subsistence fishing should not be a reason for taking an unreasonable amount of fish, which is why quotas are necessary. For sport fisherman, permits can be issued to effect these quotas.

The taxes would be calculated by an international committee. Only countries that ratify the treaty would collect the tax, eliminating the issue of taxation without representation. The revenue of the tax would then be used to fund other aspects of our plan, like encouraging fishermen to switch to more environmentally sound methods of fishing. Countries who have signed the treaty are bound by it to fish sustainably in their own waters, and a tax is just another way for them to enforce this. Non-member countries are prohibited from being involved in fish trade with member countries, so they too will be affected by the tax.

In Summary

The tax we are proposing would significantly contribute to solving overfishing. The tax is not only a revenue-generating device, but also a mechanism for paying the environmental cost associated with taking a fish out of the ocean.

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