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International Institutions for Management of the Oceans. Scott Barrett School of Advanced International Studies Johns Hopkins University. Overfishing is like a card game. $104.  D. Card game: $5 if keep red card; $1 for every red card handed in by anyone. Suppose N = 100. $100. $5.

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International institutions for management of the oceans

International Institutions for Management of the Oceans

Scott Barrett

School of Advanced International Studies

Johns Hopkins University

Overfishing is like a card game
Overfishing is like a card game.



Card game:

$5 if keep red card;

$1 for every red card handed in by anyone.

Suppose N = 100.







Number of others that play Conserve


  • International institutions constrain state behavior—they structure incentives.

  • Custom v. treaties. Both are self-enforcing institutions. But…

  • Custom is applied universally; treaties apply only to parties.

  • Custom arises spontaneously; treaties are created.

The early years
The early years

  • Pribilofs discovered in 1786; up to 5 million seals.

  • Sole owner management reduced the herd to 2m.

Pelagic sealing

Seals were hunted and killed well outside the 3-mile limit.

20 miles


  • Pelagic sealing decimated the herd, and nearly led to war. By 1909 there were less than 150,000 seals left.

Later still
Later still…

  • The Treaty of 1911 brought a reversal of fortune: by 1917 the herd had tripled in size; by 1940 there were once again 2 million seals.

How did it do this?

By changing the rules of the game
By changing the rules of the game

1. Created an aggregate surplus by banning pelagic sealing.

2. Used side payments to redistribute the surplus such that every party gained.

3. Deterred non-participation by means of a “linchpin” punishment.

4. Deterred non-compliance by making pelagic sealing a criminal offence.

5. Deterred entry by banning trade in non-authenticated skins.

Relevant today grand banks fisheries
Relevant today?Grand Banks fisheries

  • The Grand Banks fisheries are a “straddling stock”; the nose and tail extend to the high seas.

  • These areas are subject to open access.

  • These areas are covered under the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) regulations, established under a 1978 convention.

  • Areas beyond the EEZ are managed by NAFO.

  • NAFO has been plagued by:

  • fishing by non-member country vessels (sometimes reflagged vessels of member states).

  • “objections” by the EU of NAFO TAC allocations.

  • non-compliance by members.

  • Result: failure; many stocks have crashed.

Greenland halibut
Greenland halibut

  • In 1994, NAFO established a total allowed catch for Greenland halibut.

  • EU quota set at 12%; Canada’s at 60%.

  • The EU “objected,” and so was not bound by the quota.

  • Canada amended its Coastal Fisheries Protection Act in 1994 to give itself powers to enforce action outside its 200 mile zone.

The estai
The Estai

  • A week later, Canadian patrol vessels fire shots across the bow of the Estai, a Spanish trawler operating 45 miles outside the EEZ.

  • The EU called this an act of piracy.

  • Further clashes continued, both in the nose and tail, and before the media.

  • Later a bilateral agreement was reached between Canada and Spain.

Bilateral agreement
Bilateral Agreement

  • Canada agreed to split its quota under the new TAC 50-50.

  • Charges were dropped against the Estai.

  • Monitoring, by means of a pilot observer scheme, was improved.

Later responses
Later Responses

  • Canada threatened to deny vessels of non-member states access to ports.

  • NAFO adopted observer scheme and satellite monitoring systems.

  • Parties required to inspect fishing vessels of other parties during port calls.

Non parties

  • Fishing in NAFO region presumed to mean undermining conservation.

  • Inspections by invitation.

  • If vessel enters port of any party, and found to have undermined agreement, transshipments prohibited.

The known unknown and unknowable
The Known, Unknown, and Unknowable

“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

A possible classification
A possible classification

  • Known risks can be assessed based on history.

  • Known unknown risks go beyond the data.

  • Unknown unknown risks cannot be modeled.

Known knowns
Known Knowns

  • Free riding is a real problem. Its consequences depend on both institutional and ecosystem responses.

  • Institutions will evolve to address free riding, but there should be no presumption that they will respond quickly or robustly.

Known unknowns
Known Unknowns

  • The treaty approach has its limits. It is unlikely to address all aspects of IUU fishing.

  • My guess: failure of the treaty approach is likely to cause a change in custom.

  • An unmanaged situation. What will happen?

Unknown unknowns
Unknown Unknowns

  • Don’t know!