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The hidden role of processors in an individual transferable quota fishery

Danielle N Edwards, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia
Evelyn Pinkerton, School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University


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The economically and culturally important Pacific halibut fishery in British Columbia, Canada, managed as an individual transferable quota fishery since 1993, has frequently been held up as an example of management best practices. This narrative of success has continued despite repeated warnings that there are serious problems with the fishery, including processors exerting ever greater control over the fishery, contrary to stated fisheries objectives. Administrative data from federal and provincial data sets were used to consider ownership and control in the halibut fishery, with a focus on processor quota ownership, leasing, and brokerage of leases. The analysis indicated that direct processor ownership of halibut quota, while more than doubling between 1996 and 2016, remains relatively low at less than 10% of the available quota. Processor control through the leasing of halibut, however, is much higher, accounting for more than half of all halibut quota transfers in 2016. Through strategies such as “holding licences,” processors increasingly act as hubs for leasing activity, which has shifted the balance of power in the fishery. This analysis (a) reveals that there is much more processor control than is obvious from a cursory review of ownership, (b) highlights approaches for assessing the level of processor control, and (c) recommends alternative government procedures for improving transparency and evaluating full spectrum outcomes of fisheries management such as equitable distribution of benefits.

Key words

asymmetric information; holding licences; ITQ leasing; oligopsony; transparency

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087