Events & Media

Costello to D.C. Seeking Amendment to Primary U.S. Fisheries Law
At Brookings Institution, professor will seek to add science, transparency to managing nation's marine fisheries

September 5, 2014

Bren professor of economics Christopher Costello will travel to Washington, D.C. this week, with the hope of bringing more economics, transparency, and effectiveness to the management of U.S. fisheries.

Christopher Costello

Costello will speak at the Brookings Institution as part of the Hamilton Project, which, according to its mission statement, "puts forward innovative proposals from leading economic thinkers — based on credible evidence and experience, not ideology or doctrine — to introduce new and effective policy options into the national debate."

On September 10th, The Hamilton Project will host a forum to discuss new opportunities for improving the economic prosperity and long-term sustainability of the U.S. fishing industry. The forum will open with remarks by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin.

The Project will release an economic overview of the U.S. fishing industry, and a new paper by Costello proposing amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary law governing marine fisheries in U.S. federal waters. Costello's proposal would require that fisheries meeting certain criteria be required to undertake a comparison of the economic, social, and ecological trade-offs between status quo management and alternative management structures, including catch shares.

The idea is aimed at the eight regional U.S. Regional Fishery Management Councils, which establish management strategies for all U.S. fisheries extending seaward from state boundaries out to international waters.

Historically, the approach to fisheries management has tended to be heavy-handed and top-down, and the councils often debate and make only marginal changes to existing rules, such as shortening the fishing season by a few days. Such approaches have often negatively affected fish and fishing communities, Costello explains. "Everything gets worse and worse. The idea here is to infuse economics and transparency into the policymaking process."

Were Costello's ideas to find their way into the Magnuson-Stevens Act, fisheries that meet certain criteria, such as being already under consideration for new management, having a sufficiently high percentage of fishermen in the fishery ask for it, or having demonstrated either economic or biological decline over time, would have to consider and perform a one-year analysis of a wider variety of management options, including catch shares and other ownership-based approaches.

Costello wrote the new paper at the invitation of the Brookings Institution, which periodically asks leading thinkers to develop new ideas that can potentially find their way into federal policy. With extensive reach into Congress and leaders of federal agencies, the institute is positioned to play a significant role among D.C. decision makers.

Find out more about the event and the Hamilton Project.