Will a catch share for whales improve social welfare?

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2014-01

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Abstract

We critique a proposal to use catch shares to manage transboundary wildlife resources with potentially high non-extractive values, and we focus on the case of whales. Because whales are impure public goods, a policy that fails to capture all nonmarket benefits (due to free riding) could lead to a suboptimal outcome. Even if free riding were overcome, whale shares would face four implementation challenges. First, a whale share could legitimize the international trade in whale meat and expand the whale meat market. Second, a legal whale trade creates monitoring and enforcement challenges similar to those of organizations that manage highly migratory species such as tuna. Third, a whale share could create a new political economy of management that changes incentives and increases costs for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to achieve the current level of conservation. Fourth, a whale share program creates new logistical challenges for quota definition and allocation regardless of whether the market for whale products expands or contracts. Each of these issues, if left unaddressed, could result in lower overall welfare for society than under the status quo.

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