The metaphor of the race to fish is powerful, effectively conveying the overinvestments in fixed and variable harvesting inputs in fisheries for which seasonal harvesting rights are insecure. We contribute an additional insight to understanding the linkage between management institutions and harvester behavior by proposing and empirically validating a new effect of common-pool management that contrasts with the usual race to fish metaphor. We propose that fishers in a common-pool fishery may be less mobile than in a system with secure catch rights.
We build a stylized game-theoretic model to demonstrate how competition for fish under a common-pool quota increases the opportunity cost of time for individual fishers relative to under an individualized quota system. This wedge distorts fishers time allocation on the grounds by skewing the relative prices of harvest and non-harvest (i.e. time spent in moving between grounds) time. If the marginal cost of time spent in harvest activities is greater than that of non-harvest activities, then insecure property rights to catch induce fishermen to delay the decision to move to new grounds. Paradoxically, the race to fish manifests itself in an intense, yet relatively stationary, fishery. The implications of this perverse incentive may include reductions in the average productivity of fishing, reduced incentives to engage in prospective searching, or greater localized depletion and habitat damage. This phenomenon may also help explain the large shadow values of distance and significant habit persistence found in fishing location choice models.
We demonstrate the empirical relevance of this effect by analyzing fishing behavior before and after a transition to a catch share in the Eastern Bering Sea mixed species groundfish trawl fishery. Using detailed observer data at the individual trawl level, we demonstrate that the propensity to move to new fishing grounds increased in statistically and economically significant ways after the policy change. We also use quantile regression techniques to demonstrate that the entire distribution of distance of movement experienced an upward shift. These findings validate the predictions of our theoretical model, deepening our knowledge of the connections between management institutions and fisher behavior.