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Privatising the Commons in Norway

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

The end of the 1980s saw a sharp decline in the cod stocks off Northern Norway due to extensive trawling. There were heated debates in the country on responsible fishing and the future structure of the fishing fleet.In response to the debate, the government proposed to introduce individual transferable quotas (ITQs)in the fishery. Under this system, participants are allocated and own quota shares in the total annual catch of a given fishery. Quota holders can transfer- buy, sell, and lease- shares in the open market. It was hoped that ITQs would ensure an `optimal allocation of resources’ in the context of the overcapacity of the fishing fleet resulting from the decline in stocks. ITQs were meant to eliminate the need for detailed management of the fishery leaving it to the market and the industry to allocate fishing rights, with certain restrictions to safeguard the smallest boats and to ensure regional distribution. The government held up Iceland and New Zealand to showcase the advantages of ITQs. The Norwegian fishing industry’s reactions to the concept of ITQs were diverse. The trawl owners argued that the restrictions would inhibit the proper functioning of the system. They argued for fewer restrictions on the transfer of quotas between the fleet groups. Environmentalists and the small-scale fleet reacted in the opposite fashion. "Privatisation of fishing rights will only allocate them to the capital-intensive fleet," said Bente Aasjord, spokesperson for the Norwegian society for the Conservation of Nature. The coastal population saw fish as a common resource and fishermen as fishing on behalf of the community as a whole, and not as owners of the resource. This fact had always been an important part of Norwegian culture.The pressure on the Labour Party government against ITQs grew and during the election campaign in the fall of 1991, the idea was abandoned. The experience with ITQs in Iceland indicated that this was a wise step. After the introduction of ITQs, Iceland had seen a drastic rise in its trawler fleet and a drop in fish resources. Also the ITQ system made it more tempting to fish in the high seas where there were no quotas, so that Icelandic fleets were fishing Norwegian Arctic cod beyond Norway’s 200-mile EEZ. Money made from high-seas fishery was used to buy up quotas from a coastal fleet in economic difficulty, developments strongly opposed by the Iceland’s coastal fishers. In Iceland, therefore, ITQs clearly favoured the big, mobile fleet and threatened the small-scale fleet.The Norwegian government, instead, settled for a system of boat quotas. Depending on its size each boat got a certain quota. In some ways the system remained one of transferable quotas, the only difference being that quotas from several vessels could not be bought and acquired for a single large vessel nor could one person own many vessels.Some weaknesses of the system soon became apparent. The closure of the commons effectively restricted recruitment into the coastal fleet. This happened because fishing rights were given only to registered vessels and few youngsters could afford to purchase a vessel with fishing rights. Earlier people used to enter fishing by starting out with a small boat, fishing in their spare time. The system also took away from coastal communities the control over the transfer of their own knowledge. To become a fisher, skills needed to be `bought’ from the school system. This added to the difficulties and cost in starting up as a coastal fisher. The system also threatened coastal communities in another way. In small communities people earlier combined fishing with farming or other work like plumbing. With the restrictions on entering the fishery, many people had to move out to bigger regional centres to make a livelihood. The communities they left behind were forced to pay more for the services of such skills.


conhecimento tradicional

, Noruega


Open access to fish resources has historically been the backbone of Norwegian coastal culture, a culture now being threatened by the introduction of boat quotas. Coastal communities have been affected in various ways and recruitment into the coastal fleet has reduced, not least because of the costs involved in purchasing vessels with quotas and in obtaining the required certificate of eligibility from the school system. The traditional role of coastal communities in managing their fisheries has also broken down and management is often left to larger coastal vessels, like the Danish seiners. To reverse these trends and to ensure a greater role for local communities, limits need to be set on the capitalisation and the efficiency of fishing fleets. This will go a long way in controlling overfishing and in transferring control over the fisheries back to coastal communities. Measures to improve fisheries management must be sensitive to cultural and equity issues.


Artigos e dossiês

ALBUM, Gunnar, No way to transfer fish quotas in. Samudra Report, 1995/04, 12

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