Despite compelling evidence that property rights–based management can improve the economic and ecological performance of fisheries, reform proposals are often met with political opposition. Moreover, the opposition sometimes comes from incumbent fishermen and fishing communities that would ostensibly gain the most from rent-enhancing reforms. We flesh out this puzzle by describing the political economy of past and present institutional changes in North America such as bans on fish traps, limited-entry regulations, and individual transferable quotas (ITQs). Our review identifies patterns of distributional concerns surrounding property rights; many of the same groups that opposed limits on entry and fish traps also oppose ITQs. We provide examples of how political opposition to ITQs is mollified by modifications in program design, although these design compromises may have efficiency costs. We conclude by pointing to the need for more research on equity-efficiency trade-offs and for greater attention to fishermen heterogeneity in economic analysis.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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