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Fishing rights, property rights, human rights: the problem of legal lock-in in UK fisheries

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Article number40
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>18/05/2018
<mark>Journal</mark>Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene
Number of pages14
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Property rights are a widely advocated policy tool to encourage stewardship over a range of environmental goods. Despite the extent to which property rights are dependent upon law to work, economists rarely consider that property rights are enmeshed within a complex web of pre-existing national and international legal frameworks—such as human rights law—that put strict limitations on the way they operate. This important issue is illustrated here with reference to the legal struggles in the UK around the “ownership” of fishing rights. The social and economic changes under market-based management in the UK made the fisheries regulatory regime unpopular, and undoubtedly contributed to the overwhelming vote within the catch sector to leave the European Union, even though the responsibility to allocate fishing opportunities to the British fishing industry lay with the UK authorities. The lesson from the UK experience is that despite the legal-blindness of much resource economics, the application of economic theory should not outrun its legal foundations. We conclude that promoting the allocation of public fishing rights to the private sector without adequate safeguards—such as a valuation of the rights in question and carefully considered written terms and conditions—could be considered negligent.