Friday, March 17, 2006

Phish markets

Growing up in Calcutta among the mach, mashi and the Maidan, you cannot miss the obsession with phish! Whenever my friends started talking about phish, my anthropological voyeurism would take over. I would mentally substitute phish for "sex" and listen to the conversation evolve. "O go, aaro ektu phish dao naa!" It is akin to watching Britney Spears swing to Chamma Chamma!

Anyways, one of the messiest markets that I think out there is the fish market. Nope, not where they sell fish. I am talking about fishery markets.

Think of the coastline of India. Now think of the fishermen out there. That isn't too hard. Now throw in mechanised fishermen; super-mechanised fishermen; state government; defense concerns; the Union government and the dealers, wholesalers etc. As with most things, there just is not enough fish (and power) to go around. As in other markets, even this has its technical and economic factors.

There are seasons and places when fish breed more. So if fish migrate a lot, then it becomes difficult to enforce fishing regulations either by the community or the state. If there is no ownership then you have over-fishing. Too much mechanised trawling can damage the ocean bed especially given the low-lying continental shelves of the Indian coastline. And it is not easy to throw bycatch of fish back into the ocean even if you prefer them tomorrow. Finally, there are the livelihoods of the fisher-folk who cannot match the mechanised trawlers and at the same have to suffer the state government bans on fishing in certain seasons.

How can one think of designing a policy (or a market) that will alleviate these concerns? Shorter coastlines and Tradable Quotas have worked in favor of Iceland. While institutional procedures entrenched in community systems have worked well in Japan. As far as I know. But yes, the tough part is designing a rule of law where there is none or government regulations have failed. And one that works in the favor of incentives of the stake-holders, not an external agent. What could be the rules of the game?

For a much-readable regulatory take on the issue in India, read the Delhi think-tank CCS's Briefing Paper on Fisheries. I also like the Fulton Fish Market paper which describes how the Fulton Fish Market in New York actually works.You would be surprised at the variation in prices and the reason for it.

Sigh! How I miss the phishi-culture back home!

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