Riblet#49: when controls don’t work

The CEO of a UK top 100 company once commented that there are three reasons why controls do not happen: 1. the operators don’t understand them because the controls are too complicated or the operators have not been properly trained; 2. they are not perceived to be important: there are no sanctions if they are not performed; and 3. the controls have been designed by someone in some remote head office without testing them out, and consequently they are impossible or very hard to perform.

In the controls to sustain wild fish stocks, all three of the above reasons apply.

Globally, people now eat more fish than either pork, beef or poultry.  Consumption of fish (either wild or farmed) has doubled in the last 30 years, and wild fish stocks are falling precipitously from unsustainable fishing.

Many countries set quotas for fishing to help manage stocks but these are often neither sufficient nor policed.  Some smaller or poorer coastal nations do deals to allow other countries to fish in their waters but do not monitor the deals, nor do they prevent uninvited vessels from helping themselves.  If the controls are intended to preserve wild fish stocks, they are failing.

In a few areas such as Florida, St Lucia and South Africa, no fishing zones or marine protected areas (“MPAs”) have been set up and these have helped some stocks recover.  An MPA enables fish to grow larger without the risk of being taken; larger fish produce more eggs and therefore more young fish.  Some of these young fish will move out into adjoining unprotected areas and add to stocks there.

A model of ocean fisheries has been developed by the University of California.  The model was based on the calculations of geographical range, mobility, rate of population growth and the sustainability of current fishing for 1,338 fish stocks. The model showed that designating 5% of the oceans as MPAs would result in a 20% increase in the global annual catch.

The beauty of an MPA is that it is very simple.  It does not rely on the measurement, management and monitoring of quotas with different quotas for different species; nor does it require scientific study to assess what the quotas themselves should be.  An MPA simply requires a country to say no fishing in this area, and if a boat is in the area and its gear is in the water, then it is there illegally, end of story: there is no need to argue over measurement of the catch nor analysis of the species in the catch.

Deciding on the best locations to pitch the MPAs may require more study, there are far more fish in the sea than covered by the model, and little is known about the spawning habits of many species.  But implementing a simple and effective control whilst monitoring it and improving on it through study, would actually help control the risk of collapse of fish stocks, and indeed, it would turn the risk around by actively causing fish stocks to build not just remain the same.

Simplifying controls in all areas of a business may similarly result in better compliance with control, and possibly bring unforeseen benefits, too.

Data Source: The Economist magazine

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